Spend Women’s Day sorting out your financial destiny

2011-08-06 08:38

I was recently reading a book about women suffragettes in America and I realised that even in some western countries, women only got the vote around 90 years ago. I also discovered that until then it was also illegal for women to learn about their reproductive system. Women actually went to jail for trying to teach other women how to manage their family planning.

So there is something to celebrate this Women’s Day as women have come an enormous way, in certain societies, in a fairly short space of time. The opportunities available to me were not available even to my mother, let alone my grandmother.

Even when working in the corporate world, despite a few chauvinistic men, I never really felt that I was limited because I was a woman.

But all that changed when I had a child. Not only did employers start to look at me differently and perceive my motherhood as an obstacle, I also started to perceive my career differently as I had to find a way to balance motherhood with work.

Women’s issues today are not about being a woman per se. It is our role in society as mothers and caregivers that makes us extremely vulnerable.

Earlier this year a survey by workspace solutions provider Regus showed that only 31% of companies in South Africa planned on hiring working mothers.

Employers were particularly concerned about the flexibility of working mothers and the risk of their taking time off to have another child.

A friend of mine was recently asked by her employer why she wanted a promotion; wouldn’t she rather keep her current position as it would allow her the flexibility to become a mother? The employer was thinking about her future family, even if it had not crossed her mind. He had defined her as a mother.

Working mothers pay the price for being perceived as no longer committed to their careers and perhaps this is a fair reflection.

While a woman may be committed to her career and quite capable of producing the goods, her eye may not be on the financial target.

Erica Stuart who works at asset management company Stanlib commented in a recent article that even when working mothers are offered employment, they may be more interested in whether the company has a crèche and what the maternity leave policy is than in the financial opportunities the company offers. Women tend to be grateful to companies that have a more flexible approach to working time and they are prepared to sacrifice income for that flexibility.

When it comes to money, we are own worst enemies. We put our families above finances and often do not make enough provision for our retirement.

If we take time off work to raise a family we often cash in our retirement funds.

Ultimately many women still depend on their partners to provide for their retirement and financial security. This stems from an unconscious need to be taken care of, described by American psychologist Colette Dowling as the Cinderella Complex.

As liberated as women believe they are, there is still the belief that a man on a white horse will come and save them.

Eunice Siyaba, head of consumer education at FNB, says many of the young women in their financial workshops believe they need to “catch” a wealthy man to provide for them. Therefore the money they spend on clothes, hair and nails is really an investment.

Sadly the idea of a man as a financial plan is as far from reality that one can get.

As many women have discovered either as a result of divorce or death, men are not actually better at managing money than women.

In the recent Acsis Financial Security Barometer, the survey found that a significantly higher percentage of female respondents had made some provision for their retirement compared to men.

In the case of divorce, women are left with much less than half of the assets yet carry the primary responsibility of child care while rebuilding a career.

Then there is the issue of the single mom who is trying to raise her children with no financial assistance or involvement from the father. Debt counsellors estimate that 75% of the women they come across in debt counselling are single mothers.

My appeal to all women is to spend Women’s Day getting your finances in order and taking control of your financial destiny. Put a financial plan into place that does not require a man.

If you are married, make sure you understand your husband’s financial position and what savings the family has because chances are you will outlive your partner, so you will be the one living the consequences of bad financial decisions made today.

While doing so keep this in mind: research conducted by the CFA Institute in the US found that, on average, investment clubs run by women were more successful than those run by men.

This was attributed to the fact that women took more time to make decisions, they asked for help and they kept their investments for longer.

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