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The Good News About Women and Money

By Judith Okihaure

  • PUBLISHED April 06
  • |
  • 6 MINUTE READ

A lot can change in a few generations, and much of the change over the last few decades has been driven by women’s evolving roles. The expanded presence of women—single, coupled, parenting or not—in the workforce has had a huge effect on the economy and on women’s individual lives.
 
There are many hurdles for women to jump over in their financial lives. There’s the gender pay gap, the motherhood penalty for those who choose to be parents, caregiving roles for extended family and more. Women also statistically live longer than men, making it extremely important that they earn as much as they can while they can. Women over 65 are more likely to be poor than men—regardless of race, education or economic status.
 
Women, it can seem, are in a constant race to push forward as fast as they can, to ensure that the progress they’ve fought for isn’t reversed. While a lot of work needs to happen on the policy level and in workplaces, women can do some things in their own lives to shore up their reserves and rise above the statistics. Here are a few places to start.
 
Ask for More—At the Right Time
Some critics may argue that women choose lower-paying career paths. Yet research shows that, as more women come to a specific field, the pay actually drops to lower rates. What’s more, men who enter traditionally female-dominated fields tend to make more money than women in similar positions. The pay gap isn’t a figment of women’s imaginations; it’s a regular facet of their experiences. 
 
Women actually do ask for raises just as often as men; they just don’t reap the rewards as often. Researchers have noted that women who ask for raises receive more about 15% of the time—for men, it’s 20%. If you do decide to ask for more, don’t think of it as begging, think of it as a task to accomplish. Start with these steps.

1

Learn about your company’s raise schedule. Get an idea of when raises are usually granted at your job, such as during annual performance reviews or when quarterly budgets are being determined.

2

Ask around. To get a ballpark figure of what you deserve, talk to friends and colleagues of all genders. You don’t need to ask them exactly what they make, but get a sense of the range that their salary falls into. You can also look up figures on sites where individuals can anonymously post their salaries, as well as government websites.

3

Set a meeting. Ask your boss to talk at a time and place that works for both of you. You may start the conversation during your annual performance review, but setting aside another time when you manager is less busy can work too.

4

Bring the reasons you deserve more. Come prepared with reasons why you’ve earned what you’re asking for—and not just because someone else is making that amount or more, but because you have a track record that aligns with market compensation for that work. 

If you get a “no” when you ask, devise a longer-term plan that gets you where you want to be. Ask your boss if there are criteria you need to meet before you might be eligible for a raise or promotion; discuss a timeline for those objectives and when you can meet again to reassess where you are; seek out other opportunities if you can. Sometimes the best way to increase your earnings in a meaningful way is to seek out greener pastures.
 
Be Retirement Savvy
On average, women work nine years less than men, yet they also live years longer. That means the money they do earn must work harder, for longer.
 
The first step to making money work for you is to take an active role in your retirement. Some experts advise women to make a budget that reflects exactly where they are in life and set up an individual retirement account (IRA) if their workplace doesn’t offer a 401(k) retirement plan.
 
Also, women often benefit from seeking the services of financial advisors as their financial lives become more complex. When you start a family, change jobs or get a promotion, talk to an expert to see if you should make changes to your retirement plan. Advisors can help you put together some realistic, actionable items for retirement. You might just need a short-term consultation to help you get started or you might be looking for a long-term relationship that involves implementing your plan. Advisors can help either way.
 
Keep Saving and Investing Wisely
If women tend to be more cautious investors, they can use that to their advantage. Not wanting to risk the money that you do have in the face of uncertainty is a pragmatic trait—especially for Gen X women who are still working to regain ground after the Great Recession.
 
Women’s portfolios often perform better than men on average because they take on less risk. They allocate less of their savings in stocks, and more in well-diversified bonds, creating less opportunity for huge gains, but also less risk of huge losses. The endgame for many women is often hitting their family’s goals, not beating the markets.
 
Focus on the specific goals you can reach during each decade of your life—or each stage of your career. Work to reach those goals and keep open lines of communication with family, friends, financial advisors and the bosses who pay for your time.
 
Judith Ohikuare is a freelance writer and Development Manager at NY Writers Coalition, a nonprofit organization in Brooklyn that provides creative writing workshops for underserved and marginalized groups in New York City. She was previously a staff writer at Refinery29 where she covered work and money and edited the popular "Money Diaries" series.

Read more about what women need to know about saving for retirement.

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