How women can build their own economic power

WASHINGTON — We are in the midst of a long overdue evolution as once-tolerated workplace behavior is finally being exposed for what it has always been: unacceptable. This is very good news for all women, especially those who found little support (or worse, retaliation), for their claims of sexual harassment just a few years ago.

We’re experiencing a seismic shift as those in power realize they can no longer ignore or protect men who behave badly. The problem is that many women who were subjected to sexual harassment have suffered, not just emotionally, but economically.

While there have been few studies that measure the costs to women who are sexually harassed in the workplace, we know that 80 percent of the affected women changed jobs within two years, according to research by Heather McLaughlin, assistant professor of Sociology at Oklahoma State University. The survey data also found that women who were harassed at work reported significantly greater financial stress two years later.

In the past year since launching Her Wealth®, we have raised our voices to encourage women to take control of their finances. Why? Because economic power is the fuel for an independent life. Too often, we allow others to control our finances, which gives them too much control over our lives. As women earn more, negotiate better salaries and benefits, and move into more positions of power in the workplace and the government, we not only benefit, but our spouses, our families and the economy benefit. We are a rising tide that will lift all boats.

We have written extensively to help women embrace what may be an unfamiliar role to them — Chief Financial Officer of their family — or at least sharing this responsibility equally with their partner. As women, we live time-challenged lives. But this is too important to delegate, and we encourage women to offload other things that they have on their plates to make room for taking a more active role in managing their money.

The stats are both sobering and encouraging

  • The median age of a widow is 59.4 years for a first marriage and 60.3 years for a second marriage
  • 70 percent of women age 75 or older are widowed, divorced or never married
  • About half of all marriages end in divorce
  • Women still earn 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes
  • The average number of years that women are out of the workforce is 11.2 years
  • 67 percent of women are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners of their families
  • By 2030, two-thirds of the nation’s wealth will be in the hands of women

These statistics tell a remarkable story. Women will, at some point, have to take responsibility for their financial lives. The question is not, “Will you be prepared when that time comes?” The more important question is, “What will you do now to assume your economic power?” Your actions today will determine whether you are prepared in the future.

Unexpected events such as getting a divorce, losing a spouse, caring for children or aging parents, or losing a job have the potential to derail the best laid plans. The level of your wealth doesn’t matter if you’re not in control of it.

Equipping yourself to take your financial reins

Fortunately, we are living in a time when there is more information and help available than any other time in history. Her Wealth alone has published over 100 articles and interviews to help women understand and feel more confident about their finances. There are literally thousands of articles, magazines and books about money, investing, budgeting and saving for every stage of life.

Women can enlist the help of financial advisers, tax professionals or others who are more adept in managing money if they feel ill-equipped to handle this themselves. While outsourcing may offer the financial skills you may be lacking, our advice is to stay in control by learning the basics and asking questions — a lot of questions — to build up your financial literacy. Even with the help of experienced advisers, you are ultimately responsible for your financial decisions.

Money is power and opportunity

We think it’s time for women to fully embrace this concept. For too long, money has been a taboo topic. It’s time to break down the barriers between women and financial success.

At Her Wealth, we have been changing the conversation about money and encouraging women to talk about money in a way that is powerful. Talk about how you are invested and building your wealth. Talk about your goals for your money. Talk about negotiating a better salary. Talk about what you plan to do to be a full participant in your finances rather than a bystander. Talk with other women, especially your daughters, about money. You don’t need to have all the facts to participate in these conversations. All women need is curiosity and desire to learn more.

Having wealth won’t insulate women from all unwanted advances or unfair workplace practices, but embracing your finances will bring more opportunities and choices. It enables you to decide how you want to live your life and live your values. Now that is real power.

Lisa Poff is Director of Marketing & Communications and Dawn Doebler, CPA, CFP®, CDFA® is a Senior Wealth Adviser at Bridgewater Wealth. They are co-founders of Her Wealth®.

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