Anna Sofat: Independence
Independence is the first step towards empowerment and equality. You can’t be a true equal if you don’t have some level of autonomy and freedom of choice. If we have not chosen it, being reliant on someone else for our daily financial needs is far from ideal. In the same way, if we only do what someone else wants us to or can’t get by without other people’s approval we are not emotionally independent. Being financially independent means that we can take personal control over many important decisions our lives. It’s a freedom and a responsibility and it’s been hard won.
It is easy to forget that financial independence for women, even in a progressive country like the UK, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, banks could refuse to give women mortgages without a male guarantor and it was as late as 1980 before women could apply for loans and credit in their own name. It took a further 10 years to 1990, before women were taxed separately from their husbands for the first time1.
The link between financial and emotional independence is very strong but not at all straightforward. Money is neutral – what we feel about it and how we use it are anything but.
At its worst extreme, financial and emotional control of another person robs them of independence, dignity and personal freedom in every part of their life. Widespread reporting of incidents in which women, in particular, have been exploited in this way has led to changes in the law in the UK. Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship became an offence under section 76 of the 2015 Serious Crime Act2.
Each of us has a unique history in which finance has played a significant part. We all have an emotional relationship with money, even if we don’t see it in these terms. Maybe both our parents worked or maybe only one did. Perhaps we inherited wealth, or we just always had what we needed to feel comfortable and secure. Maybe we were aware of problems or tensions around money and the limitation of opportunities as a result of never having enough. Role models, social pressures and formative experiences undoubtedly influence our motivations, expectations and desires, whether we recognise it or not.
Confidence: work in progress
Women of all ages and backgrounds can be uncomfortable talking about money and their own needs which isn’t surprising given the relative newness of our financial empowerment.
Some women have to work to support themselves and would prefer not to be in that situation. Others choose to pursue careers and many professional women are now the primary breadwinner in their families3 by choice.
Even then, many women struggle with entitlement issues or feel queasy asking for a pay rise even though they know they deserve it and their male colleagues wouldn’t doubt himself in the same situation. A supportive, transparent culture at work where equal opportunities and pay are the norm and reward is equitable, regardless of gender should be our expectation – not the exception. Being in touch with what we have achieved- valuing ourselves and our individual contribution is a good way of building confidence.
There is no question that overall our independence has made us stronger and we should celebrate that. But although women are earning more than ever before and taking on more financial responsibility4, achieving financial independence can be challenging. We still generally earn less than men over our lifetimes. The gender pay gap persists across many sectors of the economy and many women who take on caring responsibilities have no option other than to work part time, which can seriously restrict our ability to invest in our futures, be it through pensions or other means.
Lack of financial confidence is a major factor for women when it comes to planning for the future. A study carried out by UBS shows that 58 per cent of women across the world defer to their husbands for long-term financial decisions. Alarmingly, that rises to 69 per cent for UK millennial women, even if they are the primary earner in their household!5. It’s clear there is still a significant way to go. We need to educate girls to talk about money as early as possible and to continue the conversation throughout their adult lives.
Our financial and emotional needs, our hopes and dreams may differ significantly from men too, so it is really important we educate ourselves about investments and normalize conversations around money. Whether at the start of working life, or established in a career, we think it’s helpful to see financial independence as a progressive journey to get excited about, set goals for, plan for and talk about. It always makes sense for women to start these conversations as early as possible to avoid financial dependence later in life.
Positive relations are important
It’s inevitable that relationship dynamics are affected by our new roles at home and work. For women who feel supported in their choices it is a positive experience. For others it can be an area that is fraught with tensions. What is particularly hard to understand is the lack of compassion we frequently show each other about the different circumstances we’re in and the choices we’re making. It only takes a brief engagement with social media or a quick online trawl to see the aggressive lack of respect women are dishing out to each other.
It’s saddening and unhelpful to all women to see us embrace the opportunity for financial independence at the cost of kindness and humility for others. We need to talk about this because it is highly devisive and can cause intense misery and isolation for women who have made choices that go against the cultural norm. Whether you are an alpha female or a stay at home mother – it is our freedom to choose the life we want to lead that is really important. Every woman’s choice is legitimate and should be respected, even though it may not be what we choose for ourselves.
Many women around the world still don’t have the opportunity to be who they are and lead the life of their choice. Identity, culture and circumstances can entwine to limit their personal freedom. Independence, financial and emotional, isn’t possible for reasons outside of their control. For those of us fortunate enough to live in societies where access to education and the labour market is enabled, exercising our freedom of choice and achieving financial and emotional independence is possible and desirable.
In fact, it’s priceless.
- Kantar, Winning over women
- Kantar, Winning over women