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Donna Smith is director of MBA programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.

Last month, the news filled with reports that the U.S. women’s soccer team won a long-standing pay equity case for parity with their male peers. It was a stark reminder that in all walks of life, financial gender inequality remains stubbornly pernicious. It’s a reminder that Canadian women face gaps in business that are well documented – a pay gap that finds even women with MBAs making 20 per cent less than their male peers, a leadership gap that finds a gender chasm on executive boards and in corner offices.

But with another International Women’s Day upon us, there’s another gap that we need to focus on, one that may be more fundamental and that affects us from cradle to grave – a financial literacy gap.

The Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) recommends that financial literacy should be taught to children as early as possible. Principles and values such as saving for the future, budgeting, and learning about money management do make a difference in someone’s life, if instilled early on. But even for the modest amount of financial literacy that is taught, evidence suggests women are once again disadvantaged.

A study undertaken by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC), conducted last year during COVID-19, demonstrated that, on average, men scored 15 percentage points higher than women on financial knowledge. The same study showed that a lack of confidence is the obstacle preventing women from using the knowledge they do have. Women experience more stress than men in financial matters. This ultimately erodes well-being and quality of life. The ambient stress of worrying about personal financial matters may also affect mental health. Financial skills can be taught incrementally, similar to how we teach reading, writing or computer literacy. Governments, universities (Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at the George Washington University School of Business), and not-for-profit organizations (Girl Scout Research Institute) advocate that girls, as they transform into women, need these skills.

We don’t talk enough about financial well-being, or we postpone those conversations until we are near retirement, which is too late. Financial well-being relates to meeting and enjoying your life goals financially, with the knowledge of how to plan for that future. FCAC did a survey, pre-COVID, on our financial well-being and Canada’s overall score was 65 per cent, which is in the mid-range of Australia, New Zealand and Norway. In my world of education, that’s a C grade. We all need to be financially more astute for the state of our overall well-being. And improving that overall grade will start with more equitable financial acumen for women.

So what can be done about it? FCAC has a five-year plan to increase knowledge and financial confidence of girls and women, bringing underserved communities knowledge and skills for our digital world. One example of their work that is timely and relates to improving financial resiliency is a Refund to Savings (R2S) program, encouraging Canadians to save their tax refunds. And to celebrate International Women’s Day, CPA Canada is offering a free webinar series, #GirlPower, that includes financial goal setting, investment strategies and family financial planning. Even amateur sport can be a portal into learning financial literacy. Jermaine Anderson, general manager of the Hamilton Honey Badgers basketball team, teaches financial literacy through his non-profit, Fifty for Free Youth Community Initiative. The organization uses sport for boys and girls to build character and motivate while teaching financial literacy skills to youth in underserved communities.

MBA programs, like the one I lead at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, have made financial confidence for female MBA candidates a priority. On March 4 and 5, we hosted our second annual Women In Leadership conference, which included keynotes on a Parity Certification Program to promote transparency on firms that practise pay equity. As well, there was a workshop aimed at advising women how to negotiate salary. One student wrote to me last year that the lessons learned in one of these sessions helped her increase her negotiated compensation by one-third. That’s the power of confidence and financial literacy.

What happens if we don’t prioritize financial literacy and well-being for girls and women? They may regress into gender-related stereotypes, traditional lower-earning careers or remaining dependent on others. The world of finance is changing at the speed of light (think: cryptocurrency, central bank digital currency, blockchain technology) and women and men need to keep up with developments, just as we adapt to new versions of software for our computers and updates to our phones. For girls, if financial literacy starts young, and builds as they transform into women, they will become confident, knowledgeable contributors to their lives, businesses and society.

So, on this International Women’s Day, let’s commit to recognize that the financial future starts now.

Are you a young Canadian with money on your mind? To set yourself up for success and steer clear of costly mistakes, listen to our award-winning Stress Test podcast.

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