International ceramic artist, academic…representing the country in the following event…keynote speaker, award winner…all of my mother’s titles were meaningless when I was in my teens, growing up in Istanbul. Back then, my mom was just my mom – and at a young age I didn’t recognize how much she meant to the world around us.
What I did know was that my mother worked. She was the only mother I knew that worked with clay, the only mother that was a professor and Provost at a university. I looked up to her immensely (and still do). Whenever I complained about something seeming too difficult, the question from my mother was, “Have you tried? How do you know that you will not be able to do something if you have not tried?”
To this day, my mother continues to be fearless. This past October, she opened her latest exhibition of ceramic work called “LogBook.” She did not want to call it Retrospective – ”that is for dead people,” she said. Her work highlighted the oppression of women, questioned the traditional roles of women, and addressed social injustices. Seeing her work as an adult, addressing bias, was an eye opening experience. Maybe for the first time, I was able to fully grasp just how much of a trailblazer my mother truly is.
After all, if I hadn’t grown up with my mother’s influence, I don’t know if I’d be where I am today. She has taught me to chart my own path unapologetically, to not seek approval of others. She has stressed self-expression and independence – and I’ve taken that to heart throughout my career, from workflow of financial decisions to student loan processing to quantitative investment decisions to data and digitization of global investment servicing.
In fact, my mother’s influence is partially how I got into fintech in the first place. Over 12 years ago, while early in my career working in a quantitative investment firm, I realized that I was not represented in the data that was being used to make investment decisions. And it didn’t end there. I did not exist at all! I was not represented in any of the data being used for predictions. Seeing technology thrown at business problems without looking at the impact and implications was scary. I threw myself into the fintech startup ecosystem with great hunger to learn more.
And I did. Eventually I left my corporate job to fully focus on working with many underrepresented founders, startups and entrepreneurs who had a clear mission to help people. I had to make an impact, no matter how small, to shape a better future. I followed my role model mother’s advice, “grabbing what I care about with both hands.” And that’s also why I joined Stratyfy, where our mission is clear: we need a more inclusive future in finance, and we can do this by providing real transparency in AI.
“We need diverse experiences and a cross pollination of ideas in order to innovate and solve business problems that apply to all people.”
Fast forward to earlier this month, when I was celebrating the Innovate Finance “Women in FinTech Power List 2021” in London. There, some infamous statistics were shared that bear repeating: less than 2% of VC money goes to female founders; and it will take us 136 years for women to reach equal pay with men. No matter how often we hear these statistics, it is always profoundly disappointing. However, when Louis Smith, Chair of the Board at Innovate Finance, said that it was time to act and do something about it, that we need diverse, fearless spaces, I was reminded of how I was raised – and more importantly, that I was not alone in my passion for change.
We need diverse experiences and a cross pollination of ideas in order to innovate and solve business problems that apply to all people. What’s more, diversity leads to better products, increased market share, and more inclusive financial services. In fact, McKinsey found that gender diverse firms outperformed by 15% and ethnically diverse firms by 35% when compared to non-diverse organizations. But that doesn’t just happen without effort. To break the limitations created by conscious and unconscious bias, we need to be intentional about upholding different ideas and experiences, and we need to learn from each other.
Whether it is being a co-founder of a grassroots group for women in financial services, or teaching fintech at a university, or addressing transparency in AI, or even being a mother myself, my goal is to intentionally redefine the “normal” in our industry, much like my mother redefined my normal and pushed me to explore what was possible. Here’s to making an impact with Stratyfy, and to more diversity and intentionality in financial services.
PS: Don’t tell mom I wrote about her…she is really no nonsense!