Retirement Director Sara Tegethoff Lowery discusses why she feels the financial services industry needs to play a role in educating our youth – particularly young women – about money and investing.
I meet regularly with industry professionals and often ask them how they wound up in the field of providing financial guidance or managing money. Some knew most of their lives that this was the field they were destined for, while others landed in the business more or less by accident, often without prior training or education.
Women in the finance industry
I myself fell into this industry 26 years ago and joined a fun team of young men and women at a large mutual fund firm in the US, where each of us had administrative roles. Most of my colleagues had studied finance in college. I was lucky to have a number of women working in my department. As the years have gone by, however, many of these women are no longer employed in financial services. There were very few women in leadership or sales roles at this firm, so they most likely saw no clear path to advancing their careers and chose to leave the industry.
Imagine if Abigail Johnson – currently the CEO of Fidelity Investments – had experienced similar discouragement. Had she grown up in an ordinary family, she might never had ended up where she is today. But in reality, Johnson had the good fortune of being the only child of the CEO of one of the largest investment firms in the world. She was actively encouraged by her father to get into the industry and groomed from a young age for the role she holds today at age 60.
Sally Krawcheck – often described as ‘the most powerful woman on Wall Street’ – is another woman who, far from being discouraged by the investment industry’s male-dominated culture, forged her own path to success. She eventually became known as ‘the last honest analyst on Wall Street.’ Halfway through her career, Citibank hired her because of her honesty and ability to stand up to criticism. Today, Krawcheck is co-founder and CEO of Ellevest – a company that is working to close the investing gender gap in the US by ‘redefining investing for women.’
Bridging the financial literacy gap
The stories of Johnson and Krawcheck are inspiring but we need more of them. Using the US as an example, unfortunately, it would appear that most schools do a poor job of encouraging young women to explore maths, finance and investment-related careers, and basic finance is not generally taught at public high schools. This lack of education and encouragement may help explain why so many women are not involved in their household’s finances. In fact, a recent survey from UBS revealed that seven in 10 men and nearly half of women who responded said the husband takes responsibility for the couple’s long-term financial decisions.1
While financial education may be lacking in many schools, non-profit organisations are attempting to bridge that gap. Rock the Street, Wall Street is one programme in the US that is specifically focused on sparking interest among a diverse population of high-school girls to pursue careers in finance. Founded in 2013, Rock the Street has alumnae across the country who are actively working in financial services and who volunteer to act as mentors. Students have the opportunity to attend workshops led by their mentors, tour their businesses or even shadow them for a day.
I found some of the statistics on Rock the Street’s website to be quite staggering. For example, research shows that girls in the US lose interest in maths around the age of nine, not because they aren’t capable of solving complex math problems, but because they perceive maths as ‘uncool’ or unfeminine. Girls also don’t see many women in financial industry roles – a problem Rock the Street is attempting to address through its mentorship programmes.
Financial literacy programmes like Rock the Street are inspiring, but just like the stories of Abigail Johnson and Sally Krawcheck, we need more of them. And we need public schools to step up their efforts on financial education as well. The good news for the US is that President Biden’s Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, has been an outspoken proponent of making personal financial literacy mandatory in US classrooms. Currently, only 21 states require that financial education be taught in schools, while a few require that schools offer the option of taking a class.2 I sincerely hope we will see that number rise over the next several years and this approach adopted globally.
Lastly, I would be remiss to not mention the role the financial services industry should play in educating young people – particularly young women – about money and investing. I’m proud to work for a company that has been extremely proactive on this front. The Janus Henderson Foundation supports several financial education initiatives, including the Young Americans Center for Financial Education in the US and the Centre for Financial Capabilities in the UK. Our human resources team also leverages Girls Who Invest – a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of women in portfolio management and executive leadership in the asset management industry – as a recruiting and entry level talent partner.
I would encourage all financial professionals to explore opportunities to get involved in the youth financial literacy movement, or a global equivalent. Whether it’s hosting a workshop to educate young women about budgeting and investing so they can take control of their finances as adults or mentoring a local student to help her pursue a career in financial services, we can all play a role in helping the next generation be better prepared for whatever future they choose.
1“Men Still Make the Financial Decisions in Most Couples: UBS.” ThinkAdvisor, May 2021.
2“U.S. Education Secretary Is Right – Make Financial Literacy Classes Mandatory.” Yahoo! Finance, April 20, 2022.