Our guest today is Valerie Moran, the wealthiest black woman in the UK – The Sunday Times Rich List 2019. She is the only black female ever to enter the list in the 31-edition history of the publication. From CNN to BBC, Sky News and OK Magazine, her Diversity and Inclusion story has captured the imagination.
Valerie brings a refreshing air of tenacity to the worlds of FinTech and philanthropy. Now, Head of Operations & Client Relations at PFS, she held the honor of being Employee No.1 in 2008 as the company's Implementation Project Manager. Over the years, her analytical mind and suave management style have helped to put the company on the global Regulated Financial Services map. Valerie and her husband Noel are one of the world's most successful couples in Financial Technology. Their company has now returned profits for 10 consecutive years and is eyeing an IPO in 2019. She oversaw the donation of the equivalent of 200,000 school meals to hungry children in Mali in West Africa with PFS, Mastercard and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). No doubt, the story of her legacy is only beginning.
Valerie, Prepaid Financial Services has an impressive diversity and inclusion policy. Could you please share what was key for its success?
We simply hire the people who are the best fit to the role regardless of gender, race, origin or the school they attended and encourage them since the very beginning to share their views and ideas. 50% + are women but this was never a goal that we had on our list. The goal was always to build an inclusive and highly efficient team of people who love their jobs and contribute to the success of the company. Inclusion is even more important than diversity. To deliver their best, people need to feel valued and accepted and know that their voice is heard. A good team will always support you as a manager and support each other.
Absolutely. My first interview for Diversity Hiring series was with Lyneir Richardson from Rutgers Business School who said that it is diversity of thought that shall come first. Encouraging diversity of thought leads to innovation but it’s not easy to achieve as people tend to relate to others who are like them. To you, diversity of thought shall start at the very top of the organisation, but why so?
Well, if the owners of the company or the ‘’C’’ level executives don’t encourage diversity of thought no one else will. It’s the managers who have to ask for diverse candidates and accept and appreciate candidates who have different life experiences, world views, act, speak and think in a different way. These candidates are the people who can challenge the product or strategy of the company and raise awareness of potential risks. These are the people who will challenge the status quo on a daily basis. Having difficult conversations may not be appealing to lots of managers but that’s the right way forward. Being ready to see someone else’s point of view that contradicts with your own understandings is what distinguishes a leader from a manager.
Leadership goes beyond building successful teams. Valerie, you led a campaign in Mali that donated the equivalent of 200 000 school meals to malnourished children. Prepaid Financial Services embraces neurodiversity and employs people on the autism spectrum. In your opinion, what needs to change for more companies to engage with philanthropy and helping people in need?
Every change starts at the top. Senior executives and company owners shall be willing to give back to society. Such initiatives inspire the team and have a very positive effect on corporate culture overall. After all, if their success as a team results in increased profitability and then part of the profit is spent on transforming people’s lives for good, then it is worth all efforts.
Employing people from all walks of life, acknowledging that some of them may have a health condition and ensuring that they all work in an inclusive environment that recognises their strengths and values their input, is something all businesses shall engage with.
You traveled the world, experienced different cultures, witnessed extreme poverty and helped people in need. Do all these experiences have an impact on the diversity hiring policy of Prepaid Financial Services?
On the first place, they help to remove any bias. Once you have seen that people don’t have equal opportunities and access to education and employment, you are very unlikely to judge based on the school someone graduated from or their name or the country they come from. It is their skills, curiosity and willingness to learn that matter. Building an inclusive culture is about being open with the candidates from the very beginning and explaining to them why their voice matters and why it is important to openly express their thoughts. We involve all team members in the interview process as it is important that a candidate fits well and communicates openly with everyone. As both the direct manager and the rest of the team are involved and everyone’s opinion is considered, bias is highly unlikely. Also, we regularly check if diverse candidates are sourced and presented to the hiring managers and experiment with new talent pools.
Many companies look at the ratios and have the so-called ‘’diversity quotas’’ meaning that all groups need to be represented and a certain number or percentage is to be achieved. What is your opinion about diversity quotas and positive discrimination?
Honestly, we don’t have diversity quotas. Looking at the stats, at the moment, we have more women than men, but this is because out of all diverse candidates we were presented with, it was these women who were outstanding. We hired the best candidates for the job and it resulted in giving a chance to women coming from various backgrounds and walks of life. Needless to say, if the best candidate who fits the role is a white man, we will hire him. If the most qualified candidate is a person with a disability, this will not stop us. Businesses shall be open minded otherwise everyone is missing on opportunities for growth and innovation. Artificially altering the hiring criteria to fill in diversity or disability quotas is unlikely to lead to anything good.
11 years ago, when I entered the fintech industry, it was male dominated. Now, it is a completely different picture but the change was driven by the preferences of women who became more interested in a career in the fintech industry and careers in tech in general. Are we witnessing a major shift in peoples’ perceptions and preferences?
I can definitely relate to that. 10 years ago, I was the only woman in the board room. Our generation was expected to pursue a career in accounting, finance, teaching or medicine. Girls who considered careers in tech were rather an exception. It was my family that encouraged me to do so, and I am pleased to see how many girls consider careers in tech now. Kids have access to more information and it is easier for them to make informed career decisions that are not based on tradition or ‘’old school’’ perceptions.
In the past, there were very few women in politics as women were not considering such careers. 20 years ago, your mother or career coach wouldn’t advise you to consider a career in politics, engineering, architecture or tech. They would rather say that other careers might be more suitable for you. Now, families and career coaches at universities consider skills, strengths and affinities when advising career choices. Gender plays no major role in this process and that’s how it should be.
Lilia Stoyanov is CEO and angel investor at Transformify. A fintech and digital transformation expert, she is also a professor at Zigurat Business School and expert evaluator Horizon 2020 at the European Commission.
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