Today I eavesdropped on and then joined a Twitter chat hosted by Lauren Young of Reuters. The following tweet caught my eye:
Why do women lack confidence when it comes to investing? #ReutersWomen
— Lauren Young (@LaurenYoung) March 3, 2015
The comment made me angry. It reminded me of studies I read in high school that examined why girls underperform in math and science. At the time, the studies' conclusions felt like they were excusing underperformance rather than seeking to change it. I felt angry and defiant. Perhaps the only time I was a "problem child" in school was when I demanded that my guidance counselor give me permission to double up on math classes so that I would be able to take calculus early. I was told it would be too much stress. Instead, I made A's in both classes and skipped high school calculus for college calculus when I was 16.
Much of the narrative around women and finance reminds me of those days. Yes, it is true that some women feel intimidated about finance and investing. In fact, during my early days in wealth management, I was sometimes permitted to attend client meetings - a privilege typically reserved for senior analysts - mostly because I was female. The hope was that my youth and femininity would make female clients feel more comfortable asking questions. Sometimes it did. Meanwhile, it taught me how to break down financial topics for different audiences.
I don't want to be dismissive toward anyone who feels overwhelmed by finance - male or female - but I do want to change the narrative. Instead of headlines about women feeling overwhelmed, I want headlines about women feeling in control. Success is inspiring. We draw inspiration from success stories, whether it's business leaders, politicians, athletes, or artists, why not from financially secure women?
While I don't have proof, I deeply suspect that the overwhelmed narrative does more harm than good. It gives permission for underperformance and can be disempowering. Instead of taking control, it makes people desperate help-seekers . Unfortunately, there is also a whole industry of so-called financial professionals profiting off of financial insecurity of others. In fact, one of my favorite passages from Helaine Olen's "Pound Foolish" comes from Jane Bryant Quinn:
"I have on principle not written a book that says 'personal finance for women' because I think money green, not pink or blue. But I've got to say, as a marketing device, it is superb."
Occasionally friends or even strangers on Twitter ask me for financial advice. Often they are apologetic, claiming they don't know much about finance. I call BS. If you are someone who is able to pay your bills each month, you are more financially savvy than the banks that failed during the financial crisis. And, if it wasn't obvious, those banks were run by "financial experts." They may have had the jargon and swagger, but you're solvent.
As for being an "expert," I once was treasurer (naturally) and board member of a non-profit. While it would make sense that financial concerns would be funneled my way, I was surprised by how often board members claimed they didn't understand finance. Meanwhile, many of them had enviable careers, some of them even started their own business. Their personal balance sheets rivaled mine. My only advantage was that I stumbled into a career that I came to love, and I was fearless about asking questions when I didn't understand things.
Perhaps if the we changed the story to "ask what you don't know" instead of "why don't we know" we'll see true progress.
With that said, I'm always available for questions or a chat :-)