The Road I Traveled
American women, now 52% of our population, have never experienced a time better than this. We’re better educated than most men, earning both more bachelor’s and master’s degrees than men. Women today hold 43% of our nation’s wealth and influence 95 percent of all purchasing decisions. We start businesses at twice the rate of men. And, data shows that 25.3 percent of women in two-income marriages bring home the bigger paycheck; this number is likely to get a boost with the recession.
In spite of these statistics, far too many women undervalue who they are and the contribution they make to family, career and community. Whether breadwinner or stay-at-home mom, women need to have a better sense of their own worth and make choices that enable their financial independence and foster a lifestyle that meets their expectations.
From my first days in financial services, an industry long dominated by men, I have made choices that have allowed me to grow my career and, at the same time, manage my finances in a way that put me in control. Make no mistake. The road I traveled was not without twist and turns; it required a hefty dose of perseverance and, at times, courage to stay on the right path.
My mentors have been mostly men as there are historically fewer women in the insurance industry. While it wasn’t a single person that influenced me, I tried to emulate the best characteristics and skills of many different people. And, I believe that to be truly successful you have to be authentic. I’ve never felt I needed to be one of the boys.
Ironically, one of the early lessons I learned about career and money was from a man. When I was 27, I had budgetary oversight for a network of branch offices that were managed by men all considerably older than I. When I phoned one of the branch managers to discuss his expenses, he blurted, “I don’t talk to my wife about how I spend money. Why would I talk to you?” Without hesitation, I said, “I am going to hang up now and call you right back.” I never again had a problem with him.
Now, as I look back on that exchange, my colleague’s comment still plays in my mind. I very quickly got over the sting of his bad behavior. But, I am still struck by the insight he shared about the relationship between he and his spouse. Aside from learning something about how they managed money or, more frankly, how she likely paid the bills and balanced their checkbook but he directed the big picture financial strategy, this experience also reinforced my belief in both speaking my mind and making decisions that protect my own interests first. For women to achieve what they want out of life – in relationships or the workplace – it is critical that they are a part of the conversation. Women must share their ideas and opinions freely and have the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions with confidence. Mentoring can help pave the way for inclusion and communicate the importance of 2-way communication and empowered decision-making.
We find mentors in a variety of different people throughout our lives. My parents were among the first and most poignant influences for me. They instilled the value of education and the belief that I could do anything. For my own young daughter, it’s my hope that she will grow and be successful in a world that does not consider her gender but rather the strength of her character, skills and intellect.
Life holds many possibilities but it is up to us to make them happen.