Sherry Cooper is one of the leading advocates in Canada and the United States for financial equality for men and women. She wants women to have the same choices men do to become as financially successful.
The same culture that holds women back in the career world also keeps them from taking control of their personal finances in ways that would benefit them later, she says. She talked to me about what women should do to be more financially successful.
You’ve written that from an early age, you wanted to make “serious money” — a goal you accomplished as chief economist for the Bank of Montreal. Where did that desire come from?
I perceived that my father wanted to have a son. The things that my father valued the most were academics and career success, so I wanted to prove that I was as good as any son he could have had. (It’s a good thing my dad wasn’t big on having an athlete!)
What holds women back in terms of achieving financial equality?
Girls often grow up believing they’re not good at math, and they shy away from finance. The representation of women in economics … is much lower than even in the physical sciences.
And it’s an old boys network, of course. In many of the highest-paying jobs, where it’s up and out, the number of hours you are required to work is not conducive to being a parent.
Does this same culture extend to personal finance?
For the same reasons they’ve shied away from the higher-paying careers … women have let someone else take care of the family finances. But let’s face it. The chances of a woman having to run her own household without a male partner are high. In the United States, 53 per cent of head-of-households are adult women.
You have to be able to handle the future. The fact that you’re going to be called on to be the caregiver of your children and your parents and might need to take years off or downscale to do so makes it all the more important to save. Even women that are partnered: Men lose their jobs. In the last recession, men lost their jobs more than women did.
What do you say to women who need to take more control of their financial lives?
They have to be interested. They have to pay attention to the myriad publications out there, from Money Magazine to Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal. The personal finance sections are easy to read. And take advantage of financial advisory services, especially those that aren’t too expensive.
The biggest issue is living within your means, spending less than you earn, and accumulating wealth. You should be aiming to save ten per cent of your gross income, including what you contribute to your company’s group RRSP plans.
Live in the Hamilton or Greater Toronto Area? Join me for a free and entertaining discussion about your money and your dreams at the Hamilton Spectator Auditorium (44 Frid Street, Hamilton, ON) October 1, 2015, 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.