I work in funds management, and in this particular corner of the finance world women are a rarity. In fact, 78 per cent of fund managers are like me – male.
According to the federal government’s Workforce Gender Equality Agency, across the whole of financial services and insurance, 46.8 per cent of workers are women, which doesn’t sound too bad right? If you delve deeper though, women are grossly underrepresented in certain sectors, such as funds management, and at senior levels.
Most people would agree that this under-representation is less than ideal, but what many fail to realise is that the reasons for this imbalance have other negative and far reaching consequences.
Throughout my life and career I’ve consistently witnessed a version of the following vicious cycle – girls aren’t encouraged to study finance when they are young, so a lot of the time they don’t. In fact, fewer women go to business school than into medicine and law, so the pipeline is narrow to begin with, and the fallout is that there aren’t nearly as many women as men practising finance.
While this fact alone is alarming, an additional and potentially more harmful consequence that isn’t as widely discussed is that when girls don’t study finance, even at a basic level, later in life they don't feel competent looking after their finances and defer to their partner or a professional to handle this aspect of their lives.
And more often than not, when they defer to their partner, they also have minimal or no direct contact with any professionals their partner might be dealing with, such as financial planners or accountants, therefore losing another valuable learning opportunity.
Women are equally capable in this arena but are often made to feel they’re not, and it’s this stigma that gets acted out and becomes the reality.
Now, I’m not for a second suggesting this is women’s fault, I simply want to highlight that current stereotypes and expectations are working against women. By not encouraging girls to study business subjects in high school or finance at university, we’re silently saying ‘you’re probably not cut out for it’ or ‘you wouldn’t be very good at it’.
These perceptions become ingrained, causing women to lack confidence in taking charge of their own or their family’s finances, or in seeking out financial advice, ultimately minimising their options in life and overall independence.