Director, Employee Wellbeing Benefex
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Financial wellbeing: why women are being left behind

26th Aug 2019
hands paying with UK currency
iStock/georgeclerk

There’s been a recent flurry of interest in the issue of financial wellbeing from many organisations, but no one is addressing the elephant in the room – the fact that women are at a huge disadvantage.  

Last month, the UK’s first female defence secretary, Penny Mordaunt launched the government’s roadmap to financially empower women. The roadmap aims to define and guide how to tackle the barriers women face when it comes to money.

The roadmap, called ‘Gender Equality at Every Stage: A Roadmap for Change’ sets out the government’s plan to act on eight key issues including tackling limiting attitudes to gender and improving gender balance across higher and lower paid occupations.

The roadmap comes on the back of some shocking statistics we’ve all read about how wide the gender pay gap is – and continues to be.

If you’re a woman of colour or part of the LGBTQ+ community, your pay gap is even wider.

The other statistics that show how much of a disadvantage woman are at when it comes to money, are just as shocking:

  • Women are more likely to take unpaid work.
  • Less than 6% of the Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs.
  • Women are likely to save less into their pensions - the average American woman has roughly a third less at retirement than men.
  • Women are 80% more likely to be in poverty after retirement than men.
  • Women are three times more likely to work part time.
  • Women owe two thirds of all student debt in America, even though they make up 56% of college graduates– this one really shocked me.

As if it isn’t shameful enough that we put women at such a financial disadvantage in their working lives, we are also seeing that this lifetime of inequality is affecting their retirement too.

New figures published just last month revealed that women are set to get pensions of less than a third of the size of the average man’s due to factors like childcare, part-time work and eldercare responsibilities.

The figures reveal that women are set to get around £434 a month less than men in retirement.

This huge disadvantage is something that employers need to think carefully about when looking at how they roll out and communicate workplace benefits and financial wellbeing strategies.

Access to financial education

Right across the world the inequality women face means they are simply not afforded the choices or opportunities that men are.

As a result, they are less likely to be able to pay off their student debt or climb to the position of CEO.

As welcome as the governments new roadmap is to encourage organisations to do things like close the gender pay and pensions gaps and improve leave for fathers (to encourage more sharing of the parental responsibilities), there is clearly some work to do around financial education specifically for women.

After all, there are a host of challenges women face more often than men, such as taking career breaks to raise children, giving up pension for property during a divorce (to house the kids who stay with the mother in more than 80% of cases), longer life expectancy and the high cost of childcare for single mothers in particular (83% of single parents are women).

There also appears to be a stark contrast between how men and women feel about money.

We don’t just have gender pay and pensions gaps, we also have a financial literacy and advice gaps.

It’s estimated that women are twice as likely as men to associated negative emotions with their finances. This is not surprising when you look at the statistics above.

The way women have been treated for so many years has led to more women struggling to pay unexpected bills, save for retirement, have a decent level of disposable income and not feel overwhelmed by debt.

Women’s financial literacy scores are generally lower than men – particularly older women. Again, this is not surprising given the facts above, but what is surprising is that men are more likely to be offered financial education than women.

It’s easy to see why this happens - a full-time mother doesn’t have access to workplace financial wellbeing and even a part-time working mother might be off work the day the workshops take place.

Championing the rights of women isn’t just up to women

There’s some irony in that as a society we have been responsible for holding women back financially, but for hundreds of years women have featured on our money - from the Queen to Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry and Jane Austen.

Even Britannia, the female personification of the British Isles, has featured on every printed Bank of England note since 1699.

While I look forward to the government’s plans to reduce the inequality women face, I think it is prudent for employers to take notice of how their workplace financial wellbeing programmes cater for female employees in particular.

This includes scheduling workshops for when part-time women can attend, ensuring year-round access to financial wellbeing and addressing the unique challenges faced by most women.

We don’t just have gender pay and pensions gaps, we also have a financial literacy and advice gaps.

Championing the rights of women isn’t just up to women. It’s a responsibility we all have to ensure the experiences we design at work are created with all genders in mind.

A final note: these are the thoughts of someone who is an ally for women rights and a passionate advocate for more financial wellbeing for all. That being said, I acknowledge that I am a man and these are the views from that position of privilege.

Interested in this topic? Read Four ways to ensure the wellbeing of women at work.

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