The Year of Financial Feminism: Big Idea 2017

I’m going to be crass. My mother is going to be appalled….but I’m going there. I’m going to talk about money. Women and money. It may be tr...

I’m going to be crass. My mother is going to be appalled….but I’m going there. I’m going to talk about money. Women and money.

It may be trite to say “money is power”….but money is power, particularly in a capitalist society. As professional women come to terms in these closing days of 2016 that our progress in business has slowed to a crawl – despite all of the energy around it over the past few years – they will look for new means to move forward.

My 2017 Big Idea is that this is the year in which “financial feminism” becomes a things. It is the year in which the term “empowerment” (which the dictionary defines as “to be given power”….to be given!) bows out of the feminist vocabulary. It is instead the year in which professional women recognize we don’t need “to be given” power; it is the year that we recognize that wealready have tremendous power, and, increasingly, the means to use that power. 

How much power? In the US, women direct 80% of consumer spending, control $5 trillion of investable assets, jointly control $6 trillion of investable assets and represent half of the workforce. Yep, that’s power.

To some extent, of course, it has been untapped power; for so long, the best we could do was decide not to buy Carl Jr’s hamburgers because their commercials are (incredibly) offensive. But in 2017, we have the increasing means to use that power: rapid changes in information dissemination and the proliferation of start-ups organizing that information are changing the equation.

We can now direct our purchases to reward companies that align with our values. There are any number of new businesses to help us do this. For example, BuyUp Index is an app that scores companies from which we buy based on their commitment to gender diversity. And DoneGood is a new browser extension that enables us to identify companies that make the world better, through diversity, but also on measures like environmental friendliness and cruelty-fee products. These are just two; there are more.

We can also now direct our investments: my own Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund and the new She ETF Index invest in the top-rated companies for advancing women. At the same time, impact- and values-based investing spaces are well-outstripping growth in the traditional asset management business. These type of investing vehicles have swiftly moved from “tree-hugging, granola-eating, don’t-they-have-to-be-return-diminishing-?” offerings to much more mainstream.

And we can have much more knowledge before we go to work for companies. Services like FairyGodBoss provide company reviews for women, by women; this can give us the information, and frank assessments, we need on what people-and-family-friendly policies companies have in place before we work there (or, heck, while we work there, so that we can engage with them around these issues). 

Smart companies will get this shift and recognize it for the positive that it is. Companies that play the “business as usual” game will be hit; they likely won’t realize why for some time, as they begin to slowly lose females as customers, employees and investors.

So, yup, money is power, and as a group, professional women have a lot of it. We are reaching a tipping point in which we more thoughtfully direct our money to have an impact.

That said, as individuals, we have more progress to make. Today, women retire with 2/3s the money of men; at many socio-economic levels, we have much less wealth than that, in comparison to men, over our lives. This is particularly true for women of color and those with disabilities. The negative implications of this were laid out in a January 2016 article on the importance of the f*ck-off fundfor women, which attracted a lot of attention and discussion. It’s worth a read (and for you gentlemen, too, and most particularly if you have a daughter). It’s a heart breaker. 

The money issue cannot be boiled down to being caused by just “one thing:” professional women continue to face a range of money gaps, which can cost us millions of dollars over our lives. The gender pay gap is well known, but there’s also a gender work achievement gap, a gender debt gap, a gender funding gap, a gender expense gap, the unpaid labor gap and a gender investing gap.

So 2017 will also be a year in which women become increasingly attuned to these gender money gaps, and the costs to them personally; and they will renew their efforts to close them. Here again, new businesses and technology can accelerate this. Women can turn to services like GetRaised to calculate their own gender pay gap and get steps for reducing it; GetRaised claims the average raise they help women get is about $6,700. Women can turn to services like LearnVest to work to reduce their gender debt gap, and to my own Ellevest, which is committed to helping women close their gender investing gap.

(For more, we’ve written a whole Ellevest e-book on the topic of the gender money gaps, quantifying them and providing sources, advice and hacks for closing them.)

Personal conversations around money have been hotbeds of shame for forever (for so many reasons: because we don’t make as much money as we “should,” because maybe we make more than our friends, because our parents fought over money, because we were told it was tacky to discuss, because it seems to say so much about how others perceive our worth). What is different now is that services like the ones above are giving individuals the information and tools – and therefore the power – to take action. It’s a lot easier to gather this information on a Sunday afternoon on your computer than to poll your friends.

So, in 2017, the wake-up call of 2016 will provide a spark. The election brought into sharp relief the slow progress on the advancement of professional women – and in some arenas – outright regression. This will provide the incentive for women to take action; and they will have more information and more means to take that action than ever before.

Money is power. Financial feminism will come of age in 2017.

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