5 Insights I Took Away from the Women and Finance Q&A

How do you feel upon reading the following phrases? Financial planning. Retirement. Emergency savings. GULP! Lump in your throat forming? Breaking out in a cold sweat, perhaps? If so, you’re not alone. Money matters can trigger anxiety and panic in the most fiscally conscientious individual. Why? Simply put, money --and the lack thereof, real or hypothetical-- is some scary stuff. From basic survival to social status, money often defines who we are and where we’re going. You can’t let it psych you out, however. Easier said than done, right? Absolutely! But as a first step, let’s get the conversation started.

Amy Witherbee: fearless financial planner.

I recently attended a Women in Cambridge Q&A event featuring money guru Amy Witherbee. Amy is a financial planner at Revolution Capital and a founding member of Women in Cambridge, a group dedicated to fostering the cultural and professional interests of women in and around the Cambridge, MA area. The queries posed that evening were pointed and the discussion lively; it really opened my eyes to the need to unpack our financial baggage and dive in to learning mode. Here are my top 5 takeaways from that session!



1. Women need to know what they don’t know!

Pretty much all the women in attendance felt disconnected from the world of “finance”. Traditionally, women have been financial leaders in the private sphere, the home, but in the business sphere we are still playing catch up. Problem is many of us don’t know where to begin, or more specifically what questions to start asking --but we have to ask! Amy wisely kicked things off with a list of common financial conundrums like “What is a 401(k) exactly? What is an accredited investor? How do I protect myself financially if I share expenses with a non-spousal partner?” It was clear those questions provided the bridge we as a group needed to get the talk (and learning) flowing. If you can’t attend a program like the one Amy hosted then get online and familiarize yourself with finance vocabulary and concepts.This glossary published by the Institute for Financial Literacy is a good place to start.

2. But women aren’t the only ones feeling left out of the discussion.

The finance industry is still by and large managed by white males in their 50s and older and it can sometimes be hard to relate to that world if you are anything but. However, there has never been a better time for young women and POC candidates of any gender to set their sights on a financial planning career. As the investor base diversifies, so must the planners. 

3. And get a new plan, Stan. There’s 50 ways to leave assets to your lover.

Back when people still held stock in the American Dream, there seemed to be a one-size-fits-all modus operandi for organizing your finances. That’s also one of the reasons why people are so flummoxed about how to manage their money now. There are so many options! Anyone in their 30s or older grew up with the “there’s a right way to save” paradigm. But now we got to be more proactive. The days of just working hard & counting on the company pension/retirement fund are long gone. Or as Amy Witherbee observed, “All of it’s up in the air isn’t it? We’re all just figuring it out?” Indeed.

4. For example, house ownership a no-brainer? Think again!

That’s something that really struck me at the Q&A: the mixed feelings about home ownership. Americans' long-standing belief that owning one’s own home is paramount has definitely been shaken, especially amongst people in their mid-thirties and younger. The women at the Q&A echoed what I’m hearing a lot amongst my peers. Many of us are actively questioning whether owning a home is the best choice and many are deciding no.

5. Oh BTW, let’s rethink “Non-Profit” while we’re at it.

Another hot-button topic raised that evening was how female first-time entrepreneurs seem more apt to start a non-profit business than a for-profit one. Now that’s a whole post in and of itself but here’s a few bites Amy gave the group to chew on: A for-profit business can be for social good too and a non-profit business isn't necessarily more high-minded. Come to think of it, there’s a lot of non-profits out there that are very profitable indeed and in ways that may not necessarily align with altruism (think private colleges bleeding students dry with exorbitant tuition). Amy challenged everyone considering this move to ask themselves exactly why it is they want to go the non-profit route. Does it sound less risky? Are you reacting to negative stereotypes about the corporate world? If you suspect fear is what’s driving you, then you need to take a step back from your feelings and let the financial facts determine what your organization should be: non-profit or for-profit.


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