Sharon Kimathi is the daughter of Kenyan parents who migrated to the United Kingdom when she was just a young child. Following her parents’ advice, she pursued a degree in law from the University of Sussex and worked as a Paralegal and Legal Compliance officers at Reed Smith LLP and Goldman Sachs. But though she excelled in her legal career she didn’t find much satisfaction.
She realized that her true calling and happiness was found when she was writing. Sharon took a leap of faith and successfully switched her career to journalism. She has also been credited as a researcher for the shows like ‘My Trans American Road Trip’. ‘New Town Utopia’ and ‘Dispatches: Britain’s Homebuilding Scandal’.
As the Editor and face of FinTech Futures, Sharon Kimathi has created her niche and is highly respected and acclaimed among her peers. She has successfully fought through racial and gender prejudices and this creative, energetic, and intellectually curious editor is now a name to be reckoned with.
The Voice of Woman has the utmost pleasure in presenting Sharon’s views on pertinent topics of the hour- feminism, gender disparity in various sectors, and the changing role of women in terms of financial independence.
Read on to learn more:
You have a degree in law and have worked in the legal sector, what made you switch to journalism?
Passion (or the lack thereof) was the main thing that made me switch from the legal sector to journalism. I am Kenyan and moved to the United Kingdom as a child and as a child of the African diaspora, you’ll find that parents try to direct their children towards financially secure careers. These areas are often sectors like law, medicine, engineering and the likes.
So I did as I was essentially shaped to and followed a legal career path. However, when I got there I found that it wasn’t all it cracked up to be. I wasn’t as motivated or thrilled to be partaking in certain tasks and it was much more administrative than I had envisioned as one would often do when watching shows like Boston Legal, Ally McBeal and The Good Wife.
All these shows made it look exciting and fast-paced, with people in sharp suits going in and out of court – riddled with drama. Although the industry is fast-paced, especially during my time at Freshfields and Goldman, it wasn’t the type of speed that I had thought of.
This is when some much-needed soul searching took place and I thought that perhaps it was not to do with law but the type of law since I was still too afraid to take the plunge of changing careers. At both those companies, I was working on financial and commercial cases, which require a meticulous eye for detail in finances and a lot of back-and-forths with documentation.
So, I figured re-joining a law firm with a different angle would help. I joined Reed Smith and it was quite interesting at first. I helped with FinTech cases, which brought a new perspective on how things are done. It was the first time I encountered terms like crypto, blockchain, paytech etc.
I also simultaneously worked on pro bono (free legal advice) cases for the Greek migrant crisis at the time as some solicitors were stationed in Lesbos that I helped with. I was also working on Liberty human rights advice clinic and death row, too.
All very different and exciting. But I found my excitement mainly arose when I would write. Whether it was about me finding out a particular legal angle for a refugee to reunite with his long-lost brother or when writing an article for one of the partners on the blog – it was these moments of clarity and calmness that I enjoyed. I figured I would explore that in more detail.
I used my researching skills to get a role at a documentary series producer’s office and it was there that my colleagues highlighted that I seemed happier when writing about the series that was in production, so I started looking at reporting roles.
I knew I couldn’t segue into newspapers or commercial magazines as I had to have relevant experience there. A colleague of mine at Quicksilver media helped me identify the business-to-business (b2b) journalism route where I used my financial and legal background to get my foot in the door.
Then the journey went on from there, from Global Capital and MRN-I, writing about capital markets and bonds, to the international financial law review, writing about legal practice issues in the sector to FinTech Futures – marrying my FinTech experience at Reed Smith to all the other financial experiences I already had and writing, it seems like the perfect blend!
So, it’s mainly just about following what you’re passionate about – exploring what that means and then taking the path from there.
What are some of the challenges of being a female editor?
There are challenges to being an editor, let alone a female, black editor! You have to juggle multiple hats at all times from taking ownership of the newsreel to digital products like the webinar, podcasts and videos, to producing the actual magazine and supplements – it’s tough to juggle! But that’s something most editors can survive. What I find the most challenging aspect as a black female editor is being undermined or not taken seriously.
That’s been a struggle not only in this role but my whole career. But I push on and speak up as best as I can. Having opportunities like this to showcase others is a good avenue for sure.
What according to you would be the impact of Brexit on the global economy?
I covered a lot of the Brexit financial movements under a regulatory lens whilst I was at IFLR. At the time, the main issue was the legal aspect of certain contractual obligations, be it bondholders entitled to certain rights only done in an EU court or regulatory obligations. I’d say that is also the same today. Will certain financial regulations still apply?
Will they deviate – I mean I have spoken to some lobby groups in the UK who are already looking to change parts of the Second Payments Directive or deviate from Mifid II (Markets in Financial Instruments Directive). The effects of moving away from harmonisation are yet to be seen, but that is something I think can impact the economy.
If the UK is trying to do something that the others are not, it could lead others to try and follow-suit or simply cut the island off.
Women often have to work extra hard to prove their merit, yet there is a glaring gender disparity across industries- your views on it?
YES! Women do often have to work harder than their male counterparts and often for a lower price. There are some statistics I provided during a recent What the FinTech podcast recording that showed that in the UK, the results of the 2020 Parker Review, published in February, found 59 per cent of the 256 firms it reviewed did not meet the Parker Review target: to have at least one female or ethnically diverse person on their board. But it also showed a large number of women are stuck in middle management roles or more junior positions.
Those women are working hard to prove they can climb this corporate ladder and only a small number make it to the top! Not only that, but the guest I had on at the time also explained how difficult it is to juggle work and be a mother, especially during the Coronavirus crisis.
