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Women and money: What needs to change?

28 February 2019

Money & Life team

Money & Life contributors draw on their diverse range of experience to present you with insights and guidance that will help you manage your financial wellbeing, achieve your lifestyle goals and plan for your financial future.

With gender pay and super gaps coming up more often in the equality conversation, are we seeing meaningful change for women’s financial security and wellbeing or is there still a long way to go? We caught up with Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, founder of Financy and the Women’s Index about where women stand when it comes to money and what needs to change.

Every year on 8 March, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to recognise all that women contribute to our society. In the workforce, more and more women are taking on leadership roles and making their presence felt in industries typically dominated by men. In May last year, the New York Stock Exchange appointed Stacey Cunningham as the first  female leader in their 226 year history. However, Stacey Cunningham’s new role highlights a problem with progress towards equality in our society. Women are often sidelined from financial responsibilities, whether at home or in their careers, and it’s a trend that leads to a widespread lack of confidence about money among women.

In their 2018 Own Your Worth report, UBS discovered just how many women are still taking a backseat in money matters that affect their future. 56% of women surveyed leave investing and financial planning to their spouse or partner and this rises to 61% for millennial women. It’s a surprising step backwards for a new generation, leading the report’s authors to ask “why are women—more educated, more successful and more outspoken than ever—leaving major decisions about money to someone else?”

Measuring to keep moving forward

It’s questions like these that have long been the concern of financial journalist Bianca Hartge-Hazelman. An expert communicator and researcher, she set up Financy with the purpose of supporting women to face their financial future without fears. And in 2017, Bianca took a major step forward in her work to make a positive difference to women’s money matters with the launch of the Women’s Index, bringing together a whole range of data and indicators for how well women are doing financially, from salaries to education outcomes.

“As a woman and journalist, the gender pay and super gaps and lack of women in senior leadership are top of mind,” says Bianca. “In doing research into these issues I was struck by the limited economic data available with a gender breakdown. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) publish their gender indicators once a year, but there’s a real need to keep the conversation going about economic progress for women. Working with a friend and data expert who’d come from Bloomberg, we put together the Women’s Index to offer a regular and consistent measure of that progress. It creates some powerful messages about women and money to keep this important debate in the spotlight.”

Redefining relationships at home and work

As a Mum bringing up young daughters, Bianca is highly aware of the financial impact of women’s choices on their career and relationships. “What you study, where you work and the roles you and your partner expect to have as parents – it all makes a difference to what you’ll earn and save to prepare for a secure future. We need to be educating both boys and girls about their life choices and what that means for their financial wellbeing,” says Bianca. In a recent Financy feature on flexible working arrangements, AMP Bank’s CFO Victoria Hickey shows how her example is influencing her young son’s perception of parenting roles. “I can’t get a full-time job as I will need to help my wife raise our kids!” he says.

But as Bianca points out, not all parents and employers are in a position to become roles models for flexibility with families and careers. “This is why we need more discussion on gender roles happening in schools,” says Bianca. “And I also see huge gaps in the fundamentals of financial education in the curriculum. I’ve spoken to high school students who don’t know how to draw up a basic budget and these are skills they really need to prepare for life after leaving the family home or when they’re trying to make ends meet at uni.”

A fresh perspective on finances

For the current generation of working Mums, Bianca hopes the growing success of the Women’s Index will spur them to look at their own personal measures of financial wellbeing. “The Women’s Index is increasingly being reported on in mainstream media,” says Bianca. “This can only help more and more women gain insights into their economic world and see where the opportunities are for them. As a catalyst for women to review their own financial situation – their pay, leadership potential and super savings – the Women’s Index can help them see where there is work to be done and start to develop their own ideas and plans for financial security and a stronger future.”

Support from experts and leaders

In the two years since launch, Bianca’s brainchild has certainly caught the attention of leaders in financial services, business, policy and research. An Advisory Committee including key people from the ABS, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic & Social Research, The Agenda Agency, AMP Capital, ANZ and Deloitte meet regularly to review Women’s Index findings and reports. “It’s very encouraging to see how seriously the Women’s Index is being taken by these thought leaders,” says Bianca. “It gives me confidence, both in the future of the Index and it’s potential to keep fuelling the debate on policy and practices that affect women and their financial future.”

In the context of the recent report from the Royal Commission Inquiry, Bianca sees the Women’s Index as one of the triggers for financial services to provide products and services for the benefit of all customers. “There is a strong agenda for government and businesses to re-establish trust in the whole industry,” says Bianca. “It’s a great opportunity for stakeholders to seek better solutions and support for anyone experiencing economic disadvantage. Whether it’s continuing Super Guarantee payments for women on parental leave or developing products that can help women advance economically, there are plenty of ways to lead positive change through business innovation and policy.”

The drivers of change

While Bianca does recognise that closing the gender pay gap is essential to changing the bottom line for women and their money, she believes this change will be directly influenced by women having the confidence and capacity to engage with both their career and their finances.

“Confidence in your ability to plan for a better future is key for financial wellbeing,” says Bianca. “And that confidence comes from experience and education. For me the most important pieces of the puzzle for women’s financial wellbeing relate to full-time employment. Without greater numbers of women taking their place in leadership roles and careers that pay well, we can’t expect to close the gap for earnings or super balances. And as the saying goes ‘you earn what you learn’. Although there’s been a lift in numbers of women in tertiary education, we haven’t yet seen this flow through to more women in full-time work, particularly for industries where rewards offer a better chance to build wealth.”

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