Turning to Cloud to Disrupt Financial Services

Although research shows they love math and science, girls of color aren’t making it into the STEM fields. The tech industry is trying to change that.

By Damon Brown

By Damon Brown February 26, 2021

Disruption is the dream of young, hungry companies and the dread of the Establishment. Businesses face it every day. Many learn to disrupt themselves in order to remain relevant in the years ahead. Cloud computing technologies are allowing them to do just that. 

Nowhere is disruption more fiercely sought after than in the financial sector, which has become saturated with new contenders that have harnessed the cloud to redefine banking. Seems like everyone wants a piece of the financial services pie – even Apple, Google and Facebook announced financial ventures within the past year. As banking giants scramble and throw billions into going digital to keep market share, consumer and commercial dollars are up for grabs to the boldest, brightest innovators that can prove their worth. 

Warba Bank and JamboPay are just two financial companies turning to cloud technologies to shape the future of fintech. 

Warba Bank: Upwardly Mobile Innovation

In 2010, as a reparative response to the global financial crisis, Warba Bank was established in Kuwait by Amiri Decree. As a newcomer to the highly competitive banking scene in Kuwait, Warba Bank had a lot to prove. The organization’s leadership wanted to differentiate the bank and developed an aggressive digital strategy to transform the way it served retail customers. 

Wael Shawareb, the bank’s senior director of cyber security and IT governance, led the project. He says they began to look at cloud solutions in 2014 with the goal of launching the bank’s first new digital services by 2017. Through his research, he knew that the cloud was the only way to deliver the fast, automated services that would help the organization stand out. The thing was, no bank in Kuwait had adopted cloud technologies in any significant way. Warba Bank was the first, and being an early adopter comes with a unique set of challenges.

The biggest challenge was security. Since the digital services operated differently, and organized and accessed data differently, they required new security features that weren’t found in existing products. 

“Even the well-known security vendors in the market hadn’t adapted yet to the DevOps model,” said Shawareb. “Most of them were still behind in the concept of agile development and integration.”

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The social justice issues that rose to prominence in the United States in summer 2020 have further spotlighted this inequity. As a result, tech leaders are more determined than ever to change the culture of their industry. To do so, they’re using technology itself to reimagine and rebuild the talent pipeline in ways that encourage, support and guide more girls of color into STEM careers.

In particular, they’re counting on three strategies to help them achieve their objective: exposing more girls of color to STEM in the first place, recognizing industry bias and building long-term professional networks.

Increasing Exposure

Organizations like Girls Who Code and Intel-backed Million Girls Moonshot  – whose mission is engaging 1 million more girls in STEM learning opportunities through afterschool and summer programs over the next five years – are encouraging girls of color to see STEM as an accessible option from an early age.

Doing so is critical because girls often internalize failure in ways that keep them from pursuing STEM careers even when they enjoy them, suggests Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani. 

“When the guys are struggling with an assignment [in an introductory coding class], they’ll come in and they’ll say, ‘Professor, there’s something wrong with my code,’” Saujani said in a 2016 TED Talk. “The girls will come in and say, ‘Professor, there’s something wrong with me.’”

Study after study shows girls excelling over boys in math and science until they reach middle school, at which point there is a sharp decline in female achievement that persists through college. Girls Who Code, Million Girls Moonshot and similar organizations believe they can reverse the female achievement gap by addressing the female confidence gap: By giving girls – especially girls of color – more opportunities to succeed in STEM early and often, they believe they can build competence, and that competence ultimately will breed confidence.

Exposing Bias

The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased obstacles for women of color in STEM, according to Girls Who Code COO Dr. Tarika Barrett. 

“The fact is that nearly 40% of women with engineering degrees either quit soon after entering the field or they don’t end up entering the field at all,” she told CNBC in a June 2020 interview. “If you think specifically about this crisis … companies need to support women very differently.”

Increasingly common forms of support, for example, are remote working and flexible schedules, which make it easier for women to balance work with caregiving responsibilities at home.

The pandemic has normalized both of them – but not enough: In December 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. economy had shed 140,000 jobs nationwide. Most if not all of them belonged to women, CNN Business reported.

“I don’t think it’s a pipeline issue at all. That’s a copout,” said Nutanix Senior Vice President of Product and Solutions Marketing Monica Kumar. 

“We have enough experience, even within STEM,” she said. “The issue is whether the skills we evaluate are skewed towards a certain persona.”

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Often, that persona is white and male. Organizations are used to seeing certain people excel at certain skills, like science or programming. The result is stereotypes that can influence who gets hired, who gets placed on certain projects, who gets promoted, etc. In order to correct those biases, organizations must recognize them and bring them out of the shadows and into the light.

Building Networks

But recognizing bias isn’t enough. 

“It’s great that we’re having the dialog,” said Kumar, who volunteers for several organizations that serve girls and women of color. 

“The next step is what organizations are doing to foster diversity and inclusion. You have to act on it.”

To that end, a major objective is building peer-to-peer and peer-to-mentor networks that support women of color as they build their careers. For example, Kumar is sponsoring a women’s coaching and mentorship program for mid-level managers at Nutanix. The program dovetails with her appointment to the board of Watermark, a Silicon Valley-based organization that facilitates networking for and among women entrepreneurs and executives, and her position as a founding circle member of Neythri, a global community of South Asian professional women.

“As a board member and a C-suite executive, I want to create more leadership opportunities for women of color like me," Kumar said. "We have to be very committed to supporting diversity and inclusion not just with words, but with actions.”

Therein lies the key not only to a more inclusive workforce, but also to stronger tech companies and better tech products.

Damon Brown is a contributing writer. Watch the Inc. columnist’s show at youtube.com/browndamon. Get your free business resources at buildfromnowquiz.com.

© 2021 Nutanix, Inc. All rights reserved. For additional legal information, please go here.

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