Who earns the most in your household?
It's a question companies should start asking themselves because, buried in the conversation about women's advancement in the workplace, lies a trend of women increasingly earning more than, and being better educated than, men.
It comes across in anecdotal evidence – few of us do not know a woman who earns more than her spouse or partner – and hard data backs it up. Almost a quarter of married women surveyed in a recent Prudential research study in the U.S. acknowledged being the primary breadwinner, and many more unmarrried women are earning more than their partners.
As women increasingly earn more than men, and – if the trend continues – outnumber them in the work force, companies must adjust both their recruiting and their advertising efforts to acknowledge this reality.
At the same time, women must collectively assert their changing role, their emergence as the "richer sex," and demand employers respond to the fact. The first step in this direction must be to publicize our status as financial providers.
"We are still living with the vestiges of a work world where men were viewed as the de facto household breadwinners, and paid accordingly," said Liza Mundy, who meticulously illustrates this economic changing of the guard in her book, The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love and Family.
"Women in the workplace should speak up and make it clear to management that they are indeed household breadwinners, and families depend on their wages," Ms. Mundy said. "This is not pin money and it's not supplemental money. We need to make that clear."
Although the pay gap stubbornly persists, Ms. Mundy worries that a bigger issue rests on the compensation tied to industries and divisions that traditionally employed high proportions of women, such as marketing. Since these roles on average pay less than those in male-dominated work environments, female breadwinners are often faced with having to support their families on lower incomes.
In addition to re-examining pay, institutions must reassess how they approach female decision makers on their finances.
"We have known for some time that Canadian women make the majority of the financial decisions in the household," said Barbara Stewart, a portfolio manager with Cumberland Private Wealth Management Inc. in Toronto and the author of the paper Rich Thinking: A Guide to Building Financial Confidence in Girls and Women. She thinks this trend will only increase as more women reach main breadwinner status.
In dealing with female executives, for example, Ms. Stewart finds they often insist on quick coffee meetings for a portfolio review. "I am pressured to talk as quickly as I can," she said of these meetings and expects time to become an increasingly precious commodity for these women, another indicator of their growing financial clout.
Others in the financial industry are quickly learning to get on board and target this growing demographic.
Bev Moir, senior wealth adviser for ScotiaMcLeod, said she and her colleagues have already begun to support women's specific financial planning needs through a series of seminars. In addition to appealing to just main earners, Ms. Moir cites statistics that show most women will be responsible for their own finances at some point in their lives since they will either never marry, will divorce or be predeceased by their spouse. Ms. Moir also notes that the increasing earning power of women means that some of them are now paying spousal support after divorcing.
Although these examples highlighting the shift in women's financial status are beginning to surface, it's only the tip of the iceberg. As we increasingly become the richer sex, companies would be well advised to adapt to the fact. Otherwise, we may take our talents, and our growing spending power, to more female-friendly environments.