Cover Photo: Imran Sulaiman

Nadia Ismadi is the CEO and co-founder of Pod, a mobile savings app that helps gig workers better manage their finances. She touches on what it means to be a female leader in fintech today

Do you think the fintech industry is moving in the right direction when it comes to issues surrounding gender equality and representation?

I believe there has been some progress made in the fintech industry, but there is still so much room for improvement. Speaking from my personal experience, when I joined the finance industry in 2015, women were already making significant strides in the financial services industry. But I left that world to start a fintech company, which men still dominate.

Have you ever experienced bias or discrimination as a female leader?

It is not uncommon to still encounter investors who ask when I plan to settle down as they worry that my priorities and dedication to the business would change should I start a family. They often weigh in the opportunity cost between a female and male founder because they are under the impression that a male founder is able to focus on the business better.

I feel that kind of bias is one of the more considerable challenges for fundraising in the fintech space. Despite that, I will be diplomatic in my response and affirm that no one is more committed to the business than me and my cofounder Ng Ying Teng, a woman. That is not to say all investors are this way, but there are those from the financial industry who support our startup.

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It is not uncommon to still encounter investors who ask when I plan to settle down as they worry that my priorities and dedication to the business would change should I start a family.
Nadia Ismadi

How are you incorporating more inclusive practices in your company?

There are few female talents in the fintech field, making hiring challenging. It all comes down to the department we hire for, so there are more women in areas like marketing and customer service. Still, it is challenging to find female talents in those fields for more technical areas like data science, engineering, and artificial intelligence (AI). Despite that, we make a conscious effort to balance the gender gap when hiring new talent, keeping a three male to one female ratio.

What are the capabilities and strengths that female leaders have compared to men when running a company?

I think in terms of IQ, both men and women are comparable. But women have an edge in terms of emotion intelligence (EQ), and they are more attuned towards the emotions of others. While we are more empathetic, it doesn’t mean we can’t make difficult decisions.

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What advice do you have for other women who are trying to break into a male-dominated industry?

Find a female leader who is a champion in your respective industry, let them serve as an example that it is possible to achieve success. It lets you know that despite all the challenges you’re going through, you are not alone in this journey, and others have overcome whatever hardship you are facing. I found my ex-boss and mentor Regina Rahim was that person.

What are the risks that companies will have if they stick to outdated social norms?

It’s important to realise that it makes economic sense to build an inclusive workforce. Companies need to find ways to be more inclusive because it will affect their return on investment. Companies will lose access to capable and talented people if they do not get their act together.

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