Back when she was growing up in Mildmay, Ont., a small farming town, Amy Dietz-Graham used to sit at the kitchen table with her father and his investment advisor as the two men talked money. She found the conversation equal parts confusing and captivating.
“I remember sitting there going, ‘But what’s this? and ‘How does that work?’ and ‘What do you invest it in?' Obviously that interest stayed with me,” says Ms. Dietz-Graham, who today is a Toronto-based portfolio manager and investment advisor for the Durkin Dietz Group, with BMO Nesbitt Burns.
After doing some research into stocks and bonds, she eventually taught herself how to go from a dedicated saver – taking what she had amassed in her piggy bank to the actual bank – to investor as she grew older.
Those early financial lessons still stick with her today; they influence how she handles conversations with clients, particularly women who may not feel financially savvy.
“We’re phenomenal savers,” she says of women in general. “If we could only ... make that jump into investing, we could be much further ahead.”
Getting ahead is important to most people, but for women, building wealth is likely even more necessary. Women not only live longer than men and require extra funds so they don’t outlive their savings, they often lose money due to the years spent out of the work force caring for children or aging parents. The fact that women earn only 75 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to Statistics Canada, doesn’t help matters much, either.
Also, numerous surveys show that, when compared with boys and men, girls and women say they feel less confident about money and investing. For instance, according to a 2017 EQ Bank poll of 1,125 Canadians, only 31 per cent of women said they felt confident about their financial knowledge. Meanwhile, 49 per cent of men said they felt the same way.
That gap begins to widen right from childhood. In the United States, the investment firm T. Rowe Price conducts an annual money survey of more than 1,000 parents of children aged 8 to 14. Not only do parents tend to discuss finances with their sons more than with their daughters, families with only boys also place greater priority on postsecondary education than families that have only girls. Both issues can have long-term negative effects on saving habits and lifetime career earnings.
Jill Earthy, head of growth for Vancouver-based Female Funders, an “investor accelerator” that helps women become angel investors, knows what a lack of financial confidence looks like. Recently she was speaking to a Harvard business-school grad and executive of a large company when the woman told her, “I don’t have the confidence to start to invest.”
“I find that amazing but not surprising because there are so many incredible, successful and accomplished women, but there is that confidence gap,” says Ms. Earthy.
The idea that all children and teens deserve a strong foundation in financial literacy, however, is picking up speed and is going mainstream.
Universities across the country run outreach programs for female elementary and high-school students to encourage the study of math, which helps to build a foundation for money management. Meanwhile, British Columbia’s new school curriculum includes mandatory financial-literacy instruction for all students starting as early as kindergarten.
Members of the after-school club Girl Guides of Canada are gaining money-management know-how (and badges) through the organization’s Girls Count Challenge, which launched as a pilot in 2014. Since then, 17,000 Canadian girls have participated.
Five-year-old Sparks learn the difference between dimes and quarters as well as “wants” compared with “needs.” Older girls learn how debit and credit cards work and explore their own preconceptions about saving versus spending. Teens discuss topics that will help them live independently: credit scores, exchange rates when travelling and debt.
Louise Kent, Girl Guides director of member experience in Toronto, says the program aims to take the intimidation factor out of personal finance, “so that when you’re negotiating your salary someday, you’re pragmatic about it and you understand the value that your skills hold. It’s about equipping girls with what they need so they’re not falling victim to the wage gap,” she says, referencing the discrepancy between men’s and women’s pay and lifetime earnings.
Even cash the girls raise through the organization’s popular cookie sale is fair game as a learning exercise. Girl Guide units decided how they want to use their cookie funds to pay for field trips, for example.
“It’s a direct application of budgeting, saving, spending, setting financial goals and achieving them,” explains Ms. Kent.
While these educational opportunities and teachings are important, parents are still their children’s most influential teachers.
What they model at home matters, says Ms. Dietz-Graham. More of her female clients are taking an active role in money management and investing at home. Their daughters are taking note.
“You are starting to see younger girls who are taking an interest. Even young, young girls are saying, ‘Mom, Dad, can we invest in Disney or Starbucks?’ Things they’re familiar with,” she says. “They’re getting involved, which I think is fantastic.”