The Powerful Action Professional Women Can Take…That Can Change Their Lives
As we close out Women’s History Month, we’ve got the topic of women and power on our minds. So what’s one of the most powerful things a professional woman can do?
Well, let’s start with the perspective that, in a capitalist society, money represents a form of power. And men have more money — and therefore more power — than women do. There are plenty of reasons for this (I’m looking at you gender pay gap and gender unpaid labor gap); but one of them is that women don’t invest to the same extent that men do. This “gender investing gap” can cost us hundreds of thousands — for some of us, millions — of dollars over the course of our lives.
One of the most powerful actions we can take is to invest more.
It can be life-changing. Having less money can trap us in bad relationships, it can trap us in bad jobs….it can trap us in bad lives. And we all know women for whom this has been the case: I spoke to one woman last week whose grandmother stayed in an abusive relationship until the day she died because she couldn’t afford to leave. And I speak to multiple women each week — each and every week — who stay in cruddy jobs, with a bosses who don’t “get it” and promote the guy over them. We’ve made progress, but it isn’t over yet.
A solution to this is money. As Gloria Steinem has said: “Nothing changes the gender equation more significantly than women’s economic freedom.” I’ll be more direct: we women won’t be fully equal with men until we are financially equal with men.
Ok, you may say, I buy it. But why is investing among the most powerful things you can do? Haven’t we been told it’s to be more confident and ask for that raise at work? “Lean in,” “know our worth” and all that. Yes, definitely do that. But — newsflash — this isn’t fully in your control. You can ask, and I hope you get it. But there’s a reason the gender pay gap is so stubbornly hard to close — we are decades away — because bosses can say no.
The decision to invest is instead something that we can control. Ourselves. Not what the markets do, of course, but that we make the decision to make investing a habit, in up markets and down, to give ourselves the opportunity to earn the returns that the markets can offer.
To get there, we have to fight our way through the myths that have been built up, over years and years, about why women don’t invest as much as men. They include that we’re not as good at math, that we’re too “risk-averse,” that what we really need is more financial education, that investing takes a ton of time and lots of expertise. (Forget for a minute that men need more financial education as well, and that women’s risk awareness translates into better investing results for us than for men, and that we get as good or better grades in school in math.)
I’ve spent my entire career in the investing industry: I ran Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney and I now run Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women. Believe me when I tell you that investing isn’t as complicated — and doesn’t need to be nearly as complicated — as it’s made out to be. It can be as straightforward as:
1) Find yourself an investment provider who is a fiduciary (this means they put your interests ahead of their own)
2) Invest your money in diversified investment portfolio, not single stocks or single mutual funds
3) If you’re younger / have longer term goals, invest in a more equity-heavy portfolio; if you’re older / have shorter-term goals, more bonds and cash
4) Keep fees at less than 1%
5) Make investing a habit, some amount out of every paycheck
Oh, and then talk about money and investing all the time with your friends, so we break all those outdated money taboos. Do this and count yourself as not just as powerful, but as a #financialfeminist.
(For more on how to close your gender money gaps, take a look at the guidebook: Mind the Gap — and Close It: The Ellevest Guide to Dominating Your Financial Future.)
An edited version of this article was published on Bustle.com.
Sallie Krawcheck is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, an innovative digital investment platform for women. She is also the author of “Own It: The Power of Women at Work” and Chair of Ellevate Network.