In the United States, women who work year-round earn somewhere near 82 cents for every dollar earned by men — but they only own about 32 cents for every dollar of wealth owned by their male counterparts. Both of these gaps are far more acute for black and Latina women.
These stats aren’t new, but the way we talk about them and design solutions needs a fresh approach, says Thasunda Brown Duckett, the CEO of Chase Consumer Banking and one of the most senior black women in finance. She’s working to improve financial literacy and health for millions of people, especially those in underserved communities. One example is a recent effort focused on expanding economic opportunities for black women.
“When we start discussions about the gender or racial wealth gap with ‘It’s hard,’ we are basically saying we have permission to fail,” she says. “We don’t use that phrase with any other metric in business. If you think ‘It’s hard,’ the next thing you say is you are going to work until midnight, or you are going to invest in figuring this out. If we take away ‘It’s hard’ when thinking about how to close the gaps, we’ll start running different plays.”
Duckett and I talked about some of these plays, ranging from changing the way we talk about money to the role of finance in accelerating women’s power and influence. This is an edited version of our conversation.
Why is addressing the gender wealth gap important?
What we need to be talking about is not just what women are making. It’s what they’re keeping. It’s not about just renting, but owning, a home, about how to transfer wealth to their children. It’s critical to talk about how the money is or isn’t working for women, so that as they are starting businesses, and as they are starting to move up with their earning income, they’re creating longer-term wealth. With more women being single parents, being the head of their household, waiting longer to get married, we have to make sure that they are creating wealth for themselves, and not relying on someone else to have the knowledge and manage those decisions.
What are the biggest barriers?
Money is stressful for most people, and particularly for women and people of color. The median wealth of single black Americans is $200 to $300, versus $15,000 to $28,000 for single white Americans. And black women face more hurdles to financial success than any other group in the United States. To me, the main thing to address is the mindset we have around money. It’s the idea that our net worth does not define our self-worth. We have to change that mindset.
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For example, Chase launched an effort called Currency Conversations, focused on helping black women save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. We bring women together and start by tackling this mindset. We’re making sure that everyone understands that they’re enough, and that having financial insecurity doesn’t define who they are. I think this is the most important thing, because if people haven’t addressed this mindset, they will not take the next step toward improving their financial health.
This is so personal to me. My father was at a Fortune 500 company for many years, and even though they had great benefits, a 401(k), my father didn’t think that they were for him. So the benefit was there. The information was there. But he did not see himself as someone who was worthy or capable of taking advantage of this benefit.
I take that with me when I’m talking to women. The language around money and finance can be really fancy, but we’re going to take where we are, learn, and talk about bite-size steps to feel more in control. Right now at Chase we have more than 13,000 women who are taking the pledge to save toward their goals. And the most important thing is, because they feel safe, because they could tell their story, they are more likely to feel like they can take the next step, which doesn’t mean saving $1,000 next month, but saving $10 next month, saving $30. That’s when we really see a breakthrough, when we have a shot at changing the wealth narrative and the wealth outcomes.
What are some other practical things that women can do to start becoming more financially empowered and secure?
It’s all about the right capabilities and experiences. In terms of capabilities, every woman should know their credit score. I like to say, we all know how to keep it 100, keep it real. But all women should keep it 700, 700 plus. That helps people know what success looks like.
Another idea is to use tools that help make saving easier. One is Autosave, which lets customers set up automatic transfers from their checking account into their savings account, whether it’s $10 a week or $10 a month. You set it and forget it. The power is that you can start small and connect it to what you’re saving for. Building habits is the best way to make sustainable progress. So you start at $5, and you start to see that compound, and you start to see that you’re able to add the money for your girls’ trip, or for your tires that you need to replace. We know from Chase data that so far in 2019, women on average have saved $588 through Autosave, but men have saved $727. I think there’s real power in helping women continue to save, because when we have a life moment, we actually have the ability to address that moment, whether it’s paying for the increase of my kids’ classes or whatever the case may be.
Finally, when I think about experiences, talking about money doesn’t have to be the worst conversation. It should be part of the sisterhood. If we’re going to get together at each other’s homes for wine and cheese, let’s pair that with how to keep it 700 plus. Let’s pair that with what we’re saving for, what goals we’re trying to accomplish. Let’s hold each other accountable.
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