During a professional women networking event focused on finances, I observed that just talking about money triggered feelings of shame. Here are successful, ambitious, dynamic women, but when the topic of money came up; I saw them shrink from the overwhelming feeling of shame. And it begged the question:
What’s going on with women and money?
In the past couple of years, there have been great initiatives to encourage women to take more financial ownership and shift the financial conversation.? This event I attended was hosted by a not-for-profit women?s group that had invited 4 female financial authorities as panel speakers.? Over the next hour, the discussion of the panel revolved around major themes impacting women when it came to their finances.?Throughout the 60-minute panel discussion, it was dead quiet:? over 500 women were in rapt attention; soaking in the advice, pens scribbling down notes, heads nodding, relating to each issue.
Hands flew up as soon as the Q&A session began, but the questions always started with a blush and a disclaimer: ?Maybe this is a simple/basic/dumb question but…?? As they proceeded to ask their question, I saw heads nod in agreement all around the room, many women were too embarrassed. They felt shame in their lack of financial knowledge:
Each woman thought they were the only one who didn’t know the answer!
As the Q&A session went on, topics ranged from investing, budgeting, and spending.? With each question, the elephant in the room grew.? The underlying sense of shame in each question: ?Am I bad with money??
Prominent shame researcher, Brene Brown describes it as something, that if others knew, would cause them to reject us. That feeling of, “I can?t let my parents know about my credit card debt!”, or,?“My friends would think less of me if they know how little I make.”
Dr. Brown also found that shame is gender-specific; she says in her 2012 TED Talk, ?shame for women is a web of conflicting and unattainable expectations of who we are supposed to be,? whereas shame for men is to ?not be perceived as weak.”
Sadly, I think women identify with both sides.? We feel shame for not being able to do it all.? We pretend to have everything covered on the surface, but we fear that someone is going to find out that our sink is full of week-old dishes; we only have $8 in our account before payday; we yelled at our significant other, or kids, for having the music on too loud.
Women and money: The breeding grounds for shame
On top of this, women are more willing to admit what we don?t know. We are actually more likely than men to ask, “What is a secular bull market?? However, in our western culture, vulnerability is a perceived weakness.? So, when we admit we don?t know, we simultaneously think of ourselves as weak.? Women feel shame for not doing it all and not knowing it all.
Women feel shame for not doing it all and not knowing it all.
In the room at the networking event, money was a trigger for the feelings of shame. Dr. Brown finds that shame needs just 3 things to grow. They are secrecy, silence, and judgment. We keep our salaries a secret. We keep silent our money habits. ?We judge ourselves on our debts and spending.
To break this negative cycle, we must first recognize what we are doing and acknowledge our feelings. The interesting nuance is that shame is not guilt.? Guilt is associated with behaviors:? I did something bad.? Shame is associated with the self:? I am something bad.
We must first accept that our financial situation is a result of our behaviors, not of our worthiness.
For instance, if I didn?t study up on finance and investing, it’s only a behavior, not something inherently wrong with me. If I had credit card debt because I overspent, it’s a result of a behavior, not because I?m a bad person.? So first, we must accept that our financial situation is a result of our behaviors, not of our worthiness.
In Dr. Brown?s Shame Resilience Theory (SRT), the thing that shame cannot survive is a dose of empathy.? So,?our next step is we must have empathy for ourselves. Schools did not teach us about finances and money.? We wouldn?t feel ashamed if we didn?t know how to play chess. So, let go of the shame of not knowing more about finances. With both chess and with personal finance, we can still learn.
Our next step is to have empathy for ourselves.
Once we have empathy for ourselves, this opens the way for us to help ourselves. To be courageous and let other people know I don?t know enough about money. We are afraid of being judged and criticized. ?But more often than not, those are the moments of true connection, the nods, and ?yeah, me too.”
So, now that you know you can let go of your financial shame; what is the next step you want to take?
Pauline Yan is?an investment portfolio manager at a multinational financial institution based in Canada.??She has earned the right to use the CFA and CAIA designations.??Her passion is in coaching and supporting women in financial literacy and achieving their financial goals.
