Investing in Women Is a Movement, Not a Moment

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By Manisha Thakor, CFA, CFP®

Over the last year or so, we have witnessed a groundswell of interest and support before, during, and after our Women Living a Richer Life events. The resulting conversations and connections have made it clear that something meaningful is happening in the zeitgeist around women, wealth, and power.

At Brighton Jones, we are championing the continued advancements and achievements of women while also recognizing that there is still much work to be done. Let’s review where we’ve been, where we are today, and what we can do to make sure tomorrow holds more promise.

The Fact (Not Opinion) of the Matter

“What I’ve come to understand is that it all depends on women and girls. For all of history, women and girls have been relegated to the margins, denied an equal chance to learn, lead, earn, thrive, and rise. Even today, there is nowhere on earth where women have achieved true equality.” – Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Women comprise 51 percent of the world’s population. Yet when it comes to key metrics around power and influence, in venues from grassroots initiatives to the corporate and political arenas, the results are far from even between the genders. As scholar Mary Beard writes in her recent book, Women & Power: A Manifesto, it’s difficult at times to fathom “just how deeply embedded in Western culture are the mechanisms that silence women, that refuse to take them seriously, and that sever them…from the centers of power.”

If we start from the fact (not opinion) that women have been lacking in both money and power on a collective basis, where does that leave us today?

Behind the Numbers

The vast majority of women will at some point in their lives be the primary financial decision-maker in their households. And while female knowledge of financial concepts is essentially the same as their male counterparts, female confidence around their knowledge level is significantly lower than that of men.

One factor contributing to this confidence gap may be the financial headwinds that women face. Depending upon the time frame and methodology used, white women earn between $0.77 and $0.82 on the male dollar (women of color earn significantly less than that). Women also spend on average 11 more years out of the workforce than men caring for children and/or elderly parents. What’s more, women in the United States live approximately five years longer than men. Stated bluntly, women earn less, for fewer years worked, yet must support themselves over their lifetime for more years than men. None of these figures are new, but presented together they tell a dramatic story.

Women don’t lack financial knowledge, but many do suffer from lower confidence and pay inequities.

Take Jane and Joe, both 25 years old and recent graduates of a top school specializing in electrical engineering. After negotiating his starting salary, Joe is earning $50,000 per year. In line with research that shows that women negotiate their starting salaries at far lower rates than men, Jane settles for the original offer of $40,000 per year. While both Jane and Joe contribute 10 percent of their paycheck to retirement savings and invest those funds in an identical manner, a seemingly small difference in initial earnings could result in a massive difference in their respective accounts upon retirement—upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The chasm would only widen, of course, if Jane opted to leave the workforce temporarily to care for a child or an aging parent.

The bottom line? Women don’t lack financial knowledge, but many do suffer from lower confidence and pay inequities.

Paving a New Path Forward

Alas, far too many industries—financial services is no exception—view women as a “niche.” As a majority of the population, however, women are quite literally the opposite of a small, specialized subset of the whole.

Around the globe, progress is being made on a wide variety of fronts. Here are some highlights:

  • In 2015, Germany mandated that women must comprise 30 percent of corporate boards.
  • Last year, the U.K. declared that a subset of large companies needed to increase transparency around pay in an effort to close the gender gap.
  • Closer to home, legislation passed in California made it the first state to require that publicly traded companies have at least one woman on their board of directors by the end of 2019. From there, representation requirements would increase in 2021 to at least two women on boards of five members and at least three women on boards with six or more members.

What more can be done? The list is long, but here’s an excellent place to start:

  • Teach women new to the workforce the power of amplification to ensure they are both seen and heard in key meetings—not to mention fostering a sense of support and networking.
  • Increase the availability of flex work schedules to make it easier for working parents (not just moms!) to be both productive workers and loving parents to children and more loving children to elderly parents.
  • Increase the opportunities and formal programs that enable women who have left the workplace for the reasons mentioned above to “on-ramp” more successfully.

Melinda Gates put it best: “If you want to lift a society up, invest in women.” We at Brighton Jones can’t agree more and want to help our female clients find their unique voice when it comes to utilizing money and power in their own lives.

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