Advancing the cause of women


But give me sneakers and a $5 Kmart t-shirt any day.

As women, we’re accustomed to striving for unachievable ideals – beauty being the most deeply ingrained; career and money success being another.

Women can pursue power, but many will do better tackling their finances – in sensible shoes.Credit:Louise Kennerley

I reckon it’s high time we changed the conversation we have about money and careers, both for men and women.

Instead of striving and falling short of yet another ideal, I reckon it’s time we got together – in sensible shoes – to admit we all struggle a bit to make good decisions when it comes to money. Most of us have stuffed it up a bit.

But, if we supported and helped to educate each other, we could be doing better.

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If we really want to change the world for women, it’s time for a grass-roots movement to help women – and men too – to really get to grips with their finances.

The time is ripe, amid shocking evidence of the failure of financial institutions to act to protect the wealth of their clients.

Such a movement doesn’t start with corporate shindigs like IWD, which are often sponsored by the same corporate entities that are failing to protect your money or just looking to meet some “diversity” yardstick or flog more products to women.

It starts by confronting the truth about how vulnerable we all are to financial disadvantage.

And yes, the message is particularly important for women, because the facts are indisputable: women are, on average, paid less over their lifetimes than men, and are, consequently, poorer in retirement.

A recent study from KPMG found women are heavily over-represented in one of the most disadvantaged groups in society: over-50s singles who do not own their own home.

According to KPMG Australia chairman Alison Kitchen – herself a trailblazer, being the first woman to chair a Big Four professional services firm in Australia – about a quarter of a million single women over 50 today rely on Commonwealth rent assistance help to make ends meet in the private rental market.

Despite advances, the idea of “a man is a financial plan” seems deeply embedded in our social psyche and our retirement system – and it is costing women dearly.

According to Kitchen: “Our society is still largely based on the model of a male primary earner and a female primary carer, who is also a secondary earner. Many single women are on the pension and don’t own their home – they are the victims of an antiquated social framework.”

KPMG wants to see Commonwealth rent assistance increased 40 per cent, and indexed to rents, not CPI. It also wants more innovative schemes to help renters get shared equity in their homes and measures to boost superannuation of low-income Australians.

Money, after all, is power.

And if we’re serious about empowering women, we need to make sure we remember to include all women, including those on lower incomes and those unlikely to attend IWD events.

Sure, I’m all about catapulting successful women further into the testosterone-clouded corporate stratosphere. But if we want to really change gender dynamics in this country, helping all women get to grips with the basics of savings and investment strategies is a crucial first step.

As women, we need to have fewer conversations about shoes, and spend more time talking about our financial strategy – or why we don’t have one.

Instead of dolling ourselves up with expensive beauty and fashion products to fit into an antiquated corporate dress code, we’d be better off spending time together scouring our super statement or electricity bills.

And we should be including men in the conversation, too. Together, we should nerd-out in mutual geek curiosity about the benefits of direct share investment versus exchange-traded funds.

We could start a new movement to really help empower women to unashamedly both win their own bread and fiercely protect and invest it.

Save me a front row seat for that.

Jessica Irvine is a senior economics writer with The Sydney Morning Herald.

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