Janine Rogan believes in the radical power of personal finance education

(Photograph by Britta Kokemor/iStock)

Despite nominal advances in feminism over the last 50 years, the gendered wealth gap is still a pressing problem that’s keeping women poorer than their male counterparts: in Canada, women account for just 23.2 per cent of the top one per cent of earners. Globally, the story is much the same—women account for just one-third of the top 10 per cent of income earners, and in the top 0.1 per cent, only every fifth or 10th person is a woman, depending on the country. The pay gap gets worse as women age: female workers aged 45 and 54 only make 75 per cent of what their male counterparts make, while women aged 16 to 24 make about 93 per cent. This means that women are kept out of the top jobs (and incomes) around the world, never making it to executive positions, even as they get deeper into their careers.

One woman is hoping to use financial education to bridge that gap: accountant and consultant Janine Rogan believes in the radical power of personal finance education. For Rogan, teaching women how to invest is the number-one way to help smash the patriarchy. “White women only hold about 30 per cent of the wealth worldwide, and women of colour just two per cent,” she says.

That’s why she started the Wealth Building Academy, to help women invest and build wealth. Her new book, The Pink Tax, shows women across Canada how the financial system disadvantages them—and keeps them broke. We spoke to Rogan about her new book, what the pink tax is and how the playing field can be levelled.

When did you get interested in the wealth disparity between men and women?

I was in the corporate world for about a decade before I went into business on my own. I worked mostly as a corporate accountant, and then in tech as a financial consultant. I was filing tax returns with some of the biggest companies in Canada, but nobody was teaching us—even as accountants—how to invest and grow our wealth. Then, about five years ago, I really started digging into the research around women and money. I was finding a lot of articles that said things like, “Women buy too many lattes or avocado toast, and our shoes are too expensive.” And I really felt like there must be more behind the wealth gap.

What is the pink tax?

The pink tax is a term coined in the ’70s that describes the price difference between men’s and women’s products—women’s products were often more expensive. But I wanted to take it one step further and look at the multifaceted impact on women’s bank accounts from all areas. The goal of the book is getting women to economic equality globally. So it looks at everything from what you can do as an individual, what you can do as an employee and what you can do as a global citizens, so that we can start to create a system that doesn’t just put up with women, but advocates for and makes it accessible for women to gain economic equality.

What else does it include, beyond higher prices for products marketed towards women?

I should preface that, unfortunately, we don’t have data for people outside of the binary heteronormative relationships, so most of these stats and things I’m talking about are for them. But, yes, the financial system keeps women broke in many different ways. Women tend to earn less, so they probably have less access to credit. Less access to credit usually correlates to lower credit scores, leading to higher interest rates on mortgages or loans, costing you more to borrow money. That’s just one example. 

You also describe how inequality is rooted in the origins of our financial system. 

It wasn’t until the early ’60s that women could have their own bank accounts without a father or husband co-signing. And it wasn’t until the’70s that women could have mortgages. Women have been left out of those conversations for so long. Because of that, our financial system doesn’t have the expertise, resources or tools to serve women. We didn’t see the women in our life involved in their finances, and that gets passed on.

I’ve never thought about the idea that a male financial adviser might not be attuned to women’s money needs or savings goals.

Yes, and there’s some research to suggest that 70 per cent of women leave their financial advisers after their spouse passes. It leads me to believe that they’re not feeling heard, or that they’re feeling talked down to, or they’re not feeling like their financial adviser has their best interests at heart.

How can financial advisers be more inclusive of women?

First, when working with couples, financial advisers should ensure that both people are at the meeting—not just talk to the husband. Also, it’s important to make sure women are heard, make sure that they’re not condescending to them or explaining things with a ton of financial jargon. I think sometimes women feel like they should already know these things, so they may be scared to ask the question or feel like it’s stupid that they’re asking the question, which makes them less involved in those decisions.

You talk in the book about how shame and fear of looking stupid can keep people in the dark. Why is that?

It’s so deeply rooted in our system. All you have to do is look at how we talk about women and money—women aren’t supposed to talk about money. If you want money, then you’re greedy. If you marry a man who has more money than you, then you’re a gold digger. There are so many stereotypes that we put around women and money that women tend to shy away from it.

