Women’s Day is around the corner. As usual, we will have lots of hullabaloo around the greatness of women and their qualities but we will not change the way we portray women. Most advertisements constantly show women as the caring mother, daughter, wife, who is capable of only taking decisions around the type of cooking oil to buy so that her husband can remain fit and work better or which malt to use to make her children super champions. In all these promotions, she is always shown as the secondary person supporting the prime member—the male head of the family.
The situation is not better with financial services advertisements. Almost all mutual fund advertisements have women starting a systematic investment plan (SIP) for a holiday or for shopping. An insurance company recently came out with real life stories of people with disabilities who overcame major life hurdles, but showed women relying on men on the financial future of the special child. While women are worried about financial security, when it comes to financial decision-making, it is the man who chooses to buy insurance or gifts an SIP to the female member of the family.
It doesn’t stop at being sexist. Younger women are stereotyped as frivolous and after a good life, whereas older women are caregivers whose prime concern is taking care of their family by being superwomen. How many financial services advertisements have working women or even focus on them? An “educational" content of one of the top mutual funds had a woman run away with a rich guy, with high-end luxury car, and the jilted boyfriend’s friend advising him to invest into mutual funds so that he too can have a big car.
These biases also exist at workplaces. Most employee engagement events at corporates are all about yoga, dance, cooking, makeup—all the fun stuff that is perceived to keep women employees happy and engaged. How many corporates have really thought about some meaningful, useful programs meant for personal development of women. Companies too are stereotyping women into those who cannot think beyond zumba, baking and hair styling.
Can we stop this stereotyping and sexism and depict women as intelligent and smart, as they are? Yes women splurge, so do men and if one were to analyze spending habits of men and women, there wouldn’t be much difference in the amount spent although it would be on different things. Further, men’s purchases are as impulsive as that of women and not thought through, as shown.
Even in current times, women are brought up to believe that managing money is done better by men and women do not have the acumen for it.
Parents are at fault as they only focus on getting their daughters educated but do not teach them money matters. I have met women who are completely clueless when it comes to financial transactions beyond transfers and bill payments. Even the most educated women, just sign on home loan applications and do not read the documents thoroughly.
It is no wonder then that women are still very risk averse and a large number of those who I meet in my sessions are scared of investing in market-linked instruments due to the fear of losing money or the negative reaction of their families.
What can be done
A few steps can help bring some change.
Portraying women in advertisements as financial decisions-makers will lead to more women taking on money management. Having well-known personalities like sportswomen or women CEOs or leaders talking about the importance of financial independence and not only economic independence would be a further positive influence. Financial services companies need to speak the investment language, aligned to the women’s financial needs and address their concerns. We don’t need specific products for women but material, which helps educate women about investing keeping in mind their behavioural biases.
Corporates can play the role of a catalyst and empower their women associates in money matters by having education sessions, money conversations with experts and other learning tools. Senior women leaders can show the way by being more vocal about financial independence for women.
Women, on their part, need to move past mental barriers and believe in themselves. If you can do everything else, you can also manage money. It is your mindset that is stopping you. Of course, it is important to read up and keep yourself updated.
This Women’s Day, can the media, advertising companies and financial services companies take the initiative of getting rid of their gender biases? And can we women take up the challenge of managing money?
Mrin Agarwal is a financial educator, founder director of Finsafe India Pvt. Ltd and co-founder of Womantra