For those of you who are long-time readers of our “What the Elle” newsletter, you may recall that we’re not huge fans of the term “empower” here at Ellevest.
Because the dictionary definition of the word is “to be given power.”
Except that we women have power: As a group, we make up half the population, we control trillions of dollars of investable assets, and we direct more than 80% of consumer spending. We don’t need to be given power: We just need to choose to use the power we have.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the flip side of this idea: all the ways that women have been convinced to give up power — power that’s right there in front of us, ours for the taking — and most often not even realizing it.
We’ve given up power by keeping more of our money in the bank and not investing. Historically this has cost us, big time. And that means Future Us will have less money … and thus we will have less power, and potentially fewer choices.
We also give up our power when we internalize and believe the 90% of money articles for women that focus on us spending less.* As if not buying the latte could make up for the gender pay gap or the pink tax or the higher interest rates on women’s debt. It means we may blame ourselves instead of working on the systemic problem. That lessens our power.
We’ve given up power by taking a passive approach to deciding where to spend our money. Each dollar we spend can be seen as a vote for a business, whether it’s “a vote” for the corner bookstore run by the sweet couple who loves discussing books with your precocious niece or “a vote” for a national chain. (Maybe even one that doesn’t treat its employees in a way that aligns with your values.)
We can give up power in how we invest our money, too. Many people identify themselves as “impact investors,” meaning they intentionally invest their money in companies that, for example, work to improve the environment or that advance women. But the bottom line is that we are all impact investors; it’s just that we may not know the impact we are having. Again, we may be “voting” in a way that doesn’t align with our values.
Another way we’ve seen women give up their power is by continuing to work with financial professionals whom they may not connect with. When we ask these women why, we often hear “Well, my financial advisor is fine.” Even though most of us would not buy a dress that is “fine,” or stick with a hairstylist who is “fine,” or go back to a restaurant that is “fine.”
True story: We know one truly high-powered, hard-charging-by-all-accounts, professional woman whose financial advisor lost her a literal fortune (we’re talking a number that started with an M) because he just … wasn’t paying much attention. But she told us that she didn’t want to fire him because she was concerned that she would “hurt his feelings.” And because he’s “a nice guy.”
Many of us women were taught not to rock the boat, to smooth things over, to be people pleasers …. and we always knew intuitively that this was a form of giving up our power. But when it involves our money — and prioritizing the feelings of a financial advisor over “Future You” — the effect is compounded.
I also know women who have given up their power by achieving senior roles and then not bringing other women along. They have instead “played the game” — which, in many ways, can feel easier.
And, very subtly, I know a number of women who, after building successful businesses or reaching the top of the corporate heap, insist that they “didn’t do it for the money.” (I literally heard this from three successful women in three days.) Regardless, they made the money, so they do have all kinds of power; but this kind of claim can send the message to others who look up to them that working to get money / power, and wanting money / power, are things to be denied.
So we women don’t need to be empowered.
We only need to forget some of the gaslighting that we receive about our powerlessness, work to step into and build our power — and use that power.
If it sounds overwhelming, repeat after me: Women have always done hard things. And one more: Nothing bad happens when women have more money.
Just as men internalize the 72% of money articles for them that focus on investing and growing wealth.
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