While awareness of conscious capitalism is rising in the mainstream, let’s take an honest look at how far we have come since the issue of sustainability was first recognized on the global platform.
30 Years ago, in 1987, the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development published ?Our Common Future? under the chairmanship of Gro Harlem Brundtland, the first female prime minister of Norway.
The Brundtland Report presented the results of a broad global consultation aimed at proposing a comprehensive program of change for sustainable development.
Thirty years later, what progress can we observe on our way to sustainability?
The Brundtland Report clearly identified the most serious environmental problems of the 1980s:
The?Brundtland Report emphasized the perverse effects of unbridled economic growth and overconsumption of resources by the better-off.
?Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. ?
The Brundtland Report then identified a series of strategic objectives:
Change the quality of economic growth.
Meet basic human needs.
Preserve and enhance the resource base.
Consider the environment in developing new technologies.
Integrate ecological and economic concerns into decision-making.
And it proposed solutions that apply on a global scale such as:
Reducing energy consumption in industrialized countries.
Promoting the development of renewable energies.
Encouraging massive reforestation in countries affected by desertification.
Implementing tax and land reforms to reduce pressures on ecosystems.
Adopting an international convention for the protection of species.
Combating poverty and injustice.
In order to realize and finance this ecological shift, the Brundtland Report proposed:
A reform of international institutions, notably the World Bank and the IMF, which should better take into account social and environmental objectives and alleviate the debt of the poorest countries.
A reorientation of military spending for the fight against poverty and inequality.
An engagement of large companies in more responsible production and consumption.
The Brundtland Report demonstrated that the global economy and ecology are deeply intertwined on a global level and therefore the solutions must be as well.
The Brundtland report ?opened a global dialogue, catalyzing the UN?s sustainable development approach.?This resulted in the succeeding summits which continue the engagement of governments, businesses and civil society around the world:
1992 Rio Earth Summit, the UN Conference on Sustainability and Development:
Established Agenda 21 which became the basis for many succeeding sustainable development initiatives.
Adopted a declaration on sustainable forest management, biodiversity, climate change and desertification.
2000 The Millennium Summit, held the UN headquarters in NY adopted eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) which were set to expire in 2015:
the greening of production processes and green marketing (all too often misguided in greenwashing offering unscrupulous businesses the opportunity to unduly polish their image as a good corporate citizen.)
But we can also see that the list of objectives in each UN summit gets longer and longer.
So, how far have we really come in 30 years since the 1987 Brundtland report?
Despite a strong commitment by governments to sustainable development, significant action on this path is slow to take hold.?Political leaders seem to be more inclined to respond to the demands of oligarchic lobbies than to the legitimate expectations of their constituents. For example, in spite of their commitment to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, G20 governments spend nearly 4 times more on fossil fuels than developing renewable energy.
In 2017, the public and private indebtedness of the 44 richest countries reached 235% of GDP compared with 190% in 2007.?Military budgets are constantly increasing. (The US alone rose 43.6% since 2000 to reach $611 billion in 2016.)
This is in addition to:
The continual plundering of natural resources and degradation of the environment.
Threatening climate change.
A widening gap between rich and poor.
Increasing food insecurity and indebtedness.
A 10 fold increase in obese children and adolescents.
A 58% decrease in wild vertebrate populations.
An increase in indebtedness of nations and individuals.
An increase in the economic control of banks.
An overconsumption and waste of natural resources.
Growth in corruption of elected representatives and proxy holders.
The control of mainstream media by large industrial groups and banks.
What?s it gonna take?
Despite the awareness of conscious capitalism and the good faith efforts of a growing number of individuals, the situation continues to deteriorate to the point of undermining our optimism.
How can we be convinced to consume less?
How can we convince the rich to change their lifestyles?
In order raise awareness, encourage democratic public debate, propose alternative lifestyles, we must continue to:
educate young and old about the principles of sustainable development and conscious capitalism.
?When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can?t eat money.? – Geronimo
HSBC has promised that it will stop the financing of mines that produce coal for power generation.
