Passion and the purpose

Nadia Edwards-Dashti, co-founder of Harrington Starr, is a true champion for women in Fintech, with a passion for diversity & inclusion

Named the Most Inspirational Recruitment Leader at the 2019 Recruiter Investing in Talent Awards, Nadia Edwards-Dashti has been recognised as a trailblazer in her field. With a determined nature, successful podcast and new book, Edwards-Dashti aims to make Fintech an inclusive environment for all women.

Falling into recruitment straight out of university, Edwards-Dashti never knew she wanted to be a recruiter. With two degrees under her belt, her first role working in recruitment came through an agency, but at the time, she had no idea what recruitment was.

“I remember, my rep prepared me really strictly,” she says. “He was like, ‘So they're going to ask you about candidates and ask you about clients’ and I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ But somehow I impressed the interviewer, and I got offered a job.”

Placed in a company renowned at the time for being quietly ‘aggressive’, as a trainee consultant, Edwards-Dashi said that first role came with many challenges. Although it created a great training ground to teach her the basics of recruitment, Edwards-Dashti said she struggled with her confidence, which meant the company’s heavy reliance on cold calling was a major challenge.

For Edwards-Dashti, recruitment never came easy and was something she really had to work hard at.

“That’s how the early part of my career was; it was very much sink or swim and to be really honest, I sank at the beginning. Looking back, I’m surprised I lasted the first six months. But I just kept kicking, so in the end I did swim,” she says.

Finding her purpose in recruitment came over time. Once she started to build confidence, she tried to bring parts of herself to the process. “If I do any of those psychometric tests, I always come out as a defender. I really like standing up for people, and I think actually recruitment: if you boil it down, what are you doing when you’re helping find someone a job? You’re standing up for them, and you’re representing them.”

She sees the recruitment process as an opportunity to fight for people and push companies to take chances and invest in people. She adds: “I think that part of it really worked well for my personality, and over the years I’ve allowed my personality to come through and take more and more of an active role in my job.”

Her first introduction to the Fintech industry came in 2005, working in a recruitment company which placed technologists within the financial sector. Learning the marketplace from scratch required her to ask more questions and go the extra mile with companies to find where she could add value. This led her to identify genuine gaps within the marketplace, which allowed her to build on ways to solve those problems.

New venture

As chief customer officer for the Harrington Starr recruitment agency, which she co-founded in 2010 with CEOs Toby Babb and James Hounslow, Edwards-Dashti brought her unique style of recruitment problem solving to a new venture, which aimed to bring back traditional values missing in everyday recruitment.

Values such as hosting, looking after people and building relationships with companies outside of business-as-usual, is their well-received approach to engaging with clients. “For us, we wanted to genuinely add value to people outside of when they were looking to recruit,” she explains. “Then, when they are looking to build their team, they already trust us, so they will use us.”

Building this ideology within her recruitment approach, and aligning it with her passion for gender equality, allowed Edwards-Dashti to find her purpose in the recruitment process.

We wanted to add value to people outside of when they were looking to recruit

She started hosting career workshops, offering free CV tailoring and salary surveys, and by 2013 she was invited to talk at various Fintech events to show companies how to drive inclusion.

Appealing to women

In 2020, she built a campaign called The 17% List, based on a UK report by the Female Founders Forum that claimed only 17% of all technology roles across the UK were filled by women. At the time, a common theme in Fintech, regarding the low numbers, was a lack of visibility of female talent. So Edwards-Dashti decided to approach female technology workers outside of Fintech, to help drive up the numbers within that technology sector specifically.

“I approached female technologists and I would say: ‘This is my programme. I’m all about trying to help customers create roles for you so that we can build a role around your skillset and allow you to step up into a position within a business’ and it was incredibly successful.”

Her successful podcast, ‘Fintech With Nadia: The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Discussions’, has become an instant hit online, gathering a diverse audience from across the Fintech space and even across the waters.

“It’s reaching countries I never even heard of, and I am so proud to say that considering it’s a discussion on women, 47% of my audience is men.” She adds: “I think that is great, as the big problem within gender inclusion conversations is that it’s only women in the conversation, and I’m a big believer that inclusion is about including everybody.”

It’s also a great source of first-hand research for Edwards-Dashti as she invites women to discuss their working experience in Fintech, as well as encouraging companies in the Fintech space to address their inclusion policies. “I get to find out whether there are any problems that companies are having right now, and whether I am solving them.”

Harrington Starr CEO Toby Babb thinks Edwards-Dashti’s immersion in podcasting has helped highlight the issue of gender diversity, a problem faced by nearly every business they have spoken to.

When asked about her work, Babb says: “Through a sustained programme of The 17% List, the book, the podcast, content, events and insight, Nadia has thrown herself at making change in the sector with stunning, tangible results. She is a force for positive change and helped companies diversify and many women boost their visibility and create opportunities to grow. It is incredible and powerful to see.”

I’m a big believer that inclusion is about including everybody

During the lockdown in 2020, right after having her first child, Nadia felt motivated to jump right back into work, but she realised very quickly that there were no books written for women who wanted to continue their career post-pregnancy. It was here she found a gap in the market that led her to create her podcast, ‘Maternity and Paternity Stories of Fintech’, where she interviewed women and men on their experience continuing their careers after having a child.

“I was really passionate about that series. It’s about understanding what individuals want. We placed a woman recently at a company that didn’t have a maternity package in place and that was something that she specifically needed. So we helped them set up their maternity package, which she’s over the moon about – and which I think is exactly what we should be doing in terms of supporting people in this industry,” she said.

The success of her podcast has led to the publishing of her new book, The Fintech Women Who Walk the Talk: Driving change for workplace gender equality. She started to write the book after listening back to over 100 Women in Fintech podcasts, and realising the amazing lessons discussed.

Based on discussions with 118 experts across the Fintech sector, she describes the book as a ‘how to’ guide for gender equality. “Fintech is built on change. It’s built on agility. It’s built on challenging the status quo. Did we ever think that we would be able to transfer money abroad within a second? No, Fintech has allowed that to happen. If it can work that out, I think we can work out how we bring in more women and retain more women to our industry.”

Image credit | Pål-Hansen

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