Tote of Personal Finance: Is there a Burden of Hidden Emotions Women carry in it?

18 Jun,2021


By Shaziya Khan


Shaziya KhanFor many women, a lingering, pervasive discomfort about personal finance exists, despite growing finances. Women confess to feeling uncomfortable about taking personal financial decisions. Women also feel the need for permission or validation from significant others (spouse, parent, brother etc) in matters of personal finance. For some, despite taking many financial decisions, at work, they are still uncomfortable about personal finances.


It matters to understand why women are uncomfortable about personal finance. Why? In modern times, both men and women believe, it is important for women and girls to be financially savvy. This is a key attitude shift of our times. Encouraging an all-out pursuit of financial savviness is a key area of allyship for brands related to women’s progress.


How can brands provide allyship to enable women and girls in this area of growing importance? This is an important question for brands in financial categories – banking, insurance, investing, saving. Also, a relevant question for brands in other categories, as financial aspects impact most purchases.


A starting point, is what is already well-known about women’s financial experiences

It is known that most women try to have a small financial cushion.  They literally, and figuratively, stuff it, every opportunity they get. Quietly, prudently, cautiously, providing for a little more. This could be via  the ingrained ‘small saving’ experiences, home budgeting skills and a growing influence on big ticket purchases.  Yet, attitude shifts and indeed lifestyle expectations, demand a lot more than a small financial cushion! In effect, it is about “bigger, better financial cushions wanted!” for women and girls.


Synthesise the Well-Known with the Well-Hidden

Guided by the truth that people hide their true emotions, it is key to ‘read’ the well-hidden factors alongside the well-known factors. There could be ‘well -hidden’ emotions women experience related to personal finances. These are not revealed via conventional research.  Rather they are revealed, whilst unpeeling the women’s life context, learning from experts within that life context, adjacent to it or in some way intimately related to women’s lives as well their ‘financialscape’.  Stepping outside the functional lens of category creation, to empathize with the emotive lens of category creation, is vital. I call it, synthesising the ‘well-known’ with the ‘well-hidden’.


This perspective helps unlock priorities for allyship.  Sheds light on ‘what is going on, silently’ and how practically, brands can provide allyship. In short, looking at women’s (halting, tentative, uncomfortable) journey towards financial savviness, within the context of their life journey, is revelatory.


Life context cannot be ignored. Women navigate personal finances in the broader context of navigating their everyday life. Women’s life context – the relationships, social norms, psychological frameworks, individual versus collective aspects, all impact their financial choices, or lack of them. Each life context is influentially and sensitively related to personal financial matters. A bit like the proverbial pea hidden underneath the soft mattress – causing a sleepless night for a sensitive person.


A ‘Well-Hidden’ Emotional Vulnerability

We unearthed a ‘well-hidden’ emotional vulnerability, that holds women back from becoming more financially savvy, even when they wish too. This emotional vulnerability is a triangulation ‘compromises’, ‘rules’, ‘understanding’ operating silently yet strongly in women’s life context. There is a combination of dependency, role expectations and perceived personas that women “have to” usually abide by.


Firstly, by mid-life, many women are financially dependent. Having ‘given up’ financial independence when younger (by necessity, choice, whim. They are then, compelled, to make compromises in personal finances, in mid-life. Secondly, women internalise social, cultural and family ‘rules’ on financial matters. Their ‘role and rule-based’ involvement is restricted mainly to home and lifestyle finances. Thirdly, stepping beyond a certain ‘boundary’ of financial savviness, women carry a psychological risk. That of possessing a negatively perceived persona, in the eyes of significant others, as too ‘money minded’ for their own good.


