Just as startups can open new markets and take longstanding clients from incumbents, they may also rob traditional companies of much-needed diversity in their higher ranks.

There are meaningful differences in how men and women spend money, and if only one of those perspectives is represented in a payment company's leadership, the company is unlikely to see the full needs of the markets they serve. Women can embrace opportunities for promotion within companies, but that is not the only path they can take.

"Women have other options - they can opt out of the corporate track to go to a startup," said Stephanie Ericksen, Visa's vice president of risk products and a California resident whose neighbors have largely chosen the startup track.

Stephanie Ferris, deputy chief financial officer of Vantiv, stated the path for new female executives, particularly of the millennial generation, is even more direct: "An easier path and a path that they can actually make work would be to become entrepreneurs, because technology now is enabling them to do it … they can work just as hard for themselves and create a big company and not go up against a lot of the stuff that we've grown up with and tolerate."

Ericksen and Ferris, two of the 25 executives recognized in PaymentsSource's 2016 Most Influential Women in Payments, spoke alongside other honorees at the start of SourceMedia's Card Forum and Expo this week in Los Angeles.

"This is a business issue; it's not actually a women's issue," said Margaret Weichert, principal and the Americas lead for payments at EY, who moderated the discussion. "It's about business relevance, about relevance to customers."

One of the clearest examples of this effect is Apple Pay, a product of the male-driven technology world designed for a pain point that most women do not face. Many women were likely unsurprised by the lack of uptake of the modern generation of mobile wallets, Weichert said, since the act of taking a phone out of one's purse is no more compelling than taking a plastic card out of the same purse at the point of sale.

Women make 70% of the purchasing decisions in America and in aggregate earn 50% of the country's income, said Leslie McNamara, managing director and executive vice president of partner management at Citi Retail Services. "To, frankly, not be in touch with what women experience … is just foolish from a technology perspective," she said.

Having women in a company's top ranks sends a signal to all of the other women in an organization that their perspective is welcome and valued, said Shazia Manus, CEO of TMG. But the company must also follow through on that message to make sure it offers opportunities for advancement.

"Where are women stuck?" Manus said.  "Are they in a dead-end job?"

If so, this means that the company's problem is not solved just by placing women in higher ranks, she said, but also by making sure that there is a path for women recruited at lower levels.

But the solution isn't always so clear, said Visa's Ericksen. Male managers can sometimes be reluctant to give certain feedback to women for fear of playing into stereotypes.

"Everybody needs feedback about how they can be better … but the conversation needs to happen on both sides of the table," Ericksen said. "It's going to be a little messy, some people are going to say the wrong things … but I think it's good that we're at least talking about it."

Even if the conversation is painful and messy, companies will benefit in the market by inviting a more diverse perspective into their top ranks. Just as PayPal was uniquely positioned to solve the needs of eBay sellers years ago, other newcomers threaten to displace banks and other payment companies if they are able to benefit from a fuller perspective of the market.

"Innovation happens when there's pain that needs to be addressed or something that needs to be fixed, and who's deciding where to allocate the investment in technology, they're deciding which problems to solve," said Kathleen Pierce-Gilmore, Vice President and general manager for PayPal's credit Americas business. "If you don't have women in leadership positions … you're going to have bias in who you're addressing in your audience."


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