Women have come a long way in the financial sphere. As recently as 1989, when Ilyce Glink, the founder and president of Think Glink Media, went with her husband to a bank to apply for a mortgage, the banker they spoke with – a woman – told her there was no need for her to put her own income on the form. “Oh honey, your income doesn’t really matter. We’ll use your husband’s,” the banker said. Glink was then – and is now – a self-employed woman who bought shares of Intel and “a small company called Microsoft” in 1987.  Last week, she spoke at an event called “Smart Money, Smart Women, Smart Options” held at the Chicago Board Options Exchange as part of Chicago’s Money Smart Week. The event was dedicated to women’s advancement both in the finance industry and with their own personal finances.

As far as women have come, many feel there are still big roadblocks, including social biases against women taking the reins of finance. A top issue on the agenda is equal pay. April 12 was this year’s Equal Pay Day, the symbolic day when women’s earnings “catch up” to men’s earnings from the previous year. Women need to make it their goal to achieve pay equity by 2020, said Dorri McWhorter, who introduced the event. As CEO of YWCA Chicago, she works on programs to provide girls with STEM awareness and adult women with web and mobile application training, among other things. “We don’t need a woman on the $20 bill,” she said. “We need more Benjamins in our pockets.”

Most of the women who spoke at the event grew up in families of modest means and went on to become successful entrepreneurs. As a child, Carolyn Leonard, the CEO of DyMynd (pronounced “Diamond”)  a financial empowerment consultancy that caters to women, and the first woman to trade in the OEX pit at the CBOE, had her first job helping her grandfather fix toilets and leaky faucets in the apartment buildings the family owned. She earned between 50 cents and $1 a day, and her mother helped her open up a savings account and deposit the money there.

Leonard made some mistakes early on, such as not putting her own name on the title or mortgage to the house she and her husband bought. She later turned to the trading floor to make her own money after their divorce. It took her six months of struggle to overcome the male brokers at the CBOT boycotting trading with her, but she eventually made enough money to pay off all her debts and maintain six figures in her trading account.

The keynote speaker, Kathleen McQuiggan, senior vice president in charge of global women’s strategies at PAX World Management, wants to see more women on boards. Studies have shown that returns for companies are much greater the more women are on their boards, she said. “Women add financial and operational performance, bring innovation, and help the collective intelligence of a team rise, according to a Harvard study,” she said. Women also positively impact corporate social responsibility at companies, she added.

She noted that women are 72 percent of high school valedictorians today. If women were fully deployed in the workforce, it would add $28 trillion into global GDP; 40 percent of working wives are out-earning their husbands.

McQuiggan helps to manage the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund, which PAX created in partnership with Sallie Krawcheck two years ago. The fund ranks 400 of the highest companies in the world for advancing women to the top – companies with women on their boards and in senior management.

“As shareholders, we can engage the companies we hold in our funds,” she said. “We can vote our proxies against all-male boards. We have also filed shareholder resolutions for insufficient board diversity.”

Much of the financial advice the speakers gave could of course be applied just as easily to men, such as diversifying your portfolio and using options strategies such as buying puts against a stock position to protect it and selling calls as an income generating strategy.

But it remains the case that women are still behind the curve when it comes to their personal finances.

Since women tend to outlive men, they need to put as much money as they can into a retirement account. “There is a retirement crisis out there for women,” McQuiggan said. “Build up that nest egg!”

Venita Fields of Pelham S2K Managers echoed with, “And when you change jobs, take that account and roll it over and let the compounding begin. Don’t touch that money. Save it.”

“A lot of people say you should invest 10 percent of your income, but I try to save 20 or 25 percent of my gross,” Glink said. “That’s easier in a 401k.”  She also advised people under 30 to delay gratification (traveling, taking Ubers, eating out for lunch etc.) and put away about $2,000 a year.

And one would hope that it would go without saying these days, but McQuiggan said she has a bumper sticker that says, “A man is not a financial plan.”

Fields said, “It may be unorthodox, but I think young women should have some form of insurance. When you are young and healthy, insurance is relatively cheap. My husband and I got whole life insurance and the cash value of that insurance now is quite healthy. And you can draw on it on a tax free basis for some things. We used it to partially fund my son’s education.”

McQuiggan said that most women don’t think they have enough money to work with a financial advisor, but they probably do.

Their best investment, several of the panelists said, was their education. “Education is power,” Nina Milovac of optionsXpress said. “They can’t take that away from you.”


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