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Women in Tech Empowering Financial Services

10 March 2022

People and capability have become the latest weapons in gaining competitive advantages. Yet, the financial technology and services industry is lagging when it comes to attracting and promoting female talent, where women are only represented in 10% of CEO positions, 31% of key managerial positions and 27% of directors. Alarmingly, the expectation gap between “saying” and “doing” to advance the promotion of women is widening.(i) The female representation across pure technology jobs is even worse, occupying less than 25% of professional IT roles across global Big Tech firms (ii) despite an increase in the number of positions made available.

Conscious that organisations with a higher gender equality tend to perform better, we were curious to learn from our own people how to expediate the path to gender equality and success across all levels and functions. Hear directly from some of our female tech talent and our executive leadership team members who share their valuable insights, experiences, and advice below.

Apex Group New Zealand has an inspirational story to tell as they are ahead of the game with a 56% representation of women across the firm lead by a female country CEO, Renée Tourell.

Sarah Cremeans

Sarah Cremeans

Software Developer, Apex Group NZ

Tell us about your journey with Apex group NZ

I started off working in the Operations team for our Registry services as part of the onboarding team for MMC, now re-branded as Apex Group NZ following the acquisition in April 2022. This gave me a solid foundation in understanding the business and our clients’ needs.

However, even as far back as middle school I was certain I wanted a career in IT. I like building things. I get a lot of satisfaction out of creating a solution to a problem, then taking a step back and seeing that it works. I was therefore excited when Apex Group saw value in my IT education and offered me an opportunity to progress my career in the Product & Technology team as a Software Developer. One of the great things about working at Apex Group has been the chance to gain hands-on experience across both finance and technology and see the whole picture.

During my time at Apex Group NZ there have been great opportunities across various projects to pick up new technologies and concepts like event streaming, robotic process automation, and even the recent shift to deploying with Kubernetes. I am currently part of a team working on creating a new digital adviser portal in the fund administration space. Our goal is to provide an improved management experience for advisers, allowing them to more easily track their investors’ investments and access meaningful data from anywhere at any time.

One of the key pieces of infrastructure behind this new portal is the move to event streaming using Kafka and Azure Event Hubs. Event streaming allows us to process events from multiple sources as they happen and efficiently update the data store that drives our portal’s API. Compared to the overnight batch-based ETL process used to populate the old portal’s data store, event streaming gets data into the hands of our clients faster, reduces system down-time, and has been set up to be more scalable and more easily maintained.

What can organisations do to accelerate the promotion of women into senior roles?

I think the central challenge in attracting diverse talent is proving that the organization is committed to creating a safe and encouraging environment for people of all demographics. It is easy to say that Apex Group is a good environment, but to show it can be more difficult. Having women in leadership positions, giving women opportunities to grow their career across departments, and even exercises like this where women are encouraged to speak to their experience are all ways in which I think Apex Group has demonstrated that commitment.

Developing a positive and inclusive culture is instrumental in attracting and keeping any kind of talent. The best thing about Apex Group is the people working here, and it has been fun to meet so many well-travelled people from so many different places and backgrounds. I would be happy to welcome more women into our tech team, as I’ve found it to be a safe place to learn and collaborate. Having worked in multiple departments, there really is a company-wide culture of kindness and encouragement.

“Time and time again my co-workers and managers have empowered me to go for new opportunities and stretch my abilities.”

When I expressed to my team lead in the Operations department that I was interested in working in the IT field, she told the Head of Registry that my skills were valuable, and I was offered a hybrid role in Registry and IT. This allowed me to use my education to help the IT team set up automation that removed a lot of manual work from the onboarding process. After some time, I was invited to join IT full-time as a developer, and this is a perfect example of Apex Group recognizing and nurturing what their employees have to offer.

Through these transitions I felt welcomed and appreciated, and that is the feeling I would want for any woman looking to advance her career in IT. I think the greatest effort Apex Group can make to get women into leadership roles is to seek out these opportunities. Encourage upskilling and cross-training, make space for their talent to grow, and really advertise that this option is available to them.

