Leading women in fintech often find themselves the only women in a room. Miriam Sheril, who leads the US product team for London-based payment technology company Form3, is even more of a minority.
“There aren’t many other women in the room who are also Orthodox Jews,” she said.
Women in the financial industry face myriad challenges, from gain representation in executive roles to raising venture capital funds for the companies they lead. The restrictions of Orthodox Judaism, or of any religion that has rules or customs affecting work schedules, diet, and family obligations that may be unknown to the general population, add layers of complexity.
Sheril received her Bachelor of Science in Computational Mathematics and a Master’s in Information Systems. He spent 15 years in the Federal Reserve Bank system, most recently building and designing fednow from his early days as Senior Product Manager, before joining Form3 in June 2022 to scale its presence in the US. As is common in Orthodox Judaism, he married young — in his case, a month shy of his 20th birthday. — and had a 10-month-old baby when she did her first internship at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
“Originally I wasn’t interested in payments, just technology,” he said. “Once I was at the Federal Reserve I became a certifiable payments geek.”
In an interview, she talks about how she has overcome misconceptions about the role Orthodox Jewish women play in the corporate world both inside and outside her community, how mentors other women to balance work and home life, and her trick for avoiding phrases that undermine a woman’s credibility.
How often do you run into other Orthodox Jews in fintech or at the Federal Reserve?
MIRIAM SHERIL: There were Orthodox Jewish women working at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, although not many. It’s hard. Culturally we marry young and have children young, and large families are commonplace. The default is no matter what, pregnancy is nine months and maternity leave. [takes] months. At the end of the day, the numbers don’t add up. If you have six children, you are pregnant six times and take six maternity leaves. Having a career and entering corporate America is not easy for a woman in my world, even though I have many female friends who do. At the New York Fed, technology is specifically a space that women in my community come to.
Why do you think that is?
In technology there have been more opportunities for flexible education. You can get a computer science degree at night. Especially when I joined Form3, I heard that there are very few women in tech. Whereas for our community, if women get into corporate America, they often start in tech.
What does it mean to be often the only Orthodox Jewish woman in the room?
It means you have to put it up front and push it forward. I am a talker and I share things all the time. Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair when they get married, so wearing a wig is an important thing. There are situations where I’m like, “Oh man, I need to go adjust my wig, I’ll be right back,” and people are like, “You what?” I have learned through the years to be aware and not to assume that everyone knows it.
In New York, many people knew the customs. But when I was working with people in [other cities] on FedNow, I suddenly noticed this change: You’ve heard of Judaism, but what exactly is kosher? You need a real certificate, I thought it was just that you can’t eat pork. At Form3, the acceptance and conversations are very open, but there is much less awareness. I’m lucky I’ve never had a negative reaction. I’ve always said, “Wow, that’s really interesting.”
I take off all Jewish holidays. At the New York Fed, everyone knows Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the big ones. Then I will go to the festival of Sukkot, which nobody knows about, and it has two parts. There is a lot to explain. When I was applying for Form3 and knew they were going to make an offer, I realized not to assume they knew I had to log off early on Friday for Saturday in the winter. The culture at Form3 is wonderful. Many people ask: “Do you agree with the questions?” They are super curious.
What kinds of false views have you corrected throughout your career?
I need to take into account the food and [explain] that kosher is not the same as vegetarian. I have come across questions like: “Are you an Orthodox Jewish woman and do you have permission to work?” That tends to be where I hear the most: yes, we are allowed to work, and a lot of women work. Someone once said: “Don’t you need to have more children?” as if it were a requirement. I was like, no, that’s not how it works. The woman can say if she wants to have more children.
You have had very positive reactions. What can other people do to increase their chances of the same?
Part of this could have to do with the way you share things. I am not aware of being religious. I grew up in an intellectual family, which makes me very open to intellectual conversations. It’s also okay to say that it’s not a topic I feel comfortable discussing.
Was it difficult to get accommodations at the Fed?
I’ve always had a lot of adaptations at work. When the Fed offered me a job, the first thing I talked to was, what kind of remote options do you offer? There was no full-time working remote back then. But I had a 10-month-old baby as an intern. I usually went three days a week and worked from home two days a week.
The FedNow program was so busy and I was working long hours, I had to be good about it. I would push things to the last minute on Fridays. I had to be stronger on my own to say, you don’t need to be on that call, it will be handled or not and you’ll take care of it on Sunday.
Where I have struggled with housing is in my community. My husband and I send our children to private Jewish schools and I have always noticed this tendency to assume that mothers are at home. But I was naive to think that it was only in my world. All the women I’ve talked to, Jewish or not, have the same problem. The world still doesn’t accept the fact that both parents could have full-time jobs.
To my husband’s credit, he has always had to partner with me, and always wanted to. There aren’t many men in my community who are used to a woman. [working full-time]. It has been interesting for us to navigate. Right now my husband carpools in the morning every day because I get an early start. Most husbands don’t carpool.
How have you counseled women in your community on how to juggle work and home obligations?
It happened naturally. When I moved to my current community in Clifton, NJ, people will say, my daughter is about to start Bloomberg, can she have a chat with you? I talk to them about how I’ve made it work. Another thing that I do as a mentor to people is do an interview every two years, no matter what. You need to know if you are marketable and what your salary offers might be. Every two years I used to update my resume and interview to see what was out there. In the first eight or nine years of my career, I always received a higher salary offer, but never had the flexibility of a remote schedule to match. With [three kids] I didn’t want to risk losing that. Now it’s a different conversation.
How have you changed the habit of selling yourself less?
I would constantly say in a meeting: “This is probably a stupid question” or “I’m really sorry, but can I ask you…”. But no man would say that, even when they were saying something stupid. I realized that we were allowing this idea that maybe I’m not as much of a thought leader as the man sitting next to me. I found myself doing it on FedNow, where I wrote the requirements, until a woman called me to say, you realize that everyone in this room knows that you know this better than all of us. I literally put a sticky note on my computer to remind myself when I was in meetings, don’t say sorry, don’t say “this is stupid”. Now it’s out of my jargon.