It’s a perennial problem – the lack of women in the world of money. Half of the world’s population is female, yet males are the dominant gender in finance. Female investors, wherefore art thou?
A few weekends ago, I was manning the DrWealth booth at a personal finance and investment seminar. The event was attended by a few hundred everyday investors and it was a quite a treat talking to these folks, introducing them to our platform and asking for their opinions and feedback. While most of my conversations with the seminar-goers revolved around personal finance, I had an insightful chat with a fellow investment enthusiast regarding an issue that I feel is unfortunately understated in Singapore’s money circles – the dismal number of female investors in the community.
It’s a problem that isn’t just exclusive to our little red dot. All around the developed world, more and more people have realised how underrepresented females are in economics, finance, and investment circles. The men have the widely revered Warren Buffett. The women have…Abby Joseph Cohen.
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She’s an influential economic analyst and holds court at Goldman Sachs, leading the Global Markets Institute division. And yet, despite her lofty position and undoubted prowess, she rarely makes the financial headlines. Women striving to reach the pinnacle of the finance and investment world have a limited and obscure pool of role models to choose from. At the same time, they have to contend with the continuous presence of Kim Kardashian and her selfies on the major global media channels.
The fact that the appointment of Zanny Minton Beddoes to the position of editor-in-chief in The Economist made headline news demonstrates how far we still have to go as a global community. Beddoes is the first female editor in the publication’s 171-year history. What’s even more remarkable is that she was the only rose among the 12 other thorns jostling for the approval of the company’s directors – all but one of whom are men – in a field historically dominated by men.
Females in Singapore’s Finance
What about first-world Singapore, one of the top financial hubs in the world?
DBS Bank features two female members – Euleen Goh Yiu Kiang and Ow Foong Pheng – in a nine-strong board of directors. Further down in the Group Executive Committee and the Group Management Committee, out of 18 people, there are seven ladies helming a variety of different positions.
UOB lags a bit behind, with only one women – Lim Hwee Hua – on the bank’s board of directors and four in the executive and management committees, which comprises 16 members.
In terms of female representation, OCBC is the most appalling. There are no women on the bank’s board of directors while Cynthia Tan Guan Hiang is the sole female flag bearer in the main management team.
Considering that females make up more than half of Singapore’s population (967 men for every 1,000 women in 2014), it’s quite clear that our country needs to do a lot more to break the gender glass ceiling.
Although women in Singapore are increasingly becoming more educated than men, the effects of this social see-saw haven’t yet been fully translated in the upper echelons of the corporate world, more so in fields involving money and power. Many sociologists and behavioural psychologists attribute this to the different academic expectations placed on both genders, many of which are based on pre-conceived and outdated ideas.
Consider the traditional roles of homemaker and breadwinner. Most of Asian society immediately assume that the homemaker is a feminine role while the breadwinner must be masculine. Similarly, in schools, the more hard disciplines such as finance and engineering are geared towards males, supposedly because of their more superior spatial processing abilities while the softer academic fields such as the creative arts and psychology are marketed towards women.
A recently published study late last year that looked at this phenomenon concluded that the reason why different fields tended to favour one gender instead of the other was not because of any innate advantage in either masculinity or femininity, but due to interactions that influenced a young female’s ideas of what they “ought to do and are good at doing”.
Think about situations when you’re driving and come across a driver making poor decisions on the road. Before ascertaining the identity of the person behind the wheel, I’m certain that your mind immediately thinks that the driver must be female. After all, female drivers are bad right? Now, consider the widely held misconception that men think about sex every seven seconds. As a male reader, don’t you feel angry that you’ve been reduced to a Neanderthal only interested in procreating?
The main reason why it’s important to eliminate gender stereotypes in Singapore and promote equal representation of both sexes in the finance and investment world is because it opens up our country’s greatest resource – human capital. When an entire category is immediately taken out of the equation simply because of preconceived notions of ability, it blunts your country’s potential and possible growth.
That’s on a macro national level. On the micro household level, it always helps if a family has two, if not more, financially savvy members to chip in with their opinions and make critical financial decisions. At the same time, having a husband-and-wife team who are capable of investing and growing their money together, instead of just one person making investment choices, means essentially doubling both your investment capital and brains. There are also increasing numbers of successful female entrepreneurs in Singapore as seen in the SG50 Women for Women exhibition, but there are simply not as visible as the male counterparts.
There has also been evidence from multiple countries showing that “increasing the share of household income controlled by women, either through their own earnings or cash transfers, changes spending in ways that benefit children”.
What Do You Think?
So, there I was, discussing the issue of the lack of female investors in Singapore with a fellow concerned male and why women, as educated and talented as they are, seem to shy away from the world of bonds, mutual funds.
We figured that it was due to a combination of innate beliefs shaped by cultural and social idiosyncrasies and general patriarchal views. In a world where a woman of the equivalent educational and social stature as a man earns 23 cents less than him because she happened to be born with an additional X chromosome, it’s imperative that we get over several potentially dangerous misconceptions about gender limitations.
Various studies have already shown that a diversity in views and thoughts can lead to better decisions. In Singapore, where human capital is our greatest resource, it’s even critical that we encourage women to enter the finance and investing world, especially if we want to get ahead.