Author’s note: My dear friend and colleague Suzanne Biegel passed away on September 20th. I first met Suzanne at a Criterion Institute event in 2011. She blew my mind then and motivated me ever since to help women move their money differently. Suzanne spoke to any and every audience about the intersection of money and impact and, specifically, investing with a gender lens. I so admired her passion for mobilizing women and good men, and I shared her impatience for action. We were champions of each other’s work and her legacy Heading for Change offers us all a chance to engage while also honoring a field builder, movement leader, and a true catalyst for change. The content is based on the remarks I gave as moderator of her 2022 Gender Smart session, “Unlocking Women’s Wealth,” and in facilitating an Invest for Better Gender Smart Investing class.
How can women create an economy that prioritizes long-term prosperity along with human dignity, safety, and the health of our planet? First, financial institutions need to change to support women, not the other way around (as so many wise people have been saying for years!). And then, yes, women can and must make bigger and more values aligned moves with their money and economic power.
Let’s start with what leaders in our financial institutions can do:
1) Identify and uproot embedded biases in global financial systems
Herd mentality and confirmation biases each work against women founders and investors. Herd mentality bias is an investor’s tendency to follow and copy what other investors are doing. Confirmation bias is the tendency to pay close attention to information that confirms our beliefs and ignore information that contradicts them. For example, there is a commonly held belief in the entrepreneurship and investing space that only a “long” track record can show performance. If you are a woman founder with only a 1–3-year history of demonstrating your product, service, fund has achieved ‘success’, both herd mentality and confirmation biases will work against your efforts to secure funding, even more so if you’re a woman of color.
One positive application of AI would be to literally prod or ping investors and fund managers when they are making assessments of an investment led by white cisgender men and their confirmation bias (on risk, track record, affinity, etc.) is active. A good first step toward disrupting biased decision-making would also be training on how to ask ALL applicants the same questions and adopting the ‘blind resume’ approach, like what orchestras have done when selecting highly skilled musicians.
At the end of the day, the hard data is clear… Women entrepreneurs outperform their male counterparts. For every dollar invested, women-owned startups generate 0.78 in revenue, more than doubling the 0.31 generated by male founders (BCG).
2) Deliver on the proven effectiveness of gender parity at the leadership level
Financial leaders should be doing everything they can to increase and advance the number of women leaders in finance. Women make up more than half of the entry-level finance workforce in the United States yet only about 6% of the top public financial institutions have women in senior positions. Many women in finance cite a lack of role models or mentors as a major deterrent to pursuing their careers. In 2021, minorities and women made up 70% of the U.S. working-age population, yet diverse-owned firms managed only 1.4% of assets under management (AUM) in the United States. What would the world look like if half the investment capital was actively managed by women?
Gender parity in leadership changes everything, and it’s a goal we should be striving for in all our institutions.
3) Steward finance and wealth relationships to positively engage women investors
Women investors envision a better world and want their wealth to help build it. And we know the financial services industry was created by men, for men. UBS research shows that women seek honesty, knowledge, and transparency in their financial advisors. To create truly client-focused relationships with women investors, advisors need to lead with relevant questions that matter and accessible, relationship-based language. People who work in any form of wealth advising have an untapped opportunity to engage differently with women while exploring how to be culturally competent in their communication and engagement as the world awakens to women’s money power.
Wealth managers also have a responsibility, I believe, to create the conditions in which women, particularly accredited investors, can invest according to their values. By reimagining their practices and marketing as well as their relationship-building behaviors while promoting products that drive the values women want to see in the world, financial leaders gain the opportunity to engage with high-net-worth women in every region of the world more effectively.
Women are a better bet when it comes to growing revenue and investment returns, and they’re more likely to put their portfolios to work for the greater good. To rise to the occasion, financial advisors need to match women investors with an equal measure of courage and vision. The ideal future for advisors would be to act as spiritual servants to the clients’ money not by holding on to their money as if it were their own, but by doing what the client donor wants done when they want it done.
