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
Stacy Francis is the president and CEO of wealth management firm Francis Financial, which is specifically focused on providing investment advise to women, couples and those going through divorces. Approximately 10 percent of the profits made by the firm are donated to like-minded organizations such as Savvy Ladies, a nonprofit founded by Francis that is designed to educate and empower women to take control of their money. She has, in the past, offered the expertise from her 16 years in finance as a contributor to media organizations and programs such as The Today Show, CNBC and PBS’ Nightly Business Report. In addition, she also frequently lectures on financial planning for women and couples.

Francis highlighted the many ways in which gender roles influence lifelong attitudes toward money during her interview with us. At one point, she noted that “[m]ost women were not raised in a household where money was talked about freely. And if it was spoken about, more times than not it was by their fathers.”

Edited interview excerpts below.

The Story Exchange: Do you feel women are especially hesitant to discuss money and their financial needs?

Yes, and it’s a big issue. Women see their fathers being much more steeped in finances and money than their mothers. Money history is what shapes us in regards to how we relate to money. It comes back to whether or not you’re going to be a great saver or not. Some of this is actually imprinted on us as young as 4 or 5 years old. Some people are fortunate — they have very strong female role models who are very savvy with money. But the vast majority of us were raised in an environment that may not have had a strong female role model when it comes to money.

The Story Exchange: How do those lessons affect women as adults?

Many women unfortunately still believe that a man is a financial plan. When a woman is single, she is much more likely to take a leadership role in her finances. During a marriage is when women tend to have the least amount of say in their own finances. The majority of women I meet with are single — we have a very difficult time convincing ladies who are married to take time from their lives to come. They only do so after they are being forced into a situation where they have to deal with their finances on their own, and that happens for a couple of reasons. First, we have this “knight in shining armor” complex where we want to be taken care of. Second, for most women, money and finances are not topics that they get very excited about, so there’s not that momentum to get involved. And third, they use the “divide and conquer” strategy [in their relationships] where the man handles the finances.

The Story Exchange: Could you talk more about the second point?

Studies have shown that, in a math or science class, men are more likely to raise their hands and participate than women. That translates often to finances. It can be a lack of confidence in our own selves. Many women tell themselves that they’re just not that good at money. And if you hear that message enough, you start to believe it. The most important thing you can do to help someone become empowered is to educate them. I found that, when I started taking courses and learning about financial planning and investing, my confidence with money — as well as my interest in and excitement for finance — grew dramatically the more I learned.

The Story Exchange: Could this be part of the reason why female entrepreneurs tend to start companies with less money than men, and raise less money as they grow?

Entrepreneurs are responsible for 70 percent of the economic growth we’ve seen in the last decade — we are a very, very powerful force. And women are starting businesses at record levels. They not only need to know about personal finances, but business finances as well. Around 46 percent of businesses fail in the first four years of operation, which is an unbelievably high statistic, and the number one reason is because of money. The more you can do to make sure that your business is financially secure, and your personal life is financially secure, the more successful you’re going to be and the longer-lasting and more prosperous your business will be. What’s unique to women, though, is that the wage gap we see for female employees, we are also seeing in female business owners. Even though they have the reins, they are underpaid in comparison to their male counterparts in the same business. There are lots of factors at play, and it’s not a black-and-white issue, but often women underestimate what they actually need, and then fail to pay themselves as much as they should.

The Story Exchange: What can we do to change this?

We need to invest in women. It goes back to the idea of money history, of whatever you were cocooned in as a child having an impact on you when you become an adult. I know that I’m very sensitive around my daughter in supporting her to make sure she’s great at math. I also make sure both of my kids know about money. We even do money drills. Getting kids involved with saving and investing — which can especially be pretty darn scary for ladies — is wonderful for them.

For all posts from this project, please click here.