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Women and wealth: It's about more than money

April 16th, 2013 by

Women are adding a whole new dimension to the term "investment"


Here’s how it’s supposed to go: You go to school, get good grades, get a post-secondary education and score a sweet job. Then you spend the next 30 or so years sweating it out and saving up so you can retire and do what you really want.

There’s just one problem…. Thirty years is a very long time to wait.

Research from a recent white paper by CFA Barbara Stewart suggests that unlike past generations, many of today’s women aren’t willing to wait. She interviewed 100 women around the world to find out how they’re spending their time, money and energy. What she found is that they’re adding a whole new dimension to the term “investment”. On top of stocks, bonds and real estate, they’re defining the time and energy they pour into their families, themselves and the causes they believe in, as investments, too.

Here’s how women are making investments that don’t show up on a balance sheet…and financing their dreams now, rather than years from now.

They want to invest in something that matters

The cold, hard reality is that money matters. The women Ms. Stewart interviewed had relatively balanced portfolios that included real estate (50 percent), equities (25 percent), cash (12 percent) and bonds (13 percent). Twenty-five percent of them were also investing a big chunk of their wealth into a personal business. 

But the notion of investing is complex. We often think of investments as things that are bought with money and return the same. But what about a trip to the spa or a dream vacation? Under the right conditions, those could also be considered investments.

“Many accomplished women talk about investing as ‘things that matter to them,’” Stewart said. “They may have a certain portion of their wealth invested in the traditional sense in real estate, stocks, bonds or cash, but there is another form of investment they are making in either themselves, their families or saving the world. This less tangible investment revolves around their personal causes, and it is this investment that provides them with a sense that what they are doing makes a difference.”

They aren’t willing to wait

They say that patience is a virtue - and in the world of finance, that’s often the case. But what about laboring at a job you loathe in the hope that someday you’ll be able to start living the life you want? There’s something to gain there, certainly, but something to lose as well.

“It used to be quite normal to spend years working at an (often) unfulfilling job so that one day in the far-off future you could retire and start living the way you always hoped to live,” Stewart said. “Today, the majority of women are actively spending their resources on the things that matter to them in the present time.”

That isn’t to say these women aren’t working hard. Many own businesses they’ve built from the ground up. But they seem to have a shift in focus; rather than focusing only on what money can buy, they’re looking at the big picture, both in terms of what they give, and what they’ll get in return.

“In the classic sense, ‘investing’ means allocating funds to an asset class with the objective of earning a return. The investment shows up on a balance sheet as an asset. There are, however, other types of investments that don’t necessarily show up on a balance sheet – or at least not for quite a long time,” Stewart said.

They don’t keep all of their wealth (but they still have some)

Stewart says that many women are directing their resources of time, energy and money at “passion projects,” and are “defining, creating and financing their futures today.”

But what does that really mean? For some women, it means working hard in a career and creating the material comfort that allows them to “give back”. For others, it means building the social impact right into their jobs, such as one woman who combined her background in working for charitable organizations with a degree in finance, allowing her to work in the emerging market sector and 'make bank' helping others.

Many of the women Stewart interviewed were also heavily invested in their families. And, while having children is often portrayed as the ultimate career sabotaging anti-investment, none of the women Stewart spoke to saw it that way. One described it as “the place where I not only give my energy, but where I get my energy, balance and passion for life.” (Now, that sounds like a great return!)

Money’s just a number

A balance sheet is considered an important tool for sizing up wealth, but it misses a few things. In the real world, investments come in many shapes and sizes. And while some pay out interest, others return something more, something less tangible - but something that many women still weigh as heavily in the equation of their wealth as money in the bank. What exactly those investments are – and what they return – is personal. And that’s exactly what makes the equation so complicated.

In the end, there’s a whole lot more to this big, beautiful, messy world than numbers on a spreadsheet. But we ladies have known that all along.

Jun 26 2017 12:14am

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