While we’ve all read the articles about the gender pay-gap in the US, I’d like to discuss why it’s important that women start earning more and provide one perspective on how we can go about doing that.
First I’d like to mention that despite earning more college degrees than men, and now, more advanced college degrees, women still make on average 27% less than their male counterparts. That’s a glaring disconnect and it’s significant considering that most women outlive men by roughly five years in the U.S. We’re also the sole or primary source of income for 40% of households with children. That’s up from only 11% in 1960. Thus, a higher income in our working years is crucial if we want to adequately provide for both our children’s and our futures.
While it’s clear the female gender has the intelligence and discipline to master higher education, what isn’t clear is why we don’t reach the same levels of success in the workplace. I can’t claim to know the answer for all women, but I can speak from my own experience. As the first of my sisters to go to college I had little guidance. Fortunately, once I learned the system, established good study habits, and got clear about why I wanted a degree, I started to excel. In college, succeeding meant knowing the material, acing tests, and generally holding myself accountable. I didn’t necessarily need strong interpersonal skills or external confidence. I simply needed to know the subject matter and master tests and assignments.
My first job in finance was a very different experience. In comparison to school, the working world – particularly in the male-dominated world of finance – was much more about confidence, speaking up, and did I mention confidence? Yes, intelligence and a job well-done were important, but I noticed that those who had the confidence to take on challenging projects, talk to the executives with ease, and court clients with swagger seemed to get ahead. Interestingly, I had this confidence outside of work, but in the office my voice cracked, my brain froze up at inopportune times, and my words were often awkward. It was doubly painful to watch myself make blunder upon blunder, all the while knowing that in other environments I was relaxed, confident, capable – in a word, myself. What was happening? Where did I go?
It’s been twelve years since landing my first financial job and since that time my confidence has grown. I believe the biggest contributors to bridging the gap between the outside-work me and the at-work me were awareness, compassion, and trust. Although at times I felt insecure, incapable, and frustrated on the job in those early years, having awareness of the confident, capable version of myself was an important touchstone in the office. It allowed me to notice what triggered my nerves or caused my thoughts to freeze up, instead of believing that that was who I was. With awareness, I could proactively prepare for those moments, give myself a break when I did have a blunder, and trust that in time, I would grow more confident. It wasn’t always easy, but having an image of who I wanted to be at the office spurred me on. So did identifying role models at work, both male and female, and reaching out to those people. Knowing where I wanted to go, what that looked like, and most importantly, who I wanted to be at work were my guideposts.
There were certainly bumps along the way, including raises that were not granted, wrong career turns, and staying in some positions for too long. Despite the setbacks and challenges, I remained focused on my “who” at work and had a willingness, and perhaps a penchant for embarrassing blunders. Money was important to me, and although I aspired to grow my income, it wasn’t my main focus. Surprisingly, my commitment to being more myself and a willingness to work with new, uncomfortable situations had the happy side-effect of promotions and pay raises.
Money is important. Considering that we women often outlive men and are shouldering more and more responsibility for our dependents and ourselves, it’s even more important. The good news is that while money is not always our first priority, from my experience, it doesn’t have to be. A commitment to being more fully ourselves in any environment and a willingness to stretch ourselves with uncomfortable, yet meaningful challenges frequently has the happy side-effect of higher earnings.
Regardless, becoming more fully ourselves brings with it the capacity to weather any financial situation and is, in the end, its own reward.
Carrie Tallman, CFA
Director of Research