You have so many obligations, both at home and work and met with little to no sympathy for it and it’s tough. But I can only hope that with the wave and movement of people around the world pushing for change, that there will be a positive change, not only for us but our youth, too!
Feminism is often the most misconstrued word, what according to you is the real essence of it?
Feminism is for everybody, as bell hooks once wrote. Feminism is the equality and equity of everyone. Not only just women having a right to vote, work, live and love however they choose, but for EVERYONE – black, Asian, Hispanic, white, gay, straight, bisexual, transsexual – to have a right to enjoy their lives in peace and happiness. To know that when you’re going to work, your value as an employee and as a human is met with and treated with dignity. To ensure that no one is struggling.
We also need to talk about power and power struggles when we talk about feminism as that is essentially what is behind the lack of enforcing feminism. We live in a patriarchal age and that has power for those that benefit from it – often men – black, white, Asian, Hispanic – it’s men.
They see feminism as a threat to their power. They interpret it as a threat to the way they live and see it as a negative. They see and think it means less money for them, more work for them to do, less comfort. Change often is viewed as a threat to those that don’t fully understand it.
Change is needed or growth in all aspects of life. We wouldn’t have butterflies were it not for change – hey, we wouldn’t be here on earth talking as humans and being able to view each other on these digital platforms were it not for change. But often that change too was feared. But once we understand it.
We understand digital doesn’t mean doom (well unless you’re outspoken on social media) but change means new dawn and that dawn breaks to a beautiful unfilled day.
Where women are paid the same for the work they do and that’s positive as it means more money into the economy; not having black people killed in the streets, bullied or harassed, which leads to a peaceful day as no one is hurt so, no protests or riots in the streets; it means a sharing of household chores, which leads to more time to get to know a spouse better or enjoy the finer things in life together; sharing time with family and children, which means forming greater bonds with the people you love.
As Assata Shakur once said: “We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Feminism is the way the world should be – and it is the future. It’s certainly a future we should be fighting for.
How has a woman’s role changed in investment and contribution to the economy over the years?
It has drastically changed as women have more control over their financials and accounts. But it’s not in all societies as there are still places where a woman’s financials are overseen by men, and that’s a struggle we need to acknowledge, too.
It means more barriers to the circulation of those funds into the economy to better change a nation. If we had better protocols within the broader banking system from the top, so for example if Bis, the Bank for International Settlements, an international financial institution owned by central banks that “fosters international monetary and financial cooperation and serves as a bank for central banks” really wanted more money in circulation and the prosperity of all, then it should seek to enforce legislation around “duress” within two-party account holders.
When two people commit to having a joint account, it’s often to the detriment of someone in the relationship. Negotiations with parties who are husband and wife, or parent and child, or others in a known relationship of trust and confidence, may require a different approach to ensure there is no abuse of financials.
But we also need to talk about financial freedom. Financial freedom usually means having enough savings, financial investments, and cash on hand to afford the kind of life we desire for ourselves and our families. Once women are paid parity, then there is more chance of financial freedom and for controlling funds. There’s an interesting investment conundrum.
The conundrum is that although women invest less than men, studies show that they are typically better at it. According to an analysis by Warwick Business School, women outperform men at investing by 1.8 percentage points over three years. This is based on data from men and women using the Barclays Smart Investor service.
So all in all, equality for women means more chances of financial freedom and often, a good chance of investing that money wisely!
There is a huge pay divide between men and women, why is it so and what can be done to overcome this?
As I mentioned earlier, it’s about the patriarchal system we’re living in. The owners of the means of production and the holders of power as well, so people in parliament, or at the very top of these large conglomerates, corporations and financial institutions – are mainly men.
Whether the answer is sheer ignorance or malicious intent from these people in a position of power, makes no difference to those without as the effect is the same – a lack of equity and equality for all. It leads to more grievances, disputes and financial losses. It is more hard work for an institution to fight in court over equal pay than if the institution simply paid female employees parity for a role if it were a man in that position with that same experience.
The company has to pay legal fees, fight employees internally, face reputational damage etc – it’s more hassle than it’s worth! To overcome this, there must be change all over the system. More female politicians, supreme court judges, and policymakers who can fight the battle in the name of feminism, not just having female politicians. There are women out there with anti-feminist thoughts and values, too who have ruled the roost and made no changes for their fellow women as they don’t see a need for change. They think the system didn’t affect them.
So, when asking for change, we need to see leadership – female leadership that has a purpose! That purpose is to ensure the equality and equity of all. Then and only then can we start cooking with fire, as the female members of boards can echo their thoughts and feelings about equal pay and be taken seriously from changes within the law that will be enforced seriously if the rules are not applied. That’s the point when real change will take place. Otherwise, having women in positions of power who don’t see the need for equality for all is practically the same as having a man there!
Why is it important for women to be financially independent in today’s world?
Financial freedom is incredibly important, especially in today’s world as we’re seeing a rise in domestic violence cases amid COVID-19 all over the world with few resources to go around due to harsh economic conditions and austerity applied in the past cutting funds of helpful institutions. Financial independence can lead to a way out of a domestic abuse relationship, it can help form a business, it can help look after the children and family, or pursue ambitions that were on the back burner.
Please share a message for our viewers through the Voice of Woman.
I mentioned this in a webinar for Bright Exchange which is a platform that aims to help young people achieve their aspirations. “Every mentor was once a student who learnt the value of asking for help”. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to meet your goals. Don’t be afraid of asking questions. Do go for it! Pursue your passions and dreams! Fight the good fight, so that your generation can be better than the last and that generation will be better too.