Happy International Women’s Day! This year’s campaign, #BalanceforBetter, focuses on celebrating women’s achievements while calling for a more gender-balanced world.
At MPOWER, we can think of no better way to mark International Women’s Day than by highlighting the strides we have made towards attaining parity in our workforce and our board, building a gender-balanced talent pipeline, supporting the ecosystem of women in tech, and supporting the educational and career aspirations of our female customers around the world.
Over the past year, MPOWER has taken numerous concrete steps to increase gender balance within the company. With the addition of Nicole West to its board in October 2018, female representation on MPOWER’s board increased to 40 percent. MPOWER also continued to attract high-quality female candidates, and a remarkable 50 percent of employees are female.
In 2018, MPOWER also made a concerted effort to expand family-friendly benefits. The company created a new paid parental leave benefit and expanded its telework policy to allow new parents to telework three days a week.
Building a Talent Pipeline—and Supporting Women in Tech More Broadly
From day one, MPOWER has focused on going the extra mile to recruit and retain talented women—and to build its own internal talent pipeline by promoting from within.
MPOWER’s founders, Manu Smadja and Mike Davis, made a very conscious decision to add a diverse perspective to the management team from the early days. Lana Bonipolsky joined as the firm’s second employee and is now its Senior Vice President of Talent and Operations.
“What attracted me to MPOWER in the beginning is the same thing that excites me to come to work every day here – the foundation of the company is inclusion. Manu and Mike really encouraged me to lead and contribute from my unique expertise and perspective and valued my input. I do believe that having varied view points and backgrounds on the management team has made our growth more stable and our culture more inclusive,” says Bronipolsky, now Senior Vice President of Talent and Operations.
“We’ve been very deliberate in building the type of workplace where everyone can thrive,” Bronipolsky added. “We still have a way to go, but our parental leave policies, our focus on diversity in tech recruiting, and our professional development programs all serve to attract top talent who will thrive here. I’ll say that our search for a head of engineering last year demonstrated how difficult it can be to get a wide range of applicants in the door for some roles. We knew our must-haves, and despite waiting a bit longer to fill the role, the wait paid off and we hired a phenomenal Senior Director of Engineering, Parimala Pakalapati, to head the team.”
But the long search for a diverse roster of candidates for the role also illustrated the relatively small pool of female candidates for tech roles. “It showed us that we didn’t just need to go out and find top-quality female talent—we needed to create it,” said Bronipolsky.
Since then, the company has been focused on promoting from within. In the last semiannual promotion cycle, seven of its 38 employees were promoted—and five of these were women.
But attracting, retaining, and growing the pipeline of women in tech has gone far beyond a human resources initiative. Increasingly, female employees at MPOWER are taking ownership of the issue—and taking action to support the wider ecosystem of women in tech.
Recently, MPOWER Senior Customer Success Analyst Brittany Coppola spearheaded the creation of a Women in Tech group to provide unique programming, workshops, and events that support the advancement of women at MPOWER. The group plans to sponsor an event open to the public as part of MPOWER’s five-year anniversary celebration, host female founders in the tech industry as guest speakers, and offer workshops on topics like “The Power of Your Personal Brand” and “Navigating Salary Negotiations.”
“I’m very proud to work at a company that has nearly achieved parity in terms of gender balance,” says Coppola. “But there’s still work to do. I wanted to create a forum where women could come together to talk openly about the unique challenges we face working in the tech sector, and also have access to resources and support for advancing their careers in a male-dominated field.”
On the Horizon: Building a Gender-Balanced Customer Base
In this blog post, we’ve focused on how MPOWER is addressing gender inequities internally. But MPOWER is also very much focused on how we’re addressing gender inequities worldwide. As the only U.S.-based company that provides education loans to international students without collateral, a co-signer, or a U.S. credit score, we believe we have a special role to play in helping women around the world achieve their educational and career aspirations; interviews with our borrowers suggest that women indicate that women in emerging markets are less likely than their male counterparts to receive financial support for higher education from their families.
We’re proud that while only 43 percent of student visas in the U.S. are issued to women, 45 percent of MPOWER’s borrowers are female. But that doesn’t satisfy MPOWER CEO Manu Smadja, who has challenged MPOWER’s employees to achieve full parity.
Fortunately, MPOWER has already made significant progress on this front. In the first two months of this year, the percentage of approvals to female borrowers rose to 48 percent. MPOWER also launched its first-ever Women in STEM scholarship program.
On April 1st, we’ll be celebrating our anniversary with more news and data about our progress in serving talented, ambitious young women from around the globe, so stay tuned!