In my view, the benefits of hiring and promoting more women is not so much due to any intrinsic or unique value that women have, but more in the widening of perspective. The wider you cast your net when looking for talent, the more likely you are to find creative problem-solvers and excellent collaborators. There is comfort in seeing yourself represented, and this can help employees to feel confident and share their great ideas that may otherwise have been missed. I have so much respect for the women I work with, and so much hope for their futures. I would love to see the number of incredible women in the IT team grow!

What advice would you give to women considering a career in tech?

One of the greatest challenges women in tech face is the pressure not to advocate for themselves.

“Do not be afraid to speak up, ask questions and be assertive. Get stuck in and learn as much as you can, taking every opportunity to upskill.”

The IT team of Apex Group NZ is full of developers who are happy to share their knowledge and experience, and there is always something new going on.

Krista Huls

Krista Huls

Product lead, Apex Group NZ

What is your role at Apex group NZ?

I work in the Product & Technology team leading a squad that develops improvements to our Investor and Adviser online Portals. My job involves designing and building digital solutions that look attractive, are user friendly and meet the varied needs of Advisers and Investors. These wealth administration portals provide 24/7 visibility and tools to help our Adviser clients and their investors tracking portfolio performance and value, transactions, tax and much more.

Apex Group has a client-centric and collaborative approach to development which means that we never work in silos. Working closely with our Client Relationship Team, I am also in contact with some of our clients who provide valuable input to what we develop and future roadmaps.

How can we get more female leaders into tech positions?

My squad is comprised of an equal split between men and women. Although there are many women working at Apex Group, we’ve still got work to do in attracting more women into leadership roles within Technology.

It is great to see that Apex Group has initiated a Women Accelerator Program. These programmes help by increasing the visibility of women and awareness of the value that diversity brings. It also forms a good platform for career discussions, developing skill sets and confidence. Having more female colleagues would boost our confidence collectively.

“There is already a great talent pool to draw from. We just need to be better at nurturing female talent, which will help attracting more women to join our technology team and progress their careers within.”

I feel that our culture at Apex Group embraces diversity and inclusion. This is a place where you can bring your whole self to work. Everyone has a voice and our diversity enhances collaboration which accelerates our innovation capabilities. The combination of technology and finance makes Apex Group a great place for women from different professional backgrounds to build skills and progress their careers. Small things make a big difference such as considering family friendly meeting times, supportive managers, and talking about our lives outside of work to get to know each other, which creates more empathy and trust.

There is an overwhelming pressure in society today (sometimes self-imposed or reinforced by our own peer groups) to be a ‘super woman’ to have a career, children, social life and be active with sports and hobbies. Society as a whole needs to be more equalized and accepting.

At Apex Group NZ, we seem to be striking a good flexible working balance. We work a combination of days from home and in the office and there are people who work in some very key part-time roles. This might be just what is needed to help progress a career throughout the years of raising children, which often coincides with the age when careers are expected to accelerate. We need to be less focused on age and provide opportunities to fast-track career progression at any stage in life.

Nelly Sajwan

Nelly Sajwan

Quality Engineer, Apex Group NZ

What first attracted you to a career in technology?

As a student I was always fascinated by STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths) and how it is related to our day-to-day life, and I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in computer applications. I love how fast-moving tech is and how it is shaping new innovations.

What is your role now?

I work as a Quality Engineer as part of one of our Platform squads. This involves developing methods to automate how we test key processes and changes that we make, speeding up the feedback loops that tell us whether the system works the way it is supposed to. I design ways to troubleshoot and interact with internal and external systems and interfaces for end-to-end testing and quality checks. Overall, my role in the team is to ensure that the technology we rely on is properly tested and meets our stringent quality standards before it makes its way into production.

How do you feel about combining finance with technology?

Working at Apex Group was my first experience in financial services. Financial services have the drive and funding to invest in the most advanced tech tools to deliver competitive advantages. It was quite challenging at first to pick up the financial knowledge, but you learn every day from just being part of the team environment and asking a lot of questions.

“Combining finance with tech makes me feel that I am part of the future as FinTech offers huge career opportunities. It is a fast-paced environment but lots of fun and very creative.”

It is a more complex field than e.g. retail or the food industry as we adhere to regulatory requirements, and we need to be sensitive to the fact that we are dealing with people’s financial savings and retirement funds. There are also strict data privacy concerns, and you can’t blame a bug if people’s money goes missing!

