Gender Diversity and Women's Strengths
I am typically an appreciative person. I strive to to understand and be grateful for alternate viewpoints and arguments, though I may wholeheartedly disagree with them. Keeping an open mind is a philosophy I adopt and encourage.
My friend Christie Andrus (www.humanfactor.ca) has shown me how an approach of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) often yields more meaningful answers, sometimes to questions I haven’t even thought of yet. Appreciative Inquiry focuses on the unique strengths and successes of a person or organization. furthering improvement and growth. Curiosity and open mindedness are integral parts of the AI process, and the exploration they help facilitate is remarkable.
Such meaningful, quality information allows me, as a financial planner, to better serve my clients toward the ultimate goal of making their dreams a reality. Appreciative Inquiry fueled by curiosity helps in creating an effective plan that is unique to that individual, couple, or family.
There are times, however, when I can’t help straying from Appreciative Inquiry toward undisguised criticism and even slight outrage, as was the case at an event I attended recently.
To explain, allow me to first provide some context:
I used to teach Psychology of Women and Feminist Counselling at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario. One of the books I read to inform my course materials was Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice, a book that still feels entirely relevant today, despite being published in 1982!
What fascinated me was her ability to illuminate the biased interpretation researchers put on certain studies that were conducted regarding gender differences. Specifically, girls and ultimately women, were seen as indecisive and/or vague about their views when asked questions that were intended to elicit a yes/no answer.
But here’s the most interesting part: Ms. Gilligan interpreted that research to suggest that instead of being indecisive, women were inclined to want more information in order to make an informed decision, and were often seeking other solutions to problems that were being presented as requiring a yes/no answer. She chose to view this as an asset rather than a deficit. Girls and women, therefore, were better problem-solvers and were less likely to resort to a quick answer before exploring all of the possibilities.
So, why am I telling you this?
The research on differences between how women and men think and feel about topics is abundant, and it has been around for decades. This begs the question: if you are giving a presentation intended to “Meet the Needs of Women,” do you really think you should start with a young man in a suit asserting how confident men are about investments, the decisions they make about their money and their financial planning before going on to say that women are the exact opposite?
Sadly, this is precisely what happened. There was virtually nothing in this man’s presentation that made me believe women’s needs, based on the research, were being addressed at all. I was appalled and, frankly, furious to think that so little has changed in how women and money are viewed.
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But it also got me thinking: why don’t companies practice their own form of appreciative inquiry? Why can’t they appreciate the unique positions and qualities of women by simply inquiring how women might differ in their financial needs and goals from men? Why is this approach lacking within the financial services industry?
Women have many needs that are not being met when it comes to the delivery of financial services because we continue to use language and a perspective that’s been developed primarily by men, for men. That needs to change.
If more financial service companies would only apply this research about women, our industry could benefit enormously.
An industry that embraces responsiveness and tailor-made solutions for our clients will, in turn, earn greater respect, satisfaction, and confidence from their clients who entrust them with their money, and ultimately their dreams for both now and the future.
I believe that perception is everything. If we continue to perceive women through the current lens, we will miss countless opportunities to leverage women's strengths and abilities. I would like to hear from more women, listen to your voices, hear your stories, and find out what’s important to you, most of all.
A version of this article previously appeared on MakingDreamsAReality.ca.
Betty-Anne is a Certified Financial Planner working in Canada, and an Award Winning Speaker and Author of Making Your Dreams a Reality: Taking the Mystery out of Financial Planning not the Magic. She is passionate about making financial literacy and planning fun, interesting and relevant to women's experiences. She also specializes in Responsible Investing, Inheritance Planning and helping her clients meet their Philanthropic Goals and Dreams.
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