However, HSBC hasn?t gone as far as some other banks who have adopted a worldwide ban on coal. As of June 2017, 11 major international banks have committed to end their direct financing for new coal mines and new coal plants worldwide.
HSBC, whose operations are increasingly concentrated in Asia, will continue to finance new coal-fired power stations in developing countries, which is where all the demand is.
Because developed countries aren?t building coal-fired plants any more, HSBC?s new promise not to finance such projects smells a bit like greenwashing in an attempt to appear as if they have embraced conscious capitalism.?According to the NGO EndCoal, neither the U.S. nor the EU have brought any new coal-fired capacity online since 2015. In fact, the EU, North America and Australasia only account for 2% of all the coal-fired plants currently being planned.
HSBC?s announcement this month also stated that it will make up to $100 billion available for financing low-carbon projects, and that it has promised to get all of its power from renewable sources by 2030.
If you want to check up on where your bank stands on coal and extreme fossil fuel financing, you can do so here. (You will notice that HSBC is the world?s 8th biggest offender.)
Looking for a bank divested from fossil fuels? They exist!
The average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year. As 157 million Americans reach an average of over $15,000 in credit card debt, it’s clear that out of all that can be said about our school systems, they are certainly failing to teach the basics in financial management, let alone financial survival.
Studies show students have little grasp of credit scores, budgeting, loan payments or even taxes. 40 percent of teens in one survey think they get all their paid taxes back when they file a federal income tax return, or that they do not have to pay federal income taxes at all. In light of the fact that most Americans don?t understand how their country?s tax system works, this isn?t too surprising.
The Council for Economic Education found that only 19 states require high schools to offer a course in personal finance, while only 17 require that students actually take such a course.
In light of this, some school districts are taking it upon themselves to improve financial literacy in order to prepare young Americans for the complex financial decisions, such as taking on student loans, that they will be forced to make in today?s economy.
The “Get A Life” program offered by the West Virginia state Treasurer’s Office helps students understand how far their money will go. Students receive card that lists their marital status, number of children and salary for the month, and then are told they had to purchase a home, vehicle, insurance, groceries and furniture to fit their family’s needs.
Man Elementary in Logan County, WV, has created a simulated community called “Pioneerville,” in which students participate as business owners, managers, elected officials and consumers.
WeWork, a $20 billion New York-based startup which rents desk space to freelancers and businesses, is taking it even further by launching a private elementary school for ?conscious entrepreneurship?? and conscious capitalism.
The first pilot crop of students aged from five to eight years old spend one day at a 60-acre farm and the rest of the week in a classroom near the company?s Manhattan headquarters, where they get lessons in business from both employees and entrepreneurs-customers of WeWork. At the farm, the kids don?t just ?study math,? they use numbers to run a farm stand and while reading about the natural life cycles of plants.
WeWork joins a growing list of entrepreneurial billionaires trying to reshape American education with their influence and investments. Facebook?s Mark Zuckerberg, along with other tech entrepreneurs, for example, are investing in public, charter and private schools that use technology to foster personalized education.
For parents who are concerned about their financial child?s financial literacy and don?t have access progressive schools, there are are free resources out there that can help.
Conscious capitalism in the form of Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) is ramping up in the financial world, and with it comes new terminology.
A quick guide to some new terms:
Social innovation: Refers to general ideas for coming up with new ways to tackle social or economic challenges, such as job training for hard-to-employ individuals or finding more affordable housing. It can also involve testing ideas by measuring impact to determine if an idea is working.
Social finance: The use of private capital to fund programs that deliver a public good, like job skills training. It can refer to investors financing projects that benefit their community or helping charities and nonprofits tap into new sources of funding.
Social enterprise: Community-based businesses that provide goods or services like a bakery or cleaning company with their main focus being on delivering social programs, or making an environmental impact. These companies try to reinvest their profits to expand their reach.
Social impact bond: This type of bond is a partnership between governments, private investors, service delivery organizations and perhaps an intermediary who acts as a broker. Investors put money into an organization that delivers a social program. The program signs an agreement with the government for that it will meet specific performance benchmarks. Investors get a return based on program results, moving the financial risk away from governments and cutting costs.