I happen to be a woman, and I happen to be immensely interested in making sure I have plenty of money. But there is one thing I don’t need: and that is to be “empowered” in matters of money.
I’ve studied how the money business interacts with women for a while now, with both a professional and personal interest.
Here’s the universal theme that seems to undergird any attempt to make money more accessible and relevant to women: that women need to be empowered, or that they need to “get serious” about money.
Whether it is in attempts of large financial behemoths to attract women (think “Women &Co.” that Citi launched many years back, only to quietly put it to sleep) or in many of the other smaller businesses’ initiatives, this theme of “empowerment” seems to be running pretty strong.
Here’s the problem with seeing the world through “empowerment”-tinted glasses:
Three Bad Consequences
Boring, Monolithic Approaches:
Lumping all women together into one large mass and then assuming they need “empowerment” can only lead to nightmarishly caricatured approaches to give them what they want or need.
I don’t want to be given wine and cheese (I don’t drink, and I also have no time for these doodahs). I don’t want to be told “I can do it.” (I know that already). So every one of these outreaches feels like a waste of time and an insult.
If I had a dollar for every time I was talked to in a “nice” condescending tone when asking a real and substantive question about a big dollar purchase with financial implications, I’d never again need their “once-in-a-lifetime” financing deals to afford them.
I happen to be in financial services, and I enjoy the challenge of stewarding my family’s resources. But I am tired of not having real answers to my questions about costs, fees, or how things are calculated without 4–5 attempts or with the automatic respect my husband’s questions seem to get.
Excuse to Not Dig Deeper
If you make a show of “empowering” women with skin deep approaches that don’t even start to address the real problem, that provides a convenient excuse for not doing the real work of uncovering unsolved problems, and then providing real and substantive solutions that thoughtfully address these needs.
10 reasons I hate managing money…and 4 simple rules I use to beat them
I have had a life-long struggle with managing money. It’s not the usual “I was drowning in debt and I saw the light”…
What Women Really Struggle With
From my view, what women really struggle with are five things that sorely need to be addressed:
- Severe shortage of time and mental bandwidth: We’re already short. Don’t add to the burden by making us jump through hoops or providing extra long (dumbed-down) explanations, or putting us through tediously frustrating processes to get even basic things done. OR if they have to be tedious, at least have the courtesy to warn us so we can allocate the appropriate amount of very precious time to get it done.
- Information gap: I believe women tend to take in and process information in a more holistic and less linear manner. When we buy something, we have questions, usually very thoughtful and pragmatic ones too. The type of questions that would tell any salesperson that we’re seriously deliberating making a purchase. Getting that 360 degree view and good information texture will make a huge impact. It’s also something I have never seen, especially with money.
- Treatment with respect: Women make and direct a lot of money. In many cases, they may not only act as the CFO but also as the CEO of the household. At a minimum, treat women the same way that men get treated — courteously, respectfully. And most of all, take women seriously. I care about investments a lot more than I care about fancy shoes. Really.
- The benefit: Every woman is looking to solve a very clear, very real and tangible problem when she’s contemplating a purchase, especially financial. I for one have zero interest in how “cool” the investment strategy or credit card is. I want to know: what will it do in x,y, and z situations — and these situations typically have much to do with my or my family’s long-term financial security. Beating some made-up number means nothing to me, so please don’t waste my (already nonexistent) time talking about that. Just tell me how much better it is than doing nothing (my real fallback).
- The risk: The worst case scenario is always present in my mind when taking any decision, and the thing I care about more than most other factors is, how can I mitigate that outcome? And how bad can it get? Providing a safety net for the worst case will get me far faster and closer to the finish line than talking about how great a product is or how many bells and whistles it has.
The careful reader will notice one common theme — none of this has anything to do with empowerment.
All it boils down to is a good understanding of the specifics of the problem, and the exact contours the solution needs to have, and then creating that solution.
So What Do You Do If You’re a Woman
If you’re a woman reading this, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with you.
I think the biggest favor we can do ourselves is to quit thinking we need to be empowered in any way. We have the dollars, we have the power and we certainly demonstrate strength, grit and persistence in every other sphere of life.
Let’s take that common sense approach and apply it without shame or apology to money too.
And when we run into all the barriers I talked about above, let’s pause for a minute and remind ourselves that a lot of this is not of our making, but we’re still the ones to lose if we don’t solve them with whatever we can bring to the table.
Sometimes that is personal — decisions we make as individual consumers. In these cases, I firmly believe we need to stand our ground and make sure we get what we need to solve whatever financial problem we’re working on, regardless of how the industry or its people make us feel. The rest is just noise. Let it blow away.
But many times, we have important roles in the world of business too. Let’s not forget our ability to shape things in those roles. We don’t need to make a big noise — we just need to nudge these offerings a little bit at a time so they feel more natural, more right and more of what fits the bill for women too. In business they call it “expanding your market”, I believe.
Shubha Chakravarthy is a 20-year financial services veteran currently living in Illinois, USA. A recovering perfectionist and a self-confessed geek, Shubha is obsessed with crafting a more human approach to financial betterment. When not dreaming up new ways to make money easier and more fun, she likes to take (some real and many imaginary) vacations to places steeped in history. Her current favorite destination is the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.