Money and Sexism

Last week I was looking closely at a property to purchase, a cabin on a lake that I had dreamed about since I was a kid. I have had the money saved for several years and have been slowly looking for the right property. During my search, the 24-year-old real estate agent sent me a random text saying, “Now remember, this property costs XXX,XXX,XXX dollars!” At first, I chuckled, but then it occurred to me – does he think I can’t afford this property? What does he mean by that? Would he say this to a man? I doubted he would say this to a male customer. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt – I was driving a rental car. What was he projecting on to me? Do I remind him of his poor aunt who wandered into the wrong suburb in her old pick-up truck?

The second unexpected comment came last week during a meeting with my investment bankers, and ‘my main guy’ started the meeting by introducing me to Dave, who was an expert on ‘collar and put options’. He said, “I have asked Dave to speak in very simple terms so you can understand him. I also asked him to speak slowly so you can ask him questions.” What the f***? I am sure he has no clue how sexist he sounded. How did the world of finance become the world of men?  I made sure that I calculated my tax consequences on the capital gains more quickly than them, knowledgably discussed the economy, and then gave a direction for the near future for my funds.   

I had no problem understanding what they had to say. I think and hope that the most successful financial firms in the future will understand women’s needs and not speak in a condescending manner. I have a twenty-year-old daughter who is studying social justice and is seeing the world through a gendered lens for the first time. She is shocked at what she sees and experiences and is in disbelief when people treat her in a sexist manner.  It is truly hard to know what to tell her. I would never deny her reality, but when the sexist treatment comes from family members and close friends, I know that continuing her relationships will require her to find a balance between speaking her mind and loving acceptance. Some people will never change.

Sexism in the world of finance originates with the division of labor at home once one starts a family. Family financial management can stay balanced even after having one child, but after two or three you have to divide the labor. And, unfortunately, it is often divided down gender lines. One parent becomes the primary caretaker and ensures the wellbeing of the kids, while the other one manages the bills and expenditures. Men absorb the activities outside of the home, and women absorb the work inside the home. This results in men focusing and gaining more expertise in the family’s finances, including investments and major purchases. The long-term consequences are that women are seen as incapable of understanding major financial decisions, as opposed to simply not having the exposure and time to learn.

Over 60% of the self-made female millionaires in my study reported experiencing prejudice or discrimination in their jobs as vice presidents, business owners, medical doctors, or attorneys. They were self-made millionaires, yet still 95% of them said they absorbed the second shift of kids and house when they returned home from work. Only 5% of the men said they handled the second shift. Even though these women had careers and were self-made millionaires, they still handled housework and childcare similar to the women of their mother’s generation. This is a fine choice IF it does not result in exhaustion and a lack of self-care. Too much of everything results in fatigue, less self-care, and lowered self-esteem and life satisfaction.

When I asked the male CEOs in my study if they thought achieving financial and professional success was more difficult for women, 80% said yes! And, 60% of high achieving men said leadership was more difficult for women than for men, seeing as people expected female leaders to act more like men, be more competent, and walk the fine line of friendliness and competence. As a side note, over half of the women said they downplayed their femininity at work to be seen as more competent! Certain qualities that high-achieving women have in common include managing their money wisely and loving to give back. They also avoid the princess syndrome (purchasing everything they desire) as well as the love syndrome (where they naively give it all away).

People underestimate me all the time. It’s because I am blonde, pretty, and female. I have 25 years of high level management experience, 20 of which were in Fortune 100 companies. I completed three graduate degrees for which I paid the tuition myself. I have done six national presentations on my research and published several articles in professional psychological journals. I have also published two books that were sold internationally. I like to convince myself at times that we are beyond sexism, but we are not - at all.

We have made some progress. There are more female doctors and lawyers, but we need more women in the world of finance – achieving math degrees, pursuing careers in finance, and managing the family’s funds. Until we do, women will be treated ‘less than’ and won’t be at the heartstrings of what runs this country. Capitalism.


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