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Mind the financial gender gap

One week on from International Women’s Day, AltFi’s Emily Nicolle explores why women could be doomed in finance before they even start.

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One week on from International Women’s Day, AltFi’s Emily Nicolle explores why women could be doomed in finance before they even start.

Earlier this week, UK challenger Starling Bank launched its #MakeMoneyEqual campaign in an effort to fight the gender stereotypes used in financial media. In a linguistic study of 300 male and female-centric articles, the results revealed that often women are separated from men into two categories: spenders, versus earners.

In female-targeted media, women were often told how they need to budget now so that they can afford to splash out later, and were suggested ways in which they can save by hunting for vouchers or shopping in sales (rather than open a savings account). A whopping 90 per cent of the articles studied used phrases like women need to “cut back”, with 71 per cent suggesting women should “bargain hunt” for the best deals. A further 65 per cent of these articles exclusively defined women as “excessive spenders”, thereby unable to realise the full potential of their money.

Men, on the other hand, are proposed to be the more financially savvy gender: 70 per cent of male-targeted articles emphasised making money as part of the masculine ideal, with monetary success and understanding of finance labelled as suggestive of a person’s manhood. When it comes to managing their money, 50 per cent of the articles studied used fear propositions about strength and power to push men towards being financially active, such as those who have “conquered” the financial landscape by being “daring enough” to try. The common phrase “bullish investor” springs to mind.

In essence, Starling’s campaign found that Money Media often portrays women as unable to save their money besides through finding innovative ways to spend it, whilst men aren’t really men if they’re not doing the best to turn a penny into a pound through sheer bravery and skills in the financial markets.

If this is the unconscious message that the media puts out, it’s hardly surprising then that this unbalanced view can be seen to have a real-world effect on gender parity elsewhere in the industry. Just today it was revealed that Goldman Sachs pays women in the UK an average of 56 per cent less than their male colleagues, which extends up to 72 per cent when year-end bonuses are included.

A 2017 report from SyndicateRoom found that just 7 per cent of the UK’s top 100 start-ups are headed by women, with only 47 female entrepreneurs coming out for every 100 male entrepreneurs. These figures both fell short of the European average, where women appear on 15 per cent of boards and average 59 entrepreneurs to every 100 men. I also noted my disappointment at the time that SyndicateRoom had failed to interview a single female founder or CEO when selecting 10 companies to feature in the report. After all, there were seven options to choose from.

Some reports have even suggested that banks are losing out by not connecting better with their female customers, failing to realise some potential billions that could be redirected into savings and investments if they’d do more to make women financially confident.

Financial services firms are now finding themselves pressed to do better on gender equality, as movements like Equal Pay and #MeToo come to the forefront of our Western political centres. The UK government’s Women in Finance charter has only seen roughly a 50 per cent sign up rate from firms so far, with Nicky Morgan MP recently writing to over 30 firms to ask why they had yet to sign.

Fintech has not found itself excluded from these efforts, with several firms including Crowdcube, MarketInvoice and Zopa making it onto Morgan’s list. Last week also saw the launch of the Parity Pledge, which asks fintech leaders from across the sector to do more to ensure gender diversity on stage at conferences and event. It is a problem that we at AltFi have witnessed first-hand, and one that we are entirely committed to addressing.

“It’s no wonder that investment in female founded start-ups is so low, if investors of both genders are being taught that women are less reliable with money,” commented Starling Bank CEO Anne Boden. “And it’s unsurprising that women don’t consider themselves investors, or use as many investment apps as men, when they’re being told to scrimp and deny their ‘urge to splurge’.”

“We’ve investigated the media and their use of language but we all know sexism around money runs much deeper than just the content of the magazines we read. We’re all guilty of it as businesses, as brands, as individuals, as a society.”

And Boden is right. It might take some significant rewiring, but I will consider it time well spent if gender equality is something that we are truly dedicated to achieving.

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