I believe the combination of finance and technology is well suited for women, but I wish it would be more promoted as part of career choices.

What can be done to promote more women into senior tech positions?

I never experienced any discrimination at Apex Group NZ or any reluctance to receive help based on gender. However, overall women are lagging when it comes to senior roles in IT. I think some women find comfort in their existing roles. They get into routines that work and prioritise a family balance. It is a general perception that the more senior you are the more are your responsibilities and therefore you have to put your work life at front.

To address this, organisations need to be assertive when promoting women to more senior roles and address concerns that they can keep a healthy work-life balance. It needs to be embedded in the culture at all levels and by both genders. Work ethos are important, and I feel there is a trusting environment here that supports a balanced life.

Women might need an extra nudge to get the confidence to push ahead for new opportunities. There is also the issue of men unconsciously looking for male candidates when hiring. Not at Apex Group NZ, but I have experienced an attitude from male colleagues elsewhere that they believe they are technically stronger, and they do not trust that you can review their code. In fact, you see very few female developers. However, the development work is based on high quality ethos, and you need to have a creative, collaborative, and problem-solving mindset, all of which I believe are skills well suited for women. Job adverts should include the soft skills required to be a good developer.

Organisations should look to uplift current talent and promote within rather than hiring in, regardless of gender. Apex Group offers a good career path with opportunities to also move between functions.

Generous parental leave packages would be another tool to attract talent and by making it gender neutral it levels the playing field.

Is flexible working helpful in attracting female talent?

Most companies now offer flexible working but at some places it is still uncertain. By making it part of a policy it would stand out. Also, allowing more flexibility around school holidays is another helpful factor. But then I would like to see my male colleagues using flexible working in the same way. My husband and I share our household responsibilities evenly and we both enjoy flexible working to share the care for our children. There should not be gender dependent tasks at home nor at work.

Joshua Arnold

Joshua Arnold

Chief Product & Technology Officer, Apex Group NZ

What benefits do you see from having a more gender-balanced team?

A big part of what makes building great products is to have strong empathy for users, and in our case, that’s investors and advisers. If we’re really going to solve pain points and make great experiences for our users, we have to understand things from their perspective.

“We need teams that reflect our end users, in all facets of their diversity, including of course their gender. This is how having diversity in our teams impacts business outcomes.”

We also see that complex problems require a diversity of background and thinking to come up with smarter, more creative solutions. That is how we get to truly innovative solutions. It’s also more fun. We’re aiming for products that customers love using and that teams love building – and diversity is key for both of those things.

What can be done to improve diversity and inclusion?

We’re focused on making sure we have a safe environment for everyone to contribute, where everyone feels included and valued. The work that Google have done on what is needed for high performing teams showed that psychological safety is the solid foundation for that. At Apex Group NZ, we have highly collaborative, self-organising squads which encourages creativity but also provides a safety net for when we encounter challenges and tough trade-offs. Success is also more fun when shared!

At a societal level, we also have work to do in changing false perceptions about what it takes to have a career in Technology. Some studies have showed that one reason for women not selecting Technology as a career is the assumption that Technology is for people who are less people-oriented. In fact, developing good technology products is all about people. It’s that empathy with users and customers. We need teams made up of people who are representative of our users. We also need the diversity of thought, which comes from that melting pot of people from different backgrounds and orientations. That’s how we get truly innovative solutions.

The industry has been grappling with gender diversity for years and we are now moving on to the next phase: cultural change, tackling unconscious bias, and encouraging an inclusive behaviour. We are a value-based organisation, and this runs through all aspects of the business; from objective setting to how we service clients, team interactions, socials, and performance evaluations.

We are working on new initiatives aimed at attracting and accelerating female talent. This will span across recruitment processes, how job descriptions are written, to improved onboarding, knowledge sharing, mentoring programs and fast-tracking career development.

Looking for a fun and rewarding career in technology and financial services?

Visit our careers page for the latest open positions.


(i)FINSIA’s (Financial Services Institute of Australasia) latest Divide survey

(ii) Company Reports, Statista, June 2021, Deloitte Insights, Women in the tech industry, TechWomen New Zealand

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