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15th March, 2020

5 ways to improve financial literacy outcomes for women

As we celebrate women in business in the lead up to EOFY, we’re turning the focus to the financial literacy gap – and the roles we can all play in closing it.

According to a 2013 OECD report, while female participation in the NZ workforce is high and the wage gap comparatively low, a gender gap still exists around financial knowledge and confidence.

Data reveals the majority of women have less knowledge around complex financial concepts than men, and less confidence in their financial aptitude.

“Financially, women are disadvantaged by the gender pay gap, motherhood gap, divorce, lower superannuation balances, access to capital and funding… It is only relatively recently (in the last 40 years) that women have been able to get a mortgage in their own name!” said Angela Meyer, co-director of NZ creative agency, Double Denim.

“I’m not surprised women don’t feel confident; we’re not exactly asked to the party,” she added.

To discover what we – as business owners and individuals – can do to address the gender imbalance around financial literacy, we sat down with Meyer and Double Denim co-founder, Anna Dean.

Here are their five key recommendations for improving female financial literacy.

1. Educate our future leaders from a young age

According to Meyer and Dean, women’s lack of confidence with more complex financial concepts stems from a social, cultural and familial bias.

Not only is there a lack of education at school, girls have traditionally been excluded from financial conversations at home.

“I was brought up with a gendered sense that ‘girls aren’t good at maths’ and a sense they shouldn’t enjoy it,” said Dean.

“Systematically young women haven’t been in a position to discuss financial investments with their fathers which leads on to a sense of trepidation and uncertainty,” she added.

“It’s been the kind of chat that men have which is why I refer to it as ‘white man’s magic’. It’s like an almost sanctified knowledge.”

Not only is this way of thinking clearly outdated, it has ramifications for business and the economy as a whole.

“All genders have the same ability to use their brains. What we do with it is largely determined by the circumstances in which we live.

“The reality is, when you actually scratch the surface, it’s a lot more simple than you’re led to expect and women make far better investors than men over the longer term,” said Dean.

2. Rethink the way we market financial services

There also needs to be a shake-up of the way financial services market to women, according to Meyer.

“Our research shows that 76 percent of women… felt that financial services didn’t understand their lives or communicate with them effectively,” she said.

“The way information is presented assumes that men are the audience. Men with money.”

And that’s a huge barrier.

“Advertising and marketing has relied on such tropes for a long time and as increasing numbers of women are highly educated and financially independent it’s time for financial institutions to widen their expectations, their diversity and their inclusion.”

And there’s good reason why those business will want to get on the front foot in this regard.

“Businesses and organisations that aren’t aware of this will find attracting new business increasingly difficult over time,” said Meyer.

3. Promote diverse thinking at the top level

Meanwhile Dean cited a lack of diverse thought at the board level as a major factor holding businesses back.

“Personally, I’m feeling pretty tired of the debate about whether women should be included on boards or not, and the power of the meritocracy,” she said.

“Businesses who don’t have diverse thinking around the table, and that includes an ethnic mix as well as gender, are going to find themselves increasingly irrelevant, and vastly disadvantaged in terms of future-proofing.”

Considering women drive 70-80 percent of purchasing decisions, she said businesses with an under representation of women among key decision makers are “missing a trick”. Particularly if they’re planning on selling to woke millennials.

READ: Stand tall – Lessons from women at the top of their game

Additionally, “data shows that when you mandate D&I, profits, productivity and innovation go up,” said Dean. “CEOs should be held accountable to drive this.”

4. Foster a culture of openness in your business

Wondering what you can do as a business owner to help women in your business, and in the broader community, be empowered financially?

According to Dean, the first step is listening to your employees and allowing them to bring their whole selves to work.

“Allow spaces for creativity and innovation to come from any level of the organisation,” and “try to avoid hierarchy,” she advised.

“If someone complains or has an issue with the way they are being treated, investigate it properly, rather than brushing things under the carpet.”

Similarly, Meyer stressed the need to start from a place of openness.

“Ask us what we need, then adapt and get cracking,” she said.

5. Read from the millennial playbook

It’s crucial women play a role in their financial empowerment by asking questions, taking part in financial conversations, and calling out gender disparities. Thankfully, this is something millennial women are succeeding at.

“Ange and I got a real fright when we learned properly about terms like ‘compounding interest’ as early 40-somethings,” said Dean.

“That information wasn’t taught when I was in school, or if it was, it wasn’t in a meaningful way I could relate to my own life.

“I look back now at what could have been gained with a little more insight into the basics and I cringe. [Millennials are] much more interested and savvy and up for these kinds of conversations.”

Thanks to financial disruptors such as online start-up Sharesies, millennial women (and men) are also learning that investing isn’t a members only club for old, rich guys.

“It’s fantastic to have the likes of Sharesies… which have lowered the bar for anyone to participate and have a crack,” said Dean.

The future outlook

When asked the real incentive for improving female financial literacy, Dean offered a range of metrics.

“Both men and women benefit from shifting stereotypical ideas and traditional gender roles at home and families gain power with both parents driving financial decisions for the unit as a whole. By starting in the home by educating the next generation, regardless of gender children are set up for financial success.

“With both parents taking financial responsibility for financial security and retirement savings, as well as the management it also gets the family unit on the same page to meet financial goals – whether that’s getting out of debt, funding education without student loans or making first home deposits.

“This is knowledge for both sons and daughters, and businesses benefit by having increased financial prowess and financial literacy brings among the population. It also benefits the economy by an increase in Mum and Dad Investors.”

According to Meyer, the ultimate outcome is “a flourishing, strong society that works with, not against, the complexities of what it means to be human”.


MYOB is discussing all things financial literacy and women in the lead up to EOFY this year. If you’d like to see more stories of empowerment and inspiration, check out the ‘Stand Tall, Leap High’ resource centre.