I have worked in the financial services industry for 25 years, but only about 5 years ago did I start managing our household finances. I wanted my husband to handle this. I’m not sure why. One of my theories is that if he managed the money, I could maintain the pretense that I didn’t have a high-powered job, that I was a princess waiting for someone to rescue me. After all, I read every Twilight book in one sitting.
Consider, too, the situation of a friend who is a primary breadwinner, but turned the finances over to her husband so he could feel in charge. He wanted this.
Either way, what I’m learning is that — although women control 51 percent of the personal wealth in the U.S. according to a 2015 report released by BMO Wealth Institute — many of us relinquish control of our financial future either through conscious behavior or passive inactivity.
According to Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist in New York City, here are some reasons for this phenomenon.
The Seeds Are Planted in Childhood
This happens when financial education for girls is either neglected or focuses on different lessons than we teach boys. Girls learn about money’s short-term purpose such as how to manage cash flow, saving and evaluating the relative value of goods. But they lack training, and therefore confidence, in money’s long-term purposes like financial goal planning and investment basics.
Lack of Training Is Perceived As Lack of Ability
A self-perceived lack of ability can lead women to opt out of managing their money. While men may feel unsure of their ability as well, the feeling of incapacity is more internalized with women; a part of their identity. They are less resilient to the trial and error of the learning process and the natural fluctuations of the market. Given these anxieties, it can be a relief to turn the business of financial planning and investment over to a partner, or avoid it altogether.
But that is a form of self-silencing.
Women Avoid Money Management to Avoid Conflict
This often happens with a partner who believes himself to be better at managing money or more entitled to do so. Women are disinclined to feel investing is their prerogative, especially when women make less money than their male counterparts.
In retrospect, this is what I did: I handed over the reins to avoid conflict; not with my husband, but the internal conflict of feeling it was not very feminine to assert myself in this way. According to the Bem Sex-Role Inventory Test, society considers a woman to be feminine only within the context of a relationship, or when she is giving something to someone.
In financial terms, these stereotypes may channel women toward being donating patrons of worthy causes, rather than investors with an eye on returns. Diverting resources for our own benefit still seems “unwomanly.” In fact, one of the social entrepreneurs in Fast Company’s “League of Extraordinary Women” confided to me that she chose to designate her business a non-profit because women would donate, but they wouldn’t invest.
There is nothing wrong and much that is right with being a donor. Nevertheless, most women cannot afford to donate as their sole default. It is not only financially self-limiting, it can be career limiting. If women don’t feel comfortable investing their own money, they are likely to lack the experience required to join the ranks of financial or upper management for their firm.
Knowing you may be reluctant (like I was) to take control, here’s a way to start that builds on the strengths of budgeting and buying that you likely already have.
Find Out: 10 Biggest Career Mistakes Women Make
A Simple Strategy to Start Owning Your Financial Future
Investors make money because consumers consume. So, if you aren’t quite ready to invest in yourself, you can buy from companies that are committed to investing in you. The Buy Up Index, founded by Amy-Willard Cross, evaluates companies and compares them based on their friendliness to gender equality, evaluating their commitment to women not just through hiring, but through training programs, company policies, marketing practices and support of issues that are of particular concern to women such as maternity leave policies and advocacy for victims of domestic violence.
L’Oreal, for example, receives an A rating, having reached 57 percent female managers and guaranteeing 14 weeks of paid maternity leave in 68 countries. Avon, Kellogg’s, General Mills and others also receive A ratings. When you buy with these companies, you’re not just paying for mascara and cereal, you’re buying from companies that invest in women. If you are feeling more adventurous, try Gold Bean, founded by Jane Barratt, which provides specific stock recommendations based on what you buy. The important thing is to start owning your financial future, even in simple ways.
Bloomberg has reported the advantages provided by women’s financial leadership since the start of the Great Recession. The evidence is in: Women are good with money and smart about it when they venture forth. John Maynard Keynes once said, “We must have the courage to take limited means, and invest in and encourage others.” Women constitute over 50 percent of the higher education student body and almost half of the workforce. It’s time to expand that self-investment umbrella to include the realm of money.
This article originally appeared on SwitchandShift.com.