The secret? There are no egos involved!
I am many things. I am a woman. I am a Millennial. I am a first-generation immigrant from Vietnam. I am a hard-worker. I'm also someone who thinks about the value of money, because growing up that wasn't something that myself or my family had a lot of.
These days, I think about money a lot. That's not just because I have a career in the finance industry, but because in my marriage, I chose to. I am the wearer of the theoretical “financial pants." While it's not the most “traditional" or romantic role that I fill in our relationship, its one that I really enjoy - even when it means making difficult financial decisions for me and my husband.
To fully unpack what it means to be the financial “pants wearer" in our marriage and how we came to this agreement, I think it's important to go back to square one and look at why I'm more inclined to this role in the first place.
I grew up in Vietnam, a wonderful and vibrant country that I'm extremely proud to be from. That said, when thinking of the most financially prosperous countries in the world, few would put Vietnam at the top of that list - and rightfully so, workers in Vietnam average $148 a month in take home salary.
While my family was lucky enough to earn more than that, we were not frivolous. We recognized that our material comfort came from my parents' hard work and aggressive saving on a middle-class income, so that they could afford quality education for me and my sister. We were fortunate to be around when money was discussed at the dinner table, among other topics that my parents believed we would benefit from knowing from a young age. We were a team after all, they said. Instead of treating ourselves to meals out, we got an annual membership to a warehouse club that gave us access to quality ingredients and bonded over cooking our own meals.
My mother agonized over buying a new handbag, but never said no when my sister needed tutoring lessons.
I thought we had everything we needed. But that all changed when I enrolled at a magnet high school further from home, where my friends' parents were executives and government officials at places I had only heard of on TV. I started to realize that we would need more than my parents' middle-class incomes for me to attend language immersion camps, among other enriching experiences that would have real impacts on my future success. For the first time, I was made aware of the very real disadvantages that not coming from a lot of money may have in my academic and life progression. It was then that I vowed to give my own kids the opportunities that my parents couldn't always afford for me and my sister.
I made do with what I had, and won a full-ride scholarship at a liberal arts college in upstate New York. It was there that my interest in finance and money intensified. I ended up majoring in Economics - which taught me a ton about not only about how money works on an individual scale but also how the entire economy of the United States and other countries operates. Straight out of college, I paid off my student loans and immediately began using budgeting apps to get my finances in line. These apps allowed me to better understand my expenses and budget - which helped me balance both saving and taking advantage of all the fun things to do in New York City - where I lived at the time.
Cut to several years later, in the midst of grad school (and even more loans), I met my future husband and as they say, the rest is history. With our common Vietnamese heritage, we immediately clicked on our shared heritage and admiration for each other. What did we not click about? You guessed it: money. From the outside, few would suspect that our attitudes toward finances diverge. From the inside, it couldn't be further from the truth.
Unlike me, my now-husband didn't grow up in a money-minded household. My husband's parents came to the US as war refugees and picked up blue collar jobs. Eventually, they bought and owned a small tire shop to earn their living and put he and his two siblings through college. My in-laws worked hard to make sure my husband and his siblings would have a better life, but when it came to managing their careers and balancing a young-professional budget in expensive cities, they were on their own. It wasn't until his late 20s that my husband acquired a copy of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad." Looking back, it's easy to see how this stark difference in our upbringings affected our attitudes towards money.
Where I really saw this difference wasn't so much in our day-to-day spending habits, but in our long-term financial goals. While I maxed out my 401k, put much of my paycheck towards paying down my students loans, and consistently used finance-tracking apps and software, my husband took a more lax approach to his finances. While he had a general idea of his current finances, he was content with a “I'll get to it later" attitude when it came to his planning for the future. He also scored a well-paying job right out of college so “making it work" wasn't as much of a worry for him.
Thankfully for us (and the health of our finances), we recognized these money-related differences in ourselves pretty early on. Just by recognizing it, we were able to have an honest conversation about our priorities around money, our preferred roles and what we wanted our financial future to look like. With this, I assumed the role most natural to me: the financial planner and “pants wearer."
What does this really mean? Day to day, I make sure the bills are paid, and long term, I plan our finances ahead of new phases of our lives - like when I entered graduate school or when both of us started working again. It's at those big life moments that I take into account our new incomes and financial goals and make adjustments.
Four years into our marriage and I have to say that discussing our philosophies towards money was one of the better things we've done for our relationship. My husband has absolutely no qualms about me setting the direction for our financial future, and there are no egos involved. That doesn't mean there aren't small hiccups here or there, but overall we're truly happy with how we divide and conquer our financial roles and responsibilities.
I've heard of stories of couples fighting over money dynamics, and I honestly cannot put a finger on why we were so successful. Perhaps it is the mutual agreement of each others' strengths and weaknesses when it comes to financial management. Or maybe it's the open communication, and staying honest when I want us to pursue or financial goal, or when my husband thinks we can cut back.
Like many things in life, money reflects our life experiences and deep-seated values. While everyone's experiences and values can be different, it's important to take the time to sit down, reflect and discuss these things with your partner - preferably before you walk down the aisle. For us, I'm more than grateful for our journey, as it only helped us reconcile our money differences and bring us closer and more appreciative of what each other brings to our special relationship.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.