Last week, I found myself in a workshop, tasked with figuring out how to encourage more women to invest their money. Of the many “gaps” women face, investing is one, too. And even though women are actually often better at it than men, we’re reluctant. We’re less likely to take the risk, we don’t feel we have the knowledge and we have less money to begin with – more women are in part-time roles and on zero-hour contracts. Investing money feels like something only glossy-haired women in cashmere camel coats can do. And there are other barriers: it feels too masculine still; there’s too much jargon; we’ve got some serious trust issues.
Being smart about money was not something I ever felt was for me, even though I started earning money at the age of 14. That was for wealthy people and, particularly, wealthy men who worked in the City and took the commuter trains from Liverpool Street. For me, money was both my oppressor and my liberator. In my heady days on Sussex University’s socialist campus, I resented that it even existed – until I got three jobs one summer and spent the money on a music-festival ticket in Serbia. Money was 90% survival, 10% hedonism.
Money is now 70% survival, 20% sensible, 10% other people’s weddings
And then, once you get past survival mode, once you enter a period in your life when you don’t receive a text message every single morning, reminding you you’re in your overdraft, you start to squirrel tiny little amounts away. You think twice about gig tickets or a haircut because you are, finally, thinking about bills, trying to save something because you absolutely believe in the importance of having a pot of money that means you can quit a job/book a flight/leave a partner if you want or, more crucially, need to. Money is no longer (only) about sequin skirts or Airbnbs in the Lower East Side filled with six girls and two cats. Money is about life. And, right now, it buys you a lot less than it used to, so maybe it’s not about a mortgage, but maybe it's about saving for a fertility check to decide if you should freeze your eggs, or renting a one-bed flat down on the coast. Maybe it’s about decent running shoes and having the right clothes for a meeting. Maybe it’s about wanting to look the best you can at your best friend’s wedding. Money is now 70% survival, 20% sensible, 10% other people’s weddings.
The women I know have full and busy lives. Many of them are just staying afloat in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Some are saving for babies or starting their own business or being able to work in far-off places, speaking three languages, paying for dance classes. Of course, for many of us, having any money left over by the end of the month is still practically impossible. For some, just being able to save, let alone invest, is a mighty privilege.
Yet, despite the incredible things I watch women doing – with however much money they do or don’t have – they are not investing their cash. Their vision boards may be full of plans and schemes and dreams, and they might be driven by ambition or language or creativity, but they are not turning to the stock market as their golden ticket. Some of them have saved and many of them feel they can’t afford to save, but none of them are investing. And I don't think it’s just down to the acronyms or the large pink pages of the FT.
For a lot of women, “investing” is a tricky word because we’re simply not used to investing in ourselves – we don’t have the time; we don’t feel like we have the permission; we’re too busy thinking about someone else. The women I know have all, in one way or another, struggled with self-worth because our worth is so routinely undermined in public discourse. There are functions we are expected to perform as women, but what about our dreams? Maybe we don’t invest in ourselves, because we know we will be the carers – of kids or elderly parents. Perhaps we wonder if our future is really our own.
And the risk is great for us, too. To take risks as a woman – to speak out, to demand more, to try something new and different – comes with far greater penalties as a woman if things go wrong. And maybe we think the little we have saved isn’t enough to invest in, anyway? Maybe it isn’t big enough or worthy enough? Maybe even our savings have imposter syndrome – especially in an industry that looks as unobtainable as that camel cashmere coat and is littered with aggressively masculine symbols like bulls and bears.
Money is an emotional thing because it is in the fabric of all of our decisions. It is a ticket to empowerment and independence and choice; it is the building block from which we can get the lives we want. But if we still exist in a society that we don’t really believe invests in us, why on earth would we invest in the system? Women are always on the sharp end of decisions made by men in financial institutions – we’re paid less, our benefits are cut first, our safety nets routinely underfunded. If the industry wants women to invest their money, we’ve got to create a culture in which women truly believe their ambitions, their hopes and dreams and aspirations are worth investing in.