The path to women’s financial health is not as straightforward as it could be. Studies show that a large majority of women stress about their financial situation — over 66% in Logica’s 2020 Future of Money survey. Part of that stems from the fact that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. female workers earn only 82 cents for every dollar that male workers earn, and women are more likely to leave the workforce to take care of loved ones. Additionally, that financial disparity starts in the teen years, expands even more after the age of 35 and is often further exacerbated by race, occupation and education.
Facing what can feel like a constant uphill financial battle, a holistic approach to money by women in the workforce means intensive juggling of self-care and setting aside some time every so often to stay financially literate.
Whether you’re headed or returning to the workplace, or considering a career change, there are four components to financial health to keep in mind as you carve your path forward. Here are inspirational stories from three women focused on achieving financial sustainability and long-term success both personally and professionally.
Component #1: Care
Seattle-based content creator Emma Cortes grew up in an immigrant family living paycheck to paycheck and found that tuition stress influenced her health and well-being throughout college. So, she decided to prioritize creating a better relationship with money through education, attention and investment. “Financial well-being is well-being,” she says. “Turning your financial narrative around is empowering.”
Meanwhile, for local digital designer Ribicca Mamuye, establishing healthy financial self-care looks like setting a monthly “money date” with herself. Over one lunch hour per month, she reviews a spreadsheet outlining her monthly spending, income and any upcoming budgeting priorities. “I’m very intentional in how I spend my money. I don’t want to compromise my plans for building generational wealth by splurging on nonessential things.” In fact, for the upcoming holiday season, Mamuye has already started setting aside funds and has begun carefully planning her shopping list.
Some job benefits can lead to literal health self-care, too. For example, Cortes discovered through a former colleague that her unused Health Savings Account could help with copays and prescriptions. Through a workplace discussion with a co-worker, BECU Lead Financial Educator Stacey Black also discovered that BECU offered workplace dollars for health-related self-care, such as hiking shoes and home workout equipment. “If you don’t know what’s available, that’s money left on the table,” she says.
To find these lesser-known benefits, Black chats with co-workers and carefully reviews emails from human resources. She asks, “Is there anything I’m missing?”
Furthering education is another way to care for yourself and boost career confidence. After all, earnings for women with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by 41% since 1979, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Cortes’ employer offered tuition assistance and even paid for her to attend graduate school. While school meant attending class two nights per week and some weekends on top of full-time work, Cortes was awarded a master’s degree in communication leadership and digital media, which provided skills she’d need for her future in entrepreneurship.
Component #2: Competency
Of course, not all learning is done in a traditional classroom setting, particularly where money health is concerned. To learn more about money management, women may take online classes, read books specializing in women’s financial health, watch online videos, participate in BECU’s Financial Health Check and talk to friends.
“I’m the first person to invest within my family,” Cortes says. “Investing was something I wanted to do for myself.” She took an online class and started listening to finance podcasts so she could better educate herself about investing. Today, she allocates a set amount of money every month (an approach called dollar-cost averaging) into her investment accounts.
While reports show that women tend to save more than men, they can also be more risk-averse in investing, which decreases retirement accumulations. In fact, only 26% of U.S. women invest in the stock market, per S&P Global. Research also reveals that this is partially due to a lack of confidence about the speculative nature of some investment strategies. Women are simply less willing to make bad bets, yet their portfolios tend to outperform men’s overall.
“Empower yourself and dig into the areas that scare you,” Black says. “If you’re unsure, reach out to an expert — ask friends, family members or even your financial institution for names of trusted financial advisers.”
For example, Mamuye found that moving her 401(k) from one employer to another was challenging — but only the first time. “I like to centralize my assets and it was intimidating at first. I’m not an expert in this space. Fortunately, there’s always an expert available to help you navigate most issues.” Mamuye continues, “You have to do your research until the educational system catches up. As a woman and woman of color, sometimes you have to go out of your way to learn about money management in order to build generational wealth.”
Interested in homeownership, Mamuye took a BECU webinar for first-time homebuyers. She also asked money questions when opportunities arose and learned all about credit scores when applying for a debit card. “Stay open to learning and ask questions because there are so many resources and good people with good intentions who want to help others.”
Component #3: Compensation
Understand your total compensation package and what it entails, including salary, stock, bonuses, health insurance, 401(k) match plan and other programs. It’s also important to assess whether you might have earned a promotion at work based on your performance. “Before accepting a job offer, it’s important to take everything into consideration and make sure you are being fairly compensated based on your qualifications, years of experience and skill set,” says Black. You may also consider reaching out to peers and mentors in your field to find out typical compensation rates and benefits packages, along with sleuthing the internet for general ranges based on your title and responsibilities.
Cortes was passed over for a promotion at a previous employer, but she didn’t give up. Instead, she enlisted allies and created a document showing why she already met the criteria for the next job level. “Advocate for yourself,” she recommends. As a result, she wound up with the promotion and an impressive 28% bump in pay — impressive, because research shows women are less likely to receive raises despite asking for them just as often as men.
Mamuye also advocates asking for your worth, especially when it comes to workplace compensation. “There is no shame in asking for fair pay for your work. When you consider a job, do your research on the estimated salary based on your years of experience and level of training. By doing so, I have learned to ask for my worth even if it’s uncomfortable at first. The worst thing people can say is no.”
Both Cortes and Black recommend tracking your accomplishments through bullet points, and Black even suggests sending your manager a weekly recap of your achievements. She also keeps a “kudos folder” of praise, even if it feels a bit awkward at first. “If someone sends me an email with positive feedback about a seminar I taught, I not only forward it to my boss but also save it in a folder for future reference.”
Knowing your worth can include investing in yourself as well. Cortes started with a three-month emergency savings account, which she eventually expanded to six months. Research shows that women are twice as likely as men to say they’d be unable to afford their current lifestyle if a financial setback arose.
That financial safety net allowed Cortes to move into full-time content creation after an unexpected layoff in 2020. She joined the thousands of women moving into entrepreneurship, which may help close wage equity gaps over time. In fact, women-owned businesses grew by 21% in recent years, while businesses owned by women of color grew by 43%, according to an American Express survey.
Component #4: Culture
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed vulnerabilities in some work cultures more than others. As many as two million women considered leaving the workforce or their careers, driven by a lack of flexibility at work, household and caregiving burdens, and feeling they needed to work at all hours, according to McKinsey Insights.
That’s why work-life balance for the long run is so critical. When deciding which organization to work for, Black suggests looking at intangible benefits, which may include working from home, a healthy vacation-leave package or contributing to a workplace that shares similar values that are important to you.
Mamuye considers more than the annual salary when comparing potential job opportunities. “I aspire to work for people and a place that values and appreciates my contributions in many ways,” she says. Mamuye seeks total compensation through pay equity and a safe and inclusive environment that welcomes new ideas and her authentic voice.
Although she graduated with a degree in business and started her career in fashion merchandising, Mamuye felt drawn to work in the tech industry. To move careers, she first accepted a part-time job with a Black-owned technology and management consultancy she dreamed of working for before landing a full-time job working on diversity, equity and inclusion-focused projects.
Beyond the daily work, Mamuye’s mentors and advocates have encouraged her, helped cultivate her strengths, and pitched her skills and abilities to other professionals. It’s a lesson she hopes to pass along. “I’ve received so many important and powerful opportunities,” she says. “It helps me realize I want to be that advocate for the women who come after me.”
As a member-owned credit union with more than 1.28 million members and $26.8 billion in assets, BECU is focused on helping increase the financial health of its members and communities through better rates, fewer fees, community partnerships and financial education. BECU is federally insured by NCUA.