Lessons from Women’s Suffrage

Sep 25, 2020 Willow Creek Wealth Management Posted in Women's Conversation Circles

As we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment last month and mourned the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week, I have been reflecting on women’s rights and how they relate to money and investing. In my role as Senior Wealth Advisor at Willow Creek, I have had the opportunity to coach women toward a life of financial independence and how that power can be used to shape our society today. Justice Ginsburg and the suffragists have been inspiring role models without which my career as a woman in the financial industry would not have been possible.  America lost a fierce champion of women’s rights with the death of Justice Ginsberg. During her 27 years as a Justice, she famously argued cases involving the Fourteenth Amendment, intended to guarantee all citizens “equal protection of the laws.” She realized women, in particular, were subject to sometimes even unconscious discrimination and sought "to teach through my opinions, through my speeches, how wrong it is to judge people on the basis of what they look like, color of their skin, whether they’re men or women."   While the suffragists fought for the Nineteenth Amendment to prevent the denial of “the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex” they would have agreed with Justice Ginsburg on the broadness of the issue and how they would have liked to have been remembered - as "someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.”  

100 Years Ago Was Just the Beginning

So, one hundred years ago was just the beginning. The women who fought for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment had other goals in mind than simply the right to vote. They were really after a seat at the decision-making table regarding the big issues of the time - including a married woman’s inability to own property or have a legal claim to any money she earned. Unfortunately, while progress has been made, there are still significant discrepancies in the social structures that are in place today, and those discrepancies point to a larger issue than the much-discussed pay gap: the gender wealth gap. 

Gender Wealth Gap

The gender wealth gap refers to the difference in financial assets accumulated over a lifetime between men and women. While women’s gender pay gap is an average of 82 cents to the dollar, the gender wealth gap is even more dramatic at 32 cents. The unfortunate result of this is that women often have much less wealth accrued than men at retirement. For women of color, the situation is even more dire.   While common life roles such as caregiver and widowhood explain a great deal of the financial disadvantage, according to a Barron’s survey, 60% of the women said lack of knowledge was a big roadblock to investing – the most common way of building retirement assets. This perceived financial illiteracy around investing, coupled with women’s focus on family and community, can sometimes create a disconnect between short-term financial goals and the importance of long-term financial planning.  

Investing is a Skill. Skills Can be Learned

So how can women survive caregiver career breaks, higher longevity, lower Social Security Benefits,  more student debt and a pervasive lack of confidence in investment prowess? Perhaps by taking a page from the suffragists and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Some of that is working to get legislation passed related to fair pay and childcare, but women can also motivate themselves by taking a different view of investing. First of all, despite the number of investment options and oftentimes confusing lingo, investing is not rocket science. Women can learn how to be successful investors -- it simply takes a little time, patience, and possibly the help of an empathetic advisor to learn the ropes.  

Align Your Values with Your Money

And these days the rewards are even greater. Not only can a woman ensure her own and her family’s financial future, but she can now use her voice to reshape the world as she sees it. The growing shift toward Sustainable Investing options has given women a desirable platform and the power to make investment decisions that align with their values.   So, what is the lesson learned? Advocates for women’s suffrage were after much more than simply equal voting rights. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton elaborated in the nineteenth century, "it is not the ballot alone that woman needs for her safety and protection, but a revolution in our political, religious, and social systems; in fact, the entire reorganization of society.” A tall order, indeed! But women are in a unique position today, controlling approximately $22 trillion dollars in wealth. Together we can use that power as one voice to create the world we want to see. It won’t happen overnight or even within this generation. What matters is that we leave a brighter future for the generations of women that will come after us – just as the suffragists did. The Notorious RBG agreed -- “I don’t think my efforts would have succeeded had it not been for the women’s movement that was reviving in the United States and more or less all over the world at the time." Way to go, ladies!