After a career in banking, Victoria Wang, co-founder of The Story Exchange, says more women need to take control of their financial lives.
Editor’s Note: This interview is part of a project in which we are exploring why many women lack confidence when discussing money. You can read the first installment of this series here.
Victoria Wang is a former banker and marketing consultant with more than three decades of experience in the financial world. As she rose through the ranks of corporate America, she saw few women in senior roles — and even fewer female role models for other working women. By the time she left, she wanted to find ways to mentor women and encourage them down the path to economic independence.
That is how she became the co-founder of The Story Exchange in 2011. When we spoke, she reflected upon the experiences that inspired her to create a virtual showcase for entrepreneurial women.
Edited interview excerpts below.
The Story Exchange: During your time in banking (from the late 1970s to the early 1990s), what did you observe in regards to how women — coworkers and clients alike — related to money?
It was really interesting to see that most women in banking were primarily in staff positions such as human resources and marketing, and not on the line, not out there banging on doors for business. A lot of the women didn’t really know much about finance. And at that point, men ran most of the companies I called upon. I was amazed. Women were not running businesses — that’s where I really felt role models were lacking. I also saw a real difference [between men and women] in interest in the finance area — women just didn’t seem interested. There were only a handful of women lenders that I could speak to, and when we got together, we weren’t talking about business. That surprised me because when you heard the guys talking, they would be talking about their deals. And when I worked in investment management between the early 1990s and mid-2000, there were very few women portfolio managers.
The Story Exchange: How did you try to effect change, and what did those experiences teach you?
I gave a Finance 101 course in the 2000s to a number of female groups in for-profit and non-profit firms that covered the basics, from how to do a budget to basic investing and approaching one’s portfolio. What was interesting was, most of those who signed up were either single women, single mothers or divorced. There were maybe two women in a group of 15 to 20 that were married. When I asked the single women why they were there, they said it was because they were responsible for their own finances. But the two married women said that, while they were somewhat interested, their husbands took care of everything. When I asked if they wanted to control the money themselves, one of the married women said numbers bored her. I then asked if she was up to date on her financial situation. She responded, “Why would I need to be? My husband can take care of that.” That really shocked me.
The Story Exchange: How does that mentality affect female entrepreneurs?
Understanding the finances, figuring out how you’re going to grow and how to raise money — all of this is involved in starting a business. That’s a major skill any entrepreneur must have. What really troubled me, though, was that women entrepreneurs were not taking charge of their own finances. And women today still make those comments. I strongly believe every woman needs to take responsibility for her financial well-being.
The Story Exchange: Why do women regard money this way?
I’ve heard women say that finance is boring, but what I’ve found is that they don’t want to show their ignorance when speaking with financial professionals. Saying it’s boring gets them off the hook. Another issue might be that women are not as competitive as men about money. We hear men talk about the deals they make as though they are waving a flag to say how great they are. Even when I get a good deal, I don’t go around telling everyone about it. I wonder if there is a difference in gender on how we perceive this kind of competition. And, I remember someone talking to me about how their sons constantly demanded raises at work, while their daughter just quietly did her job. Women don’t want to rock the boat. We’re taught that it’s bad for a woman to be assertive, but good for a man. Women can be assertive in different areas, but when it comes to money, they tend not to be.
For all posts from this project, please click here.
Posted: June 23, 2014