Recruiting – and retaining – women executives

Listen to our discussion with Anna King, CFO at Mesh Payments about her career path, the challenges she has faced, and why we need to work harder to promote and retain more women in C-Suite positions.

Mary Ellen Egan: (00:10)
Hi, everyone. And welcome. Thank you for joining us. I’m Mary Ellen Egan. I’m the senior editor of women’s programs at American banker and our guest today is Anna King, CFO of Mesh Payments. Welcome Anna. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Anna King: (00:23)
Thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to it.

Mary Ellen Egan: (00:26)
We are as well. So let’s start, we’re gonna talk a little bit about women in the C-suite retaining and recruiting, specifically as to your expertise in FinTech. So let’s talk, you’re the CFO and you joined in January. So congrats on the new position. But let’s go a little bit back and talk about your journey to the CFO spot at Mesh Payments.

Anna King: (00:49)
So I started my career off at PWC working in the banking capital markets group. I spent time there auditing large financial institutions, and then I left to join a startup and absolutely fell in love with working for startups. My longest startup, my last company, I was there for eight and a half years as a CFO and really helped the management team take it through acquisition to MasterCard in 2019. So really great at 19, it’s a really great experience. I’m really passionate about helping entrepreneurs build companies. And so I was fortunate enough to meet Oded Zehavi, the CEO of mesh payments through one of our investors. And once I learned about what Mesh was doing, I just fell in love with the company. So not only does it have a great management team, but I am also really passionate about the problems it’s solving. So it’s a corporate spend management platform to solve the problems I face throughout my career–running and managing a finance team.

Mary Ellen Egan: (01:45)
So tell me a little bit about your day- to-day life at work at Mesh Payments.

Anna King: (01:52)
The CFO role has definitely changed through the years and recently it’s really focused on data and analytics and really making sure the company has the tools and the insights to scale a business and continuously grow. So the day-to-day is really focused on reporting and analytics, bringing together the different systems within the organization, and doing real time reporting and really managing the company’s finances right, at the end of it. So it’s definitely a very, evolving and ever changing role, but one that’s exciting and full of opportunity.

Mary Ellen Egan: (02:29)
And you’ve been in FinTech for how long now?

Anna King: (02:32)
For over 10 years.

Mary Ellen Egan: (02:33)
Okay, great. So let’s talk a little bit about what you’ve seen as far. I’m just gonna read a few overall stats about women in diversity and women in the C-Suite. Female CFOs only comprised 15% of the top 500 fortune 500 in S&P companies. That’s a pretty grim number. We also know that in 2022, there’s only 6% of the women at the top 3,000 US companies are in the C-suite. This is not a new topic. It’s not a new concern and, but we’re still kind of seeing this nudging towards progress. And I should also note that it’s even more grim if you’re women of color, because only 3%– I’m sorry, only 4% of women of color make up the C-suite. So what, what have you seen personally in your career that you think would account for this and, and what has your experience of events have been?

Anna King: (03:40)
Yeah, so typically there’s two main reasons why women don’t progress in their careers. The first one is a pipeline issue, meaning far less women enter certain fields than men. So usually technology, science, math, and engineering. That’s less the case, I think, in the finance organization. I think the numbers are more evenly aligned with women and men entering those fields. It’s more of a work life balance issue. So as women progress through their careers, they ultimately are faced with a choice whether to continue and advance in their careers or to start families and balance other priorities. And so I think it’s really important for companies to be supportive of women to offer flexibility so that they don’t have to make that choice. And there are a number of things that companies can do to help women have a long successful career.

Mary Ellen Egan: (04:40)
So, just to ask specifically about Mesh Payments, you have three women in the C-suite level, you have a COO and a chief product officer and yourself, the CFO. So was that intentional? Was that part of what someone, what the CEO had set out to do or how did that happen?

