Women, on average, live five years longer than men. They make, on average, 21 percent less than their male counterparts, they take more “career breaks" than men do, and their salaries peak much earlier — at age 40 versus 55.
When you take these factors, and others, into consideration, a woman will retire with substantially less than her male equivalent even though she's more likely to live longer. It's a no brainer — the short answer to “should women invest differently than men?" is a resounding, “Yes!"
The Status Quo
“We often read about the gender pay gap that affects women; much less well-known is the gender investing gap," said Sallie Krawcheck, the co-founder and CEO for Ellevest, an investing firm that caters specifically to females. “Investing less than men can cost some women just as much as the pay gap over their lives. While most big investing firms have 'women and investing' programs, most of them have missed the mark. In my opinion, it's because they all tried to market to women, not to serve women."
Currently, 86 percent of investment advisors are men, which translates into a clear lack of the female perspective in a field that affects the sexes equally. Krawcheck founded Ellevest to fill a clear need in the investing market, and the firm has gone back to the very basics to carefully examine, question, and alter the status quo. Along the way, they've discovered that women don't care about outperforming the market, which is the traditional investing goal. Instead, they care very deeply about planning for their goals and investing to reach them.
Susan Conrad, the chief client experience officer and an advisor at Plancorp, has worked in the investment space for 25 years and is particularly knowledgeable about goals-based, purpose-built investing. She agrees with Krawcheck regarding a woman's investment goals versus a man's.
“Women want to feel secure, to know that they are not going to outlive their money. We often set family related goals, such as paying for children's college or assisting with a down payment for their first home and leaving a legacy for the next generation. Men, in contrast, are often focused on investment performance and trying to hit a number that they think reflects success," she said.
Neither is an inherently wrong approach, but Conrad added that “as advisors, we should address the information needed by our clients. I think it's imperative for an investment strategy to be based upon a financial plan that includes the personalized goals and dreams of each client."
Sallie Krawcheck. Photo courtesy of Girlboss
Changing the Investing Tide
A woman outliving her retirement fund because an investment manager assumed a man's lifespan, or didn't account for other female-driven variables, can be catastrophic. And the fact that women are investing less than men, on average, is a sign that the industry hasn't been doing a great job serving the female market. Clearly, real change in the investment world is needed, and we're on the cusp of a tidal shift thanks to female-driven companies like Ellevest, and advisors like Conrad.
In addition to taking into account obvious changes (such as longer life spans, pay disparity, and salary peaks), subtle findings are being accounted for.“[For example], women won't invest in what they don't understand, while men will. Women are not more risk averse — as so many believe — but are more 'risk aware.' That means they want to understand the risks they are taking, and once they do, we have found that they are willing to take them," said Krawcheck.
“We built a proprietary investing algorithm that helps women choose their goals, make trade-offs among their goals, and put together an investing plan to reach their goals. If the client falls off track, we provide her with personalized tips for getting back on track."
Conrad added, “Over the next decade the largest wealth transfer in American finance history will occur. It will affect women, their children and millennials more profoundly than any other demographic.
Add to that the fact that 70 percent of buying decisions are made by women, and you can see why it's so important for advisors to understand women and address their concerns."
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.