Or they haven’t been taught about money, so they feel shame about some of their financial decisions. Maybe they know they made a mistake, but they don’t know how to correct it or they don’t want to look at their bank statements. So they have a little bit of a head-in-the-sand approach and maybe have a bit of regret around some of the purchases that they’ve done, but learning and making mistakes is part of the process of becoming economically equal and financially literate. 

I’m also interested in how intersecting identities change things—you said there isn’t a lot of research out there about it, but how does the pink tax affect queer and racialized women?

Queer women and women of colour earn less than straight white women, and they also have higher rates of poverty. Additionally, because these groups of women are less accepted it may be harder for them to speak up at work or within the finance industry to get what they need without being called aggressive or angry. Especially in the corporate world, there are more microaggressions against women of colour than there are against white women. And that just compounds the fact that they’re not promoted or given raises as often. They also get more negative feedback than their white women counterparts. 

For those in queer relationships, both partners are taking on unpaid care work and might suffer at their jobs. In a relationship with two women, the expectation on women to provide childcare is on both of them, so those negative corporate effects on mothers are doubled, all because we’re not at the place where we aren’t expecting all people, notably fathers, to be involved in childcare. 

This conversation makes me think of that phrase “having it all”—women are expected to be mothers, have a career, have a home, take care of their partner, whatever. That can’t be helping with the wealth gap.

I hate that term. I can tell you from my own experience, and from talking to friends, that when you have a baby, you’re too exhausted at the end of the day to think about managing money or building wealth or taking on that extra project at work. That affects their ability to take on new roles at work, because they’re still responsible for all of the stuff at home. We know that if we paid women worldwide minimum wage for all of the unpaid care work they do, we would add $12 trillion to the economy every year, and the fact that we as a society have decided that care work is not something worth compensating for is really leaving a huge demographic out of the equation.

And, in your book, you introduced the term financial feminism—what does that mean? 

I believe that means financial equality for both men and women. I don’t want to see different mortgage rates. I want women to be paid the same as men. I want them to have the same opportunities to build wealth, and to be able to live a life that they enjoy. 

Your book also comes out at a time where affordability is top of mind for everyone. What do you hope readers bring to the moment we’re living through?

I think there are three areas that we can really focus on. Number one is the individual. There are smart ways to manage your money and automate it—setting up automatic transfers and investments so that you’re saving without the mental load of constantly thinking about money—so that you don’t have to think about it all the time, especially if you’re a busy working parent. I also really want to encourage women to negotiate on everything from your next job offer to your cellphone bill. There’s also building your wealth through investing. The only way we can start to close that wealth gap really is through investing and having our money work hard for us. 

The second is advocating at work, creating policies that don’t just put up with women but actually empower women. So whether that is work from home or flexibility, or paid paternity leave so that both parents can take leave, there is so much that institutions can do. 

And then lastly, I always say that money is political. And we have to talk about politics when we talk about money. Who you vote for is really important, and I always encourage people to look at who they’re voting for and how that actually impacts financial security. How do they talk about women? What things did they vote for in the past? What policies have they brought to the table, and do they help women gain economic equality or women’s equality as a whole?

What else can be done to close the wealth gap? 

Lots of things need to change, but we don’t need to look far for great examples of countries that are doing things. For example, having more maternity and parental leave so both parents spend time taking care of the baby. Childcare is really important—making sure that it’s affordable and accessible, and available to both parents. 

I also believe that we need to look at hiring practices. Companies need to be doing reviews multiple times a year to make sure there’s no wage gap and doing things like blind hiring, or taking the name off the resumé so there isn’t any bias in what type of people you’re hiring.

And then, on an individual level, the first step is always education. It can feel really overwhelming, but you only need to do one right thing at a time. And if you commit to doing one thing every month, or learning one thing when it comes to your finances every month, by the end of the year, you’ll be in a completely different place. The first couple can be picking up a book, watching a YouTube video, talking to a financial professional or taking a course. Those can be the small steps that start to build your confidence around taking control of your money.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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