Anna King: (04:59)
Yeah, so this is the first time in my career where I’m working alongside other female executives and it’s wonderful. And, you know, not only are 50% of the executive females, but 40% of our company is as well. So that’s something I’m really proud of. And I think Mesh has really focused on hiring the right people, being inclusive in the pool of candidates, and also having a thoughtful hiring process. I think it’s important, to create a culture where women feel that they can be successful and they can balance both the family life and work life. And I think that’s been proven out at Mesh. So, you know, we’ve created a culture where women feel empowered to work around the schedule that best fits their needs.

Mary Ellen Egan: (05:43)
Let’s talk a little bit about the pipeline issue, because I know there’s always, there’s been some concern and more concentration, which is great ,on getting women into stem, you know, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. An, I think, I mean, it’s a slow, you know, it’s an upward climb, but what do you, do you see more interest? I mean, of women joining fintechs and being involved in technology than perhaps when you first started out?

Anna King: (06:10)
Yeah. You know, Deloitte actually just released a great study in April and what they found is in 2022, about 25% of the female leadership in tech companies are women. And that’s a 20% increase from 2019. So there’s definitely a strong trend that more and more women are entering tech companies. And I think the workforce as a whole, females comprise 33%. So I think we’re seeing some really good traction, obviously a long way to go. And to your point earlier, you know, a long way to go on people of color as well and diversity as a whole. But I think the more we talk about it, the more we put in place different programs, I think the better off companies will be.

Mary Ellen Egan: (06:55)
And one of the things I wanted to ask you about is some of your own personal experiences. I mean, when I started, I mean, I’m granted a lot older than you, my experience, my work experiences would be shocking to you and younger women because the amount of harassment that sometimes was just kind of like, well, you have to just brush it off and go with the flow. This is way, way pre-Me Too. So I’m hoping it’s changed for women. There’s more solid, you know, guidelines set in place for what is acceptable behavior in the workplace. And that there’s some kind something you can do about it because before you’re just kind of told to put up and shut up.

Anna King: (07:41)
Yeah, exactly. And, you know, I feel like over my career that has changed. Definitely in the beginning, it was more prevalent. And unfortunately discrimination and sexual harassment is still happening across companies. And so I think, you know, while it may have been reduced, it’s still a problem and companies need to address it. And they can put in training programs for employees to understand the appropriate way to interact with each other. They can put in support systems for women who are, who have faced these types of issues and, and make sure that women don’t face repercussions from bubbling up these issues. So there’s definitely a long way to go on this as well. And, it’s unfortunate to see, but we are in an economy where employers really need to retain and keep the best talent and women have choices. They’re not gonna wanna work for companies where the culture is toxic. So I think it’s really important for them to focus on this.

Mary Ellen Egan: (08:52)
So one of the things I want to ask you about is that tech is kind of notoriously tough for women. And, I mean, obviously not every place is like Silicon Valley, but Silicon Valley was really known for not being very female friendly and little frat boyish. So I just wonder what some of your experience have been, you know, being still the rare female, chief financial officer to go to some of these events.

Anna King: (09:20)
I think one of the reasons why we’re seeing females having less leadership roles, a lot of times these leadership roles are obtained through networking, right? It’s who, you know. And whether that’s internal or external networking, and I’ve been to these networking events where it’s 90% male and 10% female, and it’s intimidating, it’s hard to exert yourself into conversations. It’s hard for you to become part of the conversation and really network. So I think that’s also something that both men and female can do a better job of being inclusive, giving everyone the space to be heard and participate in these conversations and really doing outreach to more females in your network and really help mentor and guide them and offer them opportunities the same as you would their male counterparts. So I think it’s important to be aware of those around you, who aren’t speaking, but might have something really interesting and valuable to say. And to connect with people who may be different than you.

I think you brought up a really good point when I think about mentoring that if more men would mentor women, I think that would be really helpful. I mean, because obviously in my own career, I’ve seen that people tend to gravitate towards those who are like you, which is a disadvantage. If you’re in the minority at the workplace, and then it’s easy to get siloed. And I think that that’s an important component and not necessarily maybe a formal structure. Does Mesh Payments have a more formal mentoring program or is it more informal?