The advisors I see who are most fulfilled and thrive in their work consider themselves activists and educators. Rather than obsessing about how much money they are moving, they are focused on the work of helping their clients deploy values aligned resources.
And here’s my invitation to women:
1. Use multiple tools to build wealth with more ease and activate your capital for good
Women are gifted collaborators, entrepreneurs, leaders, and yes, investors. We must remember that while the finance system was not originally built for us, money is a form of generative power. The sooner we can get comfortable with using power for good, the more funds we can manifest to care for ourselves, our loved ones, be charitable, and invest in other women. Racist and sexist systems exclude far too many people from far too many opportunities. But for those of us with a certain level of privilege, there are ways for us to activate our capital. This is a key reason I produce the Women & Money gatherings.
So, if you are at a certain level of access to financial systems and comfort and you want to boost your own financial power to do good in the world, here are five tactics I recommend (and yes, I have personally done them):
- Contribute the maximum to your employee retirement plan to have compound interest work for you,
- Purchase real estate that has income potential and can serve your community (Airbnb, rental, retreat space for friends and leaders),
- Take a risk to start and/or invest in your own company while also seeking funding from people who believe in you.
- Buy stocks in companies you purchase from and that have leadership and practices you respect or invest in public equity opportunities that are values aligned, and
- If you are young and healthy, consider the opportunity to buy life insurance as a financial vehicle for legacy building, a future gift for your spiritual or birthed children, and/or to borrow against the cash value when you buy property.
2. Invest, invest, invest based on your values
Women’s economic power is undeniably on the rise: we control one-third of the world’s wealth, and our wealth is compounding at a faster clip than market performance (BCG). Women also outpace men as investors, stewarding a 0.4% higher return than men over a decade (Fidelity). Yet there remains a gap between women’s level of financial engagement and our collective desire to invest our money in a way that’s aligned with our values. More than half of married women bow out of long-term investment decisions entirely (UBS). But when high-net worth women investors think about what leaving a legacy means to them, these investors prioritize benefiting the greater good, whether it be social, economic, or environmental good.
So, again, for those of us who have funds to invest, we must define our values and put our money to work! To engage more actively as investors or would-be investors, we first need to understand what success looks like with our money and our priorities. As You Sow, Parallelle Finance, Equileap, and Gender Fair are all excellent resources to examine where your funds could be directed or for assessing your current retirement holdings.
3. Find a community or a coach, explore your money stories, and take action!
What if we supported each other better in activating our capital to benefit society, humanity, and our burning planet? It helps enormously to connect into community-based opportunities for building financial courage. Peer networks, angel and investing clubs, and accessible learning opportunities abound (Invest for Better, Dow Janes, PursePower, Pipeline Angels, Coralus, Portfolia, etc.). Thought leaders, advisors, and coaches can be ‘guides’ and help you look at some of the stories you are holding about money that don’t serve you anymore.
Need help finding a financial advisor? Garret Planning Network promotes fee-only financial planners who provide advice to people from all walks of life, without minimum account requirements, sales commissions, or long-term commitments. Values Advisor has a database of financial advisors from a curated collection of experts who deliver both financial and environmental/social returns.
It no longer serves us to have an economy that only works for a few. There are multiple places and spaces to move your money (save, purchase, invest, borrow, give) and do it in ways that align with your values. The point is, start somewhere. Do one thing that positively serves your relationship with aligning your money and your values. Process all that happens for your mind, body, soul, and heart when you stand in your power. Applaud yourself and tell at least one other woman what you did.
In summary, finance and wealth management leaders have a unique opportunity to help women activate their financial visions by uprooting biases, achieving gender parity in the ranks of their own leadership, and restructuring advisory relationships and offerings to suit women’s needs. One of the simplest and most powerful things banks, wealth managers, family offices can do is to listen to what women say they want and revise the practices of how they discuss and write about money, finance, power, legacy, etc.
As women, remember… activating the full potential of our financial power increases our agency while benefiting humanity and our planet. And this is still work that’s going to take all of us. But to unlock women’s wealth, women need to feel comfortable with financial power while defining it for themselves and using it in a way that works for them.