International Women’s Day was on Sunday 8 March, a day that since 1910 has focused attention on women’s rights. The day – and the invitation to speak on the topic at the Institute of Directors on 6 March – prompted me to think through how much has changed for women in the last 110 years. While there are still challenges ahead, this is pivotal time for women.
The opportunities available to me, other women and girls are due to a long race run by some brave women before us: our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers.
My great-grandmother, Dora, was born in England in 1881. Women didn’t normally go to university, but in 1904 she got a degree in teaching. She was then one of the first women to take a short course in geography at Oxford University. In 1909, she did further studies at Cambridge University. She married my grandfather and moved to the US, only to find that her qualifications weren’t recognised there and she couldn’t continue teaching. She wasn’t the type to just stay at home, so she used her talents as a writer to form a literary club. The club expanded rapidly and my great-grandmother was nominated to become president of the literary society she had founded. My great-grandfather ruled it out as he wanted her to be his personal assistant. It broke her heart.
Moving forward a generation, Christine, Dora’s daughter and my grandmother, was born in 1915. She did a degree in business studies – again an unusual choice for women in those days – and brought up four children, while holding a high powered job as a company secretary for a large American company. She was also involved in charities supporting war veterans, leukaemia sufferers, women’s rights and those most marginalised by society. Aged 50, she decided to go back to university and do a second degree in teaching, which enabled her to be a university lecturer. On her death, my family was inundated with countless letters telling us how Christine had helped them.
My mother, Margaret, also went to university and then did a master’s degree, but her boldness was not in the workplace. She took the unusual decision to move from the US to Mexico and then to Spain, during the Franco era, to work as a missionary. She smuggled Bibles into Spain in the back of vans, which was illegal at the time. She still lives in Barcelona, where I grew up, and is a well-known author and speaker.
These three women were all disrupters in their own way, each facing different socially constructed constraints. They show how the opportunities and challenges shaping women’s paths have gradually changed.
So where do we stand now?
Women in the developed world now surpass men in educational achievement. However, even though we are getting closer, the gender pay gap among full-time employees in the UK – as an example – stands at 8.9%. In money terms, it means the average shortfall a woman will see is £223,000 in earnings over her lifetime, which is compounded by an average pension savings shortfall of £106,000.
Women still face a glass labyrinth (rather than a glass ceiling). The term brilliantly captures the number and succession of complicated challenges that women have to navigate in their careers.
What’s the way forward?
The first is for companies to continue to promote more women to more senior roles. Gender diversity studies provide a weight of evidence highlighting the benefits of including an equal percentage of women in strategic positions, starting with neurochemistry and the different way men and women’s brains are wired. Women problem solve and come up with ideas in different ways to men; this diversity adds breadth of input. However, it isn’t just gender diversity that matters – we should also look at cognitive diversity i.e. having a group of people of different ages, sexes, cultures and social backgrounds. Companies have gradually woken up to the fact that gender diversity in senior management is linked to better financial performance. It also improves sustainability. These are both areas that consumers and investors focus very keenly on, and could be key to improving the gender equality imbalance too.
Empowering more women would also benefit society as a whole since it has been linked to an increase in GDP of US$28 trillion in 2025 according to the management consultancy, McKinsey. To put that number in context that is almost the size of the US and Chinese economies combined!
Meanwhile, the push in the last few years for maternal leave to broaden to parental leave could mean the most common reason cited for the non-promotion of females should start to become irrelevant. That, in turn, will mean women will have more role models, there will be improved mentoring and inter-generational working, which in turn will improve performance and outcomes. And this will lead to more opportunities for women – just as Ariadne helped Theseus navigate the way out of the labyrinth with a ball of thread – to provide guidance, mentoring and support to other women in the workplace.
There remains one area, however, where we can all do more – and that’s with looking after our own interests when planning our finances – especially given the disparity in income women as a gender face. With the UK tax year end and ISA deadline for 2020 approaching, I was interested to find that although women and men held roughly the same number of ISAs, 1.25 million men chose a stocks and shares ISA compared with 957,000 women in 2019. And yet, there is evidence that women are better investors than men. In 2018, for example, the Warwick Business School conducted a study of 2,800 UK men and women investing, and tracked their performance over three years. The men in Warwick’s study managed an average annual return 0.14% higher than the FTSE 100 benchmark used, but women outperformed the benchmark by 1.94%, beating men by 1.8%. So, while we will have to wait for the opportunity to earn more money professionally, the opportunity to invest our personal wealth is available now.
Regardless as to whether you are a first time or seasoned investor, male or female, we are happy talking about how Nedbank Private Wealth can help with tax-efficient investing across ISAs or pensions. We aim to deliver investments that perform consistently across all our portfolios to ensure our clients would never face the scenario of talking to another client and finding their investment performance varies, despite having the same attitude to risk. Get in touch via email or on 01624 645000 between Monday and Friday, 8am to 8pm UK time.
Were you interested in learning more about investing?
Rebecca joined Nedbank Private Wealth in May 2004 having moved to the Isle of Man from Barcelona to pursue a course in Business Studies with the Isle of Man Business School. Rebecca was appointed to the role of investment counsellor in March 2019 to focus exclusively on the company’s discretionary investment management services. She works closely with our teams of private bankers to provide support in advising our clients with integrity, and to give additional technical investment expertise where more complex portfolio requirements exist. Rebecca is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment and a Chartered Wealth Manager.