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Playing with different rules
BY DAWN THOMAS | FRIDAY, 31 JAN 2020   12:15PM

There are statements that most reasonable people will agree on in regards to female centric issues.

More women should become financial advisers, more women should seek financial advice, there should be better support of working parents, women should be paid fairly, women should be secure in their retirement.

We collectively abhor abuse against women, whether it's domestic, sexual, verbal or financial.

Devastatingly, 1 woman dies every 9 days from domestic abuse. Abuse is more likely to occur in households with attitudes of gender inequality. We are all horrified by that reality. These war cries come out in full force around International Women's Day (IWD). Amongst purple macaroons and pink peonies, you get caught up in the wave of promised change.

As IWD passes, the chants for change quieten and the plan for transformation is neatly boxed away like the last year's Christmas decorations.

When it comes to prioritising action, female centric issues, take a back seat to 'essentials' such as profitability.

Some statistics to consider: 22% of financial advisers are women, the wage gap in the financial services industry is 27%,  women over 55 are the fastest growing demographic of people who are homeless, up to 70% of women leave their financial advisers when their husbands pass away.

Unsurprisingly, an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) survey revealed that 40% of Australians feel that gender inequality is exaggerated.

What does gender inequality feel like to a working mother in financial advice?

It feels like you are invited to play a game, promised that it will be governed fairly, and then you find out that you have an additional set of penalising rules that the other players don't have to adhere to.

Meritocracy or the best person for the job based on merit is an inaccessible notion because merit is being assessed on unequal standards.

I started a family, post graduate studies and my financial planning career at the same time.

At that stage, I was the only woman in my department who intended to have a family and return to work.

There was no scope to adjust my targets, resulting in the same measurement of outcomes as my peers within a shorter time frame.

I chose to be a working mother and, as so many women find out, this does ultimately affect remuneration.

It is demoralising seeing your figures flashed up next to everyone else's.

The figures don't tell the whole story and it can make you feel that you are awful at your job.

For women in my position, our obstacles are largely invisible to peers. We stay silent because we are used to getting the job done regardless of circumstance.

At times I was blind to my obstacles and it is only upon reflection that I understand the hurdles I have overcome.

I went into labour five weeks early and had an emergency c-section.

At the time, I was completing a master's degree. The education provider wanted proof that I was in hospital and that the c-section was not planned.

Then, the extension was only by the amount of time I'd been in hospital.

There was no understanding that when I got home to my 17-month-old and three-year-old, I would be nursing a baby and on very little sleep.

I relied on right handed typing as I held my baby in my left arm, while he fed.

The new education standards introduced have become an unintended barrier for working mothers.

My question is, for all the rhetoric around getting more women into financial advice - has anyone really considered the support they'd need to meet those requirements?

I also experienced other ugly dimensions of gender inequality when I left the safe confines of a large financial institution.

Disheartening client situations such as an older man deciding that I am not a financial professional, but instead someone they can act inappropriately to.

Then there were the off-putting interactions at alcohol fuelled networking events where a small cohort begin to feel they can treat women without professional respect.

When someone disregards your worth as a professional in favour of looking at your physicality, it is soul-crushing.

Why express this in such a public forum when it risks having me labelled as weak or exaggerating the situation?

For the 'you' reading this, who is similar to 'me', we are in this together and we play a crucial part in this industry flourishing.

For the 'you' who has not walked in these shoes, I hope sharing my journey is a reminder to continue to cherish, celebrate and lift up the women around you.

More women in our industry will make financial advice more inclusive to more Australians. But how can women even the playing field?

My tips to survive, thrive and bridge the inequality gap

  • Ensure you are getting support at home. My husband is my life partner and our teamwork allows us both to live our best life #teamworkmakesthedreamwork
  • Find leaders who will invest in you.
  • Ask for the flexibility you need to be successful at work.
  • Unapologetically own your value.
  • If remuneration can't be changed, ask for other benefits. My previous employers supported me in other ways such as sponsoring my studies and sending me on leadership courses.
  • Flood your world with the amazing women and male advocates in this industry. Find your community of like-minded people in the industry - whether it's online or in the office break room.
  • Grow and self-reflect by reading development books. Start with Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg & See Jane Lead by Lois P Frankel and go from there
  • Get the hang of coffee catch ups with people in the industry.
  • Don't ever hide your light.

The RC revealed that the financial planning industry has to work on gaining the trust of the public. Maybe it is time we start changing the game altogether.

3 comments so far

I acknowledge that women have an uphill battle that men generally do not face and that is because they are generally the primary carer for children.

You are extremely fortunate to have a partner that supports you, because on your own the task is difficult.

In my mid twenties I ran a tourist coach coy and my first born, was very attached to me and became distressed if I went away without her. As I ran the company I decided to take her with me.

Today I have 6 grandchildren and the youngest is 19 months old. My wife and I look after her every weekend, however I am her primary carer.

I needed to become more involved as my wife could not handle the challengers of a toddler.

After many months of caring for her, she has become very attached to me and does not like me leaving her.

The whole point I am making is that being a carer reduces your capacity to pursue your career, unless you own the business & employ other people to fill the gaps.

People who are NOT carers have no idea of what I am talking about and cannot appreciate the difficulties involved when you are a carer.

Sadly, I do not believe this will ever change as men still regard caring for children to be the primary responsibility of the mother. My granddaughter comes to me, because she sees me as one of her primary carer givers. Her view of her world is she simply wants a cuddle.

I find it interesting that people say this is cute, but what they are really saying is this is not normal.

When this behaviour becomes normal and ceases to be unusual, then this whole issue will cease to exist.

Dawn, you have already made the best decision in your life, by marrying someone that understands that raising a family is a two person job.

When at 2am your son or daughter requires a nappy change and a bottle, he says I will do it and he spends some quality time with his baby.

When you take things back to the basics, then the answer becomes crystal clear.

WILLIAM MILLS  |  3 FEB 2020   12.17PM

Thank you Dawn for your refreshing candour about our industry. A reminder of what is not acceptable practice and why women need a fresh approach.

HEATHER JENSEN  |  3 FEB 2020   9.05AM

Excellent suggestions, and as a non-female, I hope to bring acceptance, understanding, and flexibility to the working mums in my world, as it is an incredible honour to be on this journey providing advice and supporting our clients with you.

RYAN GRANT  |  3 FEB 2020   12.53PM
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