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Women are household CFOs, but barriers remain at work

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Let’s talk man to man. 

The old approach of connecting with client couples might be outdated. No, it is outdated. 

There’s nothing wrong with meeting the husband at the golf course, but if you want to talk business, you better make room for at least one more at tee time — the wife.

According to the latest Allianz ”Women, Money, and Power Study,” 51 percent of women report being the chief financial officer of the household. “Women are taking a larger role in managing household finances and are gaining more responsibility for the financial success of their family,” says Allianz Life Vice President of Consumer Insights Katie Libbe.  

The study reveals that women, in many cases, really can do it all. More married women (37 percent) report being the primary breadwinner of the family (compared to 31 percent in a 2013 iteration of the study). In addition, 53 percent of women report they either have a “great deal of responsibility” or they “do it all” when managing the household’s long-term savings and investments.

Savvier than the average spouse

The Allianz study “found the majority (58 percent) of women feel they are more financially savvy than their spouse or partner, and nearly seven out of 10 respondents (67 percent) report that becoming more knowledgeable and involved in managing finances made a difference in their quality of life.” 

Related: On women, power and money

However, some uncertainty remains about financial decisions. “While women may be satisfied with their current financial situation, having more financial knowledge can help build a better future and instill confidence,” says Libbe. “By utilizing available resources or working with a financial professional, women can gain the insight they need to achieve financial security.”

Finding the right support

Remember the golf course analogy? It’s real. According to the study, women often feel left out when money talks start with a financial professional — even when the woman is the financial decision-maker. 

“More than half (51 percent) claim the professional treats their spouse/partner as the decision-maker, and this happens regardless of whether the financial professional is male or female. Choosing a financial professional who understands the needs of the modern family and can help sift through investment choices is a key factor for women.”

Research indicates that too advisors leave women out of family financial planning, even when the woman is the head of household. (Photo: iStock)Research indicates that too many advisors leave women out of family financial planning, even when the woman is the head of household. (Photo: iStock)

Leaning in or out?

While much progress has been made on the home-front, the real battle, for many women, is at the workplace. 

Despite having such a large impact on household finances, the number of women who say they “have more earning power than they’ve ever had” has decreased to 50 percent (compared to 57 percent in 2013). Factoring into this perceived decline in earning power, less than half (44 percent) claim they have ’leaned in’ at work by asking for a raise or promotion they thought they deserved.

Google executive Sheryl Sandberg kickstarted this conversation with her 2013 book, ”Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” The book and its call to action for women to take charge of their lives and their careers — a call that shouts, yes, we can have it all — has created a groundswell of support. 

Related: 15 women in insurance you need to know

Lean In is now a nonprofit organization and online community dedicated to helping women achieve their goals. The 2016 Women in the Workplace study is a partnership between LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company that examines the role of women at work. 

However, the study found a disturbing trend: “Women are less likely to receive the first critical promotion to manager — so far fewer end up on the path to leadership — and are less likely to be hired into more senior positions. Women also get less access to the people, input, and opportunities that accelerate careers. As a result, the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you see.”

Research indicates that too advisors leave women out of family financial planning, even when the woman is the head of household. (Photo: iStock)The higher you look in most companies, the fewer women leaders you see. (Photo: iStock)

The gender gap

The 2016 Gender Gap in Financial Wellness study by Financial Finesse shows that women are gaining on men. The gender gap has narrowed to 8.9 percentage points, a 37 percent improvement since 2012. 

Before women high-five, the study shows that part of the narrowing is due to men’s backsliding. Since 2012, men’s financial wellness dropped from 68.1 percent to 64.2 percent. In that same timeframe, women experienced growth from 54.1 percent to 55.3 percent. 

The study estimates “that the median 25-year-old worker who works full-time for 40 years, retiring at age 65, needs to save between $1.5 million and $1.7 million in order to meet the projected average annual expenditures for a person age 65 and older.”

Related: 4 reasons why women need life insurance

The study reveals that neither gender is saving enough for retirement, but due to increased longevity and healthcare costs, women need to save more than men as a rule to ensure they have adequate savings to fund their retirement. 

“All things being equal, women face a greater likelihood of running out of money in retirement,” says Greg Ward, Director of Financial Finesse’s Think Tank.  

“However, averages are not what matters,” Ward adds. “If you are in a situation where you are saving a large percentage of your income and investing appropriately based on your time horizon, you reduce your risk dramatically — just like when you eat well and exercise to reduce your risk of disease.”

The chief advice that women have their daughters is to start financial planning early, and to avoid becoming financially dependent on someone else. (Photo: iStock)The chief advice that today’s women give their daughters includes ‘start financial planning early,’ and ‘avoid becoming financially dependent on someone else.’ (Photo: iStock)

A plan for progress

The Allianz study asked: “What advice should women pass on to their daughters or granddaughters about money?”

Women said future generations should:

        • Start planning early (81%);
        • Avoid dependency on others for financial security (72%);
        • Create a good financial plan (72%); 
        • Learn how to invest money (65%); and
        • A smaller number of women (56%) advise their daughters or granddaughters to advocate for themselves (or ‘lean in’) at work.

“It is increasingly important to establish a solid financial foundation that can keep up with increased costs of living, and this all starts with earned income,” says Libbe. “As more financial responsibility lands on women’s shoulders, working women need to advocate for themselves to gain the equal earning power they deserve. Future generations of women who see this behavior will then be more confident to do the same, lessening the income disparity we see today.”

The future looks bright

Millennials could be key to ending the gender gap. The generation, as a whole, has already stated its case: They don’t like conformity, and they like to work when they want and how they want, according to a 2013 in a study conducted by The Intelligence Group, a Los Angeles consumer insights and strategy firm.

Millennials are more gender blind than previous generations, according to The Intelligence Group study. 

When a project is completed they see the quality of the work, not chromosomes.

Traditionally, working women began to play career catch up once they start balancing the competing demands of professional advancement and motherhood. But the millennials’ redefinition of work — from telecommuting to working odd hours — is especially well-suited to working moms. 


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