How shame can scupper women’s finances

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Dec 19, 2019

I was recently chatting with a colleague about why women are less likely to take financial advice. This is despite more and more women taking over the family finances and, therefore, likely being in the best position ever to benefit from financial advice.

This comes on the back of the excellent resources produced by Scottish Widows, which publishes several reports annually on retirement savings, including one entitled Women and Retirement 2019. These reports do a great job of talking about life events in women’s lives and why saving is difficult to do at a time when there is the greatest amount of pressure in terms of both time and financial resources.

However, what these reports do not touch upon are the emotional aspects, which I find more fascinating.

Vulnerability coaching

During the chat with my colleague, we had the usual discussion about why fewer women take advice and why they don’t save more, and the colleague signposted me to a Ted Talk by Brené Brown, who is also known as ‘Vulnerability Ted’.

For those who have never come across Brown, she is a vulnerability coach and not the sort of person you would automatically think of when it comes to financial advice for women.

However, what she has picked up on are the different ways in which men and women are wired and therefore how women feel vulnerability and shame.

This is different from men and manifests itself in the way women perceive themselves. This internal dialogue typically goes along the lines of ‘I am not good enough’, ‘Who do you think you are?’ and ‘I am bad’.

Challenging perceptions

These thoughts are borne out of shame and vulnerability at our very core. These same thoughts often stop women in particular from making changes in their lives. For example, in our industry this could be to get on top of that financial plan.

In fact, Brown mentions in her Ted Talk that “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage”. Vulnerability should never be seen as a weakness; the majority see vulnerability as pure courage when openly questioned.

Brown confidently takes what is perceived as a weakness and challenges our perception, which I find fascinating as very few people will talk about either vulnerability or shame in a positive way.

Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Something we’ve experienced, done or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection”.

My colleague and I discussed that shame could stop women from planning for their financial futures in an adequate way. Maybe there is a sense of not being worthy – an interesting concept indeed and not one I had ever thought about.

In the context of financial planning, or indeed any other area of our lives, Brown recommends that “empathy is the antidote for shame”, which I found to be a powerful way to view the world and one we frequently overlook.

As financial planners, we can all brush up on our empathy skills, and I would wholeheartedly recommend that everyone check out the resources Brown has available – or, indeed, listen to her Ted Talks.

Tracey Evans is a chartered financial planner at Progeny Wealth

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