Women and money: The real reason we don’t want to discuss our finances and how to fix it

With Equal Pay Day 2016 approaching on April 12th, women and men around the world turn their attention to the pay gap between their earnings, specifically how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.

As we draw awareness to such an important issue, I’d like to bring some attention to a disheartening figure by the 2015 Fidelity Investments Money FIT Women Study.  According to this study, eighty percent of women confess that they have refrained from and feel uncomfortable with discussing their finances with those they are close to.  Their parents, spouses, siblings, best friends, etc.

Eighty percent.

Women around the world work so hard to break through that glass ceiling, “balance it all,” and earn the same wages as their male counterparts – yet an alarming number of women don’t discuss the core reason for that wage gap – money – with those who love and care about them the most.

So the question is…why?

Most researchers point towards confidence. From the early days in a women’s education, women are less confident and more timid in fields like math, science, and computer programming, as those have historically been male-dominated and more heavily encouraged for young male students. 

It’s no surprise that as women move into adulthood, they are not as confident in their math skills, and thus their financial know-how, given their history throughout their early education.

But I can’t help but disagree that a lack of confidence is the main reason eighty percent of women are uncomfortable discussing money.  After all, women now make up 60 percent of university graduates – almost all of whom are required to complete a certain degree of math and basic business courses.  Furthermore, women now compose 40 percent of students at the country’s top MBA programs.

According to Fidelity’s survey, 92 percent of women want to learn more about financial planning, 75 percent want to learn more about money and investing, and 83 percent want to get more involved in their finances in the next year.  What’s even more interesting is that 82 percent of women are confident in managing their day-to-day budgeting.

While confidence undoubtedly comes into play with women and money, the real reason so many women don’t feel comfortable discussing their finances is the negative stigma associated with it

The organization, BanBossy, states, “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.”  The same goes for women and money. When women talk about money in an authoritative way, there is a belief and negative stigma that women are not only bossy, but pushy, egotistical, and “too ambitious.”  It’s a badge of honor for men – but it makes a women seem money-hungry and aggressive. 

As it stands, women are already twice as likely to be labeled bossy than their male counterparts – and a common indicator for bossiness is a focus on “authority, power, and status.”  And that includes money.

According to Harvard Business Review, “High-achieving women experience social backlash because their very success – and specifically the behaviors that created that success – violates our expectations about how women are supposed to behave.”If a woman acts out of character – and is not feminine, nurturing, and kind with her communication – she is disliked.  For most, discussing money and finances is considered masculine and macho – and it’s not surprising that women fear backlash in approaching a topic considered as such.

Because eighty percent of women are not comfortable discussing their finances with those people they are closest to, it comes as no surprise that women are less likely to negotiate their salaries (and ask for raises) than their male coworkers. 

According to a Glamour Magazine survey in 2015, just 39 percent of women asked for a higher salary when starting a new job, compared to 54 percent of men.  Similarly, 43 percent of women admit to asking for a raise during their career, compared to 54 percent of men.

So how do we fix it?

1. Change the language.  Just as we need to ban the word “bossy,” we need to eliminate the negative stigma associated with women discussing their finances.  It does not make a woman money-hungry – but rather educated, smart, and prepared. 

2. Get educated.  Education is the key propellant to change.  Young girls in school should be proud to excel in math, science, and computer programming class.  Young women in college should be required to enroll in personal finance and accounting classes, regardless of their major. 

3. Embrace asking for help.  Most people view asking for help as a weakness – but in reality, those on the giving end of it feel fulfilled by giving help.  Asking for help is a great way to start the conversation as it relates to your finances – and will get you used to speaking about it, without coming from a powerful, authoritative position.  As you get more comfortable speaking about money and finances, you won’t need to approach it from a position of asking for help – you can be the one helping others.

We’re moving in the right direction – but there is still work to be done. 

I believe true progress will be made when we acknowledge that the real issue deterring women from talking about money is not confidence, but self-imposed limitations in our thinking.  Only then will teachers, parents, businesses, and society at large be able to identify the real challenge at hand and work to fix it.  

Star Hughes-Gorup is a director at Hughes Marino, a leading commercial real estate firm that exclusively reprents tenants and buyers.  

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