If you’re wondering how representation has shifted in the finance industry over the last decade, ask Fawziah Bajwa to share the latest stats on her organization’s event speakers. The marketing executive for the Financial Health Network, a nonprofit working to improve financial health for all, has witnessed a welcome sea change in the leaders driving collaboration and progress on a more equitable financial future.
After spending her early years in the nonprofit legal space, Fawziah came to the Financial Health Network to drive meaningful impact in real people’s lives – a vision coming to life through her work to promote groundbreaking research on issues like financial disparities for women. Here, Fawziah speaks with Statement’s Lis Martin about the data that gets her excited and which marketing channels are at the top of her priority list this year.
Lis: Can you give me a one-minute summary of your role at the Financial Health Network?
Fawziah: Things have evolved so much since I joined the company seven years ago to lead our events strategy. My role today is to oversee all of marketing, which entails our brand, our digital work, our communications work and our events. Our team is focused on sharing who we are to the larger industry and establishing the Financial Health Network as a thought leader in our space. We’ve grown a lot over the years, and we’re entering this new phase where we’re established in financial services and focusing on deeper engagement with our member companies and partners. The reputation we’ve built is also helping us as we enter new markets, like serving large employers.
Lis: Before you joined the Financial Health Network, you were working in association marketing and other nonprofit sectors. What drew you to this work?
Fawziah: I like to work on issues that are complex and have impact across multiple sectors and groups of people. I also like the culture that comes with nonprofit and association work, where people come in really passionate and they want to work hard. There’s a “roll up your sleeves and get it done” mentality.
For me, joining the Financial Health Network was also an opportunity to grow in my career. At the American Bar Association, I was in the environmental sector and got to work on issues like climate change and animal rights. I really enjoyed that work, but moving into financial services gave me an opportunity to impact people’s lives more directly. There’s a lot of passion in the industry and thoughtfulness behind our brand that I love.
Lis: You’ve held a number of leadership roles at the Financial Health Network, and your CEO is a strong female leader in the space. Looking more broadly across financial services, have you seen representation or perceptions of women change during your time in the industry?
Fawziah: I'm glad you're asking me this question, because I think that there has been tremendous progress and growth in female representation across our thought leadership through our EMERGE brand. We went from having 20% of our speakers be people of color and not even counting women as part of that diverse landscape to where we are today, with women making up 54% of our speakers and people of color making up nearly 40%. Some of our partners said to us, “Hey, we really want to hear from women on these issues.” We’ve always strived for diversity in the ideas and voices we’re sharing, and we’re doing it in a more formal and public way than ever before.
We also recently published an entire research paper focused on women and the gender gap in financial health. Women’s financial health has become a much bigger topic of interest, and it’s been exciting to see that growth. We’ve always done a lot of racial equity work, but the fact that we’re highlighting women, especially post-pandemic, sends an important message.
Lis: There’s a great authenticity to having women be the ones to lead and promote that research. If you're going to delve into those topics, you want people involved who have some of those lived experiences.
Fawziah: Yes, it’s been exciting. [Financial Health Network CEO] Jen [Tescher] has made that a priority and I hope we continue to grow that focus. In some ways, topics like women’s financial health and mental health have become hot-button issues because the pandemic exposed so much. Even though what happened over the last few years was terrible, it forced us to a breaking point where things can now change for the better. Women make up more than 50% of the world’s population, and these issues need solutions. Hopefully people are paying attention now.
Lis: What are your biggest marketing priorities in 2023?
Fawziah: One of our biggest priorities is to continue to drive forward important conversations we’ve started in the last couple of years. We’re very focused on worker financial health and women, and we’re embarking on research on financial health for people with disabilities as well. There’s also been a lot of interest in the connection between mental health and financial health, so we’d like to shape that conversation.
Over the next year, the key for us is efficiency and impact. We’re spending a lot of time thinking about what’s really moving the needle and making sure that’s where our time and energy goes. One place we’re seeing a lot of those shifts is in our event strategy. We’re coming back in person with a vengeance this year, because we see that demand across our sponsors and our audience.
We’re in a recession and I don’t think we’ve hit the bottom yet, so we’re being very intentional about where our marketing dollars go. But economic uncertainty makes our work even more relevant. Our Financial Health Pulse survey found that financial health declined for the first time in five years last year. One thing I can say with confidence is that financial health and the need for this work isn’t going away.