When Kristi Swartz, Partner at DLA Piper became a partner in 2005, there were only a handful of female partners. Since then, there has been a significant increase in women entering the legal sector. Swartz writes about her journey from Texas to Hong Kong, focussed on fintech.
According to the latest report by the Law Society of Hong Kong, the gender ratio between male and female solicitors holding practising certificate is now evenly split. However, it was reported by BusinessToday that in 2021 there were less than 30% of women in fintech, and less than 5% of them were CEOs. When I decided on my career path, I did not see gender bias as a deterrent for following my heart in my chosen field.
I grew up in a typical Texan neighbourhood. I was raised by my mother and grandmother. These strong female figures gave me the confidence to aim for the stars. They instilled in me a sense of determination to achieve my dreams. These dreams saw me travel to the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, where I qualified in both jurisdictions as a lawyer. I spent my early years in practice working for international firms before I went in-house at Henderson. After my stint as an in-house lawyer, I soon realised there was a gap for a niche corporate finance firm, and this inspired me to form Swartz Solicitors in 2006. I have gone from 'small law' to 'big law' and back again, having joined DLA Piper’s Hong Kong office at the end of 2021.
My foray into decentralised finance (DeFi) and fintech has been a natural progression of my legal career. My practice has centred around regulatory and compliance matters, and I have always revelled in the challenge of bringing new products and concepts to market. I am honoured to have worked with some of Hong Kong’s homegrown unicorns since 2013, who came to me at the beginning of the fintech frenzy. They put their faith in me, and I put my faith in them, to combine their technical ability and my legal vision to overcome all of the hurdles and challenges of innovating in a highly regulated space.
Back then, the legal, financial, and technology markets that I was operating in were male-dominated. I saw this very much as an opportunity to demonstrate my skills, knowledge, and go-getting attitude.
I was a different voice, and could be heard amongst the crowd, even if I had to shout a little louder.
This was certainly demonstrated when I was participating in the fintech speaking circuits, where there were comments of how few women there were in the market, and that I was perceived as the 'token' female for the sake of gender equality just before stepping on stage. Having a strong mindset and knowing my capabilities gave me the strength to remain unphased, composed, and ready to contribute to a meaningful discussion, which was always on the nose and worth the debate with my fellow panellists and sometimes even the moderator!
Lifting up other women in a male-dominated space is something I take very seriously. I am a founding member of the 30% Club’s Hong Kong chapter. The 30% Club’s aim is to raise awareness about gender bias and bring more women onto boards. Similarly, I am an active member of the Champion Circle at The Center for Women in Law at The University of Texas, speaking with young female talent looking to embark on their own legal careers.
My ethos of always leading by example, and going back to my roots to show others what can be accomplished has (hopefully) provided rising stars with the inspiration and courage to make their own bold choices. I am also a board member of Global Women Connect, a Hong Kong-based registered charity that connects women across the globe providing mentoring opportunities that brings mentees insight on how to develop their careers and skills. In addition, I work closely with The Women’s Foundation, and am honoured to be named as an Ambassador. The Foundation runs many programmes that look to minimise the gender gap, with one, in particular, being the Girls Go Tech Programme.
Our world today is full of opportunity, and it is an exciting place to live with the development of technology.
To fellow women out there, who may be breaking into a male-dominated industry, my advice is to trust yourself and be yourself.
If you believe in your cause, and your voice, you will go far. It is of course necessary to strike the balance of listening to constructive advice from your peers. I have been met with criticism across the years - some has been valid, while some instances have been personal attacks. Remember who you are, and what you bring to the table. Stay true to yourself, and don’t let the 'big boys' get you down.
Photo supplied / Kristi Swartz, Partner, DLA Piper