Periodic insights from our Investment and Private Client Teams on a broad range of investment and advice-related topics
Published by the Private Client Team at KJ Harrison Investors
The progress of women in the world of business – or, rather, the slow pace of that progress – has attracted a lot of attention from the media in recent years, even as more and more companies are pledging to improve diversity. Most of us are familiar with the challenges: women comprise a disproportionately small constituency in executive ranks and on boards of directors; they earn less money, on average, than men do for the same work; they are often saddled with the burden of childcare and other family responsibilities, and the social supports they need to fully realize their economic potential are sorely inadequate. In my not-so-little corner of the business world – financial management – only about one in five Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) charter holders are women, which seems a pretty good indicator of how far away real equality for women in finance still is.
We know that the “old boys club” is still open for business. We know that women, especially women of colour, have not caught up yet. Policymakers and the media focus on these challenges, and they are quite right to do so. Yet sometimes I wonder if all the emphasis on “bad news” might be discouraging some women, especially those in the younger generation, from taking the risk of going into business or management or finance. It’s an important question, especially as we prepare to celebrate Women’s Entrepreneurship Day – a day to empower, recognize and support women in business – on November 19th. If we really want gender equality in the world of money, then we need to acknowledge that while change is needed, it should not blind us to the fact that change is happening.
I see the change firsthand in my professional life as a wealth management advisor with a focus on female clients. Research suggests women are less financially confident and report being less financially literate than men. That might be true (or maybe it’s not), but the women who make up much of my clientele have no trouble being assertive about their money. My female clients are comfortable making decisions about money, confident in asking questions, and knowledgeable about markets and investing. They are no shrinking violets, but rather active participants in growing and preserving their wealth, and they are looking for an advisor/partner rather than for someone to just tell them what to do.
I see the change in my own industry. When I started out almost three decades ago, being a woman in wealth management was a pretty lonely occupation. Not anymore. Today, I encounter women in financial management roles all the time, and I’m happy to count them as my friends and colleagues. One reason is that the workplace culture has changed – for the better – and financial services today is a far
more hospitable sector for a woman to work in than it was when I started 28 years ago.
I see the change in my philanthropic work, where women are powerful agents for giving. A few years ago, I started up the professional Women Impact Network giving circle, and I can tell you from experience that the very many successful women I have had the pleasure of working with are financially savvy and clear-headed. They know the importance of money, how to handle it and the impact it can make.
Finally, when I look at that world today, I see a growing force of strong and powerful women who are taking control of companies and of money. The number of self-employed women in Canada has grown by 30% over the past decade, and some of them have become the country’s most successful entrepreneurs. Take Joanna Griffiths, who built Knix – a maker of size-inclusive leak-proof undergarments – into an industry powerhouse valued at US$400 million. The rise of women entrepreneurs is a global phenomenon, with people like Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the founder of biopharma company Biocon and India’s wealthiest self-made woman, and Zhang Xin, a real estate developer known as “the woman who built Beijing,” amassing substantial fortunes while helping to transform their countries’ business cultures.
I’m not saying by any means that everything is great. As an investor, I would like to see more women on boards of directors and in management, in large part because board and management diversity has been proven to lead to better business results. I also believe my own industry needs to do a far better job of customizing its approach and its services to the unique needs and objectives of women investors – whose wealth, by the way, is projected to grow far more rapidly than men’s in the coming years.
Getting more women involved in corporate decision-making and in investing is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. So, yes, there are challenges. Yet even as we address them, we should also recognize that progress has been made. The world of business and money is evolving, and more and more women are making their mark. A lot more needs to be done, but there is also a lot to celebrate.