Anna King: (10:56)
It’s more informal, but I think you bring up a really great point. I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to have both men and women as mentors, and it’s really helped me progress, and helped me build the skill sets, and really guided me on how to advance my career. And there are lots of organizations as well that provide support for women and groups. So I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Rise Up program at Money 2020 for females in FinTech. And, and that’s really been great because I’ve built a network of strong female leaders. So programs like that, I think really help to as well to address this issue.

Mary Ellen Egan: (11:37)
And one of the other things I want to touch about is that you get to the C-Suite, but women leave in much larger percentage than men do. I mean, I think the statistics from the Wall Street Journal, were that women are more likely stepped down. So in 2021, of the 370 companies that appointed new CEOs, 26 were women and 17 of those stepped down within the year or were ousted in some manner. That’s more than half. So there’s a battle to get there, but then what are we doing to help women stay there? And what do you think? Do you have any ideas about what we can do better?

Anna King: (12:23)
Yeah. It’s such a discouraging statistic. Look, I think it’s, it’s human nature. If you feel like you can add value, but you’re not being included in the conversation or if there’s a toxic work environment or the company isn’t supportive of your work life balance, you’re going to look for other roles, whether that’s outside the organization in a different industry or career change. So I think companies can do a better job of making sure that everyone can participate. Everyone has equal opportunity. And, you know, I think that allowing, you know, giving recognition to all the great contributions that women are making in the company, and making sure that those are being highlighted really helps as well as the work life balance issue. It’s something that Mesh has done really well. Women have the flexibility to work, the schedule they need in order to take care of their family, take care of aging parents or whatever life situations. I think companies can be more supportive, not just for women, right. Men also have, have similar issues that they’re dealing with. And so I think we could keep more women in leadership positions if these types of issues were being addressed.

Mary Ellen Egan: (13:44)
Do you feel that that remote work helped? Well, I mean, in some ways it helped hindered women. If you have small children and now you’re working from home and trying to school them at the same time. I mean, we saw great numbers of women have to drop out of the workforce during the pandemic for that reason because it makes it extremely tough to try and juggle both. But hopefully the kids are back in life school now, and the ability to do more remote work, because I know many employers were very reluctant to let people work from home. And now that they’ve seen that it can be done, and also workers are taking a stand saying, not so fast, I’m not ready to go back into the office. And I’ve been actually more productive because that hour I spend commuting, I spend working instead. Do you think that’s created that will help create more opportunities for women?

Anna King: (14:31)
I think so. I think to your point, companies saw that employees were just as productive at home, if not more productive. And yes, I have tremendous respect for parents who are trying to juggle teaching their children at home and working. but hopefully as life goes back to normal and kids are at school, that flexibility of being able to work while your kids are at school, and have time in the early evening when they’re home and then catching up on emails at night, whatever that schedule is, I think it’s important that companies really respect the need for everyone to really have a balance. And we’ve talked about it a lot, but I think it’s time we do something.

Mary Ellen Egan: (15:19)
Yes, absolutely. Well, what would be your best advice to your younger self or young women now who are just starting out in their career and hope to get to the level of a CFO of at a company? What’s your best advice for them?

Anna King: (15:35)
I would tell them to network, network, network, right? Make sure you really build out your support system, whether that’s in your specific industry or outside, but really people you can go to for advice and support. And also start building that out for others. Being that mentor for others. I think it’s really important. And also I would tell myself that I would still work just as hard, but also understand the importance of taking time to re-energize and that personal time is so important. I think when I started my career, if you weren’t in the office and having face time from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, you weren’t valued. And I would tell myself that I would try to change that earlier on in my career. Now it’s something that’s really important to me. And I try to with my team, make sure that they understand it’s important and I want them to be able to have time for themselves as well.

Mary Ellen Egan: (16:50)
Great. Well, I want to thank you so much, Anna, for your time today. This has been a really great conversation, and I look forward to speaking more about this topic.

Anna King: (16:59)
Thank you so much.

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