Why women should save (for) the planet

In the context of our work on personal finance in a 1.5 degrees world we came up with the idea of a peer-to-peer network for women to support each other to make climate positive choices with their money — and at the same time building their own financial resilience. We’re aiming to run a couple of prototype sessions before the end of the year to test our hunch with some real people. But why target women? Mary Stevens has a go at explaining our thinking.

Back in 2015 Friends of the Earth published an anthology of essays all about how gender equality and environmental sustainability are two sides of the same coin. It features some amazing women and there are plenty of inspiring stories (and you can buy it here). But…when I came to look at it recently there’s a surprising omission. Despite covering everything from media, politics and campaigning to fashion, forestry and energy it has nothing to say about what women do with their money.

And yet there is a simple rule in our capitalist society about how to understand power: follow the money. The flows of money between corporations, Governments and individuals determine what we value, and what kind of future we are preparing for. Our ability to make a rapid transition to a fossil-free future and to keep global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees hangs on our ability to influence these flows. At the same time the extent to which women are able to exercise control over their personal and household budgets is one of the most widely used indicators of empowerment across the world.

Women — big statement alert — get this. That’s why lots of us save for “F**k Off funds”; to be independent, resilient and have the freedom to escape abuse. It’s often a key component of development programmes too (such as Oxfam’s ‘Saving for Change’ programme). Power and money go hand in hand. But when it comes to engaging with our collective future — and in particular with the financial services industry — we’re not nearly so good at it.

Why focus on women?

There are 3 key reasons why we’re targeting women first.

  1. We actively want to do (more) good with our money. Moxie Futures (an insight company focused on empowering women investors) recently found that a massive 83% of women cared about where their money was invested (although I’d approach this result with some caution as I do wonder how the question was phrased “do you want your money to fund stuff you like or do you just want to make squillions, you callous hard-hearted capitalist mercenary?”). But put another way — and with some gender balance thrown in — public polling for Good Money Week found 30% of men with investments only care if they make money. That figure drops to 15% for women. Morgan Stanley found something similar amongst investors in the US, although men are catching up in the caring stakes, it seems. We don’t know how the recent IPCC report may have heightened these concerns — but
  2. We control a growing proportion of the world’s wealth. Apparently. This is tricky territory as I’m not entirely sure how this is calculated. And it’s hard to see exactly how this sits with the gender pay gap. Nevertheless, despite the gender pay gap women own around half of the UK’s wealth and The Centre for Economics and Business Research predicts women will hold the majority — 60% — by 2025 (cited but unreferenced in Good Money Week research). [Disclaimer: not vouching for who backs CEBR].
  3. And there’s a HUGE gap. Even if women weren’t (overall) more motivated by ethics there’d still be a good gender equality argument for encouraging women to get more engaged with our pensions and investments. I bloody love this post from Rebecca O’Connor from Good with Money about just how the pensions system screws us over (“Pensions. Don’t stop reading. DO NOT stop reading. If you stop reading now, you are letting the patriarcy win.”). Just a few weeks ago yet another report found that women’s pension pots at 65 are around a fifth of men’s.

So what’s stopping us? And why might a peer-to-peer network help?

This stuff is hard. Not the nut-and-bolt click-and-shift practicalities of it — that’s actually pretty straightforward. But untangling the complex web of fear (what sort of future are we even planning for? can we begin to confront it?), guilt (how did I get into this mess? why didn’t I sort this out sooner?), anxiety (why don’t I get this? is this a stupid question?) and jargon (innovative finance ISA anyone?) is enough to make many of us go back to stashing a fiver in the kitty and hoping for the best. And we’re not good at talking about it either. Nearly a quarter of women in the UK (23%) find discussing personal finance with their peers awkward, compared with the likes of mental health (12%) and sexual orientation (10%). In contrast just 16% of men find personal finance conversations awkward. [Good money week research]. Funnily enough, once you start it turns out to be not as hard as you think. But we’re still extraordinarily reticent about talking about how much we earn. (Ask me if you want to know).

And even if we talked about it amongst ourselves, once we start looking for advice we don’t see ourselves reflected in it. Here’s a test: do an image search for ‘Financial Advice’ on Google Images. All the advisers are white (unless the post is specifically targeted at a young BAME demographic e.g. LondonMet’s financial advice for students) as are all the people receiving advice. And about 90% of them are men. If you don’t see yourself in the pastel-wearing smart-shirt brigade financial advice isn’t for you either, by the looks of it. And where women do feature it’s mostly in a consort role for a male partner, his authority expressed by a hand on an arm or round a shoulder. I haven’t seen a single mainstream image that looked like LGBT+ women might conceivably be customers. And the stats bear this out. Approximately 16% of IFAs were women in 2017, a ‘demotivating’ picture according to many in the industry [Citywire — and there’s a jaw-dropping sexist story at the bottom of this article if you read through]. And — what do you know? — the experience of female customers is pretty crap too [BBC].

Of course, there are lots of amazing people trying to tackle this advice and confidence gap. To name-check just a few, we’ve been inspired by : Vestpod, Good with Money, Refinery29, Savvywoman. But experience suggests that real change is hard to make on your own, especially when it might throw up bigger questions about what our futures on this planet will look like. Above all, as this post from The Pool makes clear, a bit more kindness and a bit less ‘advice’ might go a long way.

The system is broken and our strange, scared, judgemental attitude to money clearly isn’t fixing it. Perhaps we should try applying empathy before offering advice. Maybe we need to ask why it is that we do what we do, before we put pressure on ourselves to change our behaviour and getting frustrated when we fail. Money doesn’t need to be private — but we all have private, complicated reasons for the way we use it. Unless we try to judge less and understand more, we’ll only ever become more frightened and controlled by it.

In the context of an increasingly frightening future, peer-support feels like an experiment worth considering. We not pretending we know what women want — I’m not even sure I know the answer for myself — but we’re up for providing a space where we can try to figure that out, together.

Friends of the Earth Innovation team

Written by

We build on Friends of the Earth's heritage in creating demonstrations and pilots to show what change is possible.

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