Need for Allyship

Hidden emotions are a double weight that women carry. Not only does the vulnerability of their life context, weigh heavily on them, the fact that it cannot expressed nor resolved, makes it ‘heavier’. The emotional vulnerability related to personal finances often cannot be discussed, in a context of dependence, role expectations and conditioned personas. It crystallises, helplessly, as “What choice do I have” or “what choice does she have”. These phrases surface frequently. Providing proof of both the vulnerability being experienced, and also, alas, its acceptance. Allyship, from brands, is much needed to lift the lid off hidden emotional vulnerability and then provide practical choices to help discuss and resolve it. Here are some thought starters


Dependency is a key context. Experts like psychologists, life coaches and marriage counsellors shed light on women’s personal finances journey, its impact in the context of her life relationships and dependency.


Many women entertain a certain ambiguity, or a casual attitude about personal finances. This can end up becoming a fault line in long term relationships. Sadly, even among the educated, working married couples. Resulting in emotional inequality, lack of sensitivity, shrinking of choice. Typically, young women ‘give up’ financial independence.  They realise, many years later, how vulnerable they have personally become. Subject to threats, social posturing, forced masking of growing distance, compromised life choices. Women ‘live with it’, as they literally cannot afford not to! A role for allyship is bring out the importance of financial independence in a woman’s life, early on, and practical avenues for sustaining it.


A role for strategic development is understanding and milestones of the lifetime value of financial independence, the zones of ambiguity, the zones of certainty, for women.


Unspoken ‘rules’ are a key context, too.  Life contexts have silent influence, on women’s personal finances, via family ‘norms’. The “unspoken rules” silently dictate where a woman can and cannot have a say.  Where she can and cannot take a “stand”. The “unspoken rules” exist in nuclear families, extended families, middle-class & upper-class families.


These “norms” are imbibed early, “understood” and adhered to, by all involved. A ‘need to know’, ‘be happy with you’ve got’ frame governs the family’s financial ‘equation’ with women folk. Women’s indulgences are financed (jewellery, vacations, home, personal makeovers, entertainment, socialising) yet, in doing so, a ‘boundary’ is also set. There are generally few questions asked, or entertained, on personal financial matters beyond the above. A role for allyship is create new women centric personal finance ‘rules’ and help them gain acceptance among both men and women. A role for strategic development is unearth the financial “rules” and “borders”, help women better navigate them, eventually redraw them.


Subtle conditioning is another key context. Another subtle life context relates to verbal and non-verbal cues about womanly personas. Oft heard remarks, glances, grimaces, nick names, informal network exchanges, excluding and including behaviour on who is ‘in’ and ‘out’ are types of subtle conditioning. These can associate a woman who is less involved in money matters, as a “good (naïve, harmless) woman”. Coy comments unwittingly cue this type of ingrained conditioning e.g. “I know nothing about finance”, “I have hardly ever gone to the bank”, “I can’t recall when I last signed a cheque”, “I am so unfamiliar with an ATM”, “My brother/husband/father knows every time I use my card”. Such remarks are associated with a certain type of womanly persona – likeable, comforting, trusted, reliable, safe. Thus, lack of interest, or knowledge in financial matters is endearingly ‘acceptable’. It is subtly encouraged.


In contrast, a woman who asks for details on finances, or has questions – about bank accounts, single versus joint cheque books, her own ATM card, seeking professional financial advice etc., is regarded warily. In some cases, even negatively referred to e.g. “money minded”, gold digger, climber, “shrewd (calculating) type”. Thus, interest in and knowledge of financial matters are subtly discouraged. A role for allyship is to help to positively reframe the perceptions and personas of financially savvy women. A role for strategic development is to uncover the negative myths, associations and fears perceived with women being savvy; uncover positive role models, behaviour, values, rituals associated with women being savvy.


Ease the Burden of Hidden Emotions

The hidden emotional vulnerability women experience, due to life contexts, must be assuaged, to the extent possible. This will help to ease and accelerate the journey toward functional savviness. Infusing clarity, where casualness and ambiguity abound. Inviting refreshing, empowering ‘rules’ in families. Reshaping the naïve versus shrewd stereotypical personas. These are starting points for building allyship with women. Emotional lightness makes room for functional savviness. When you see a woman striding confidently with her tote, ask if she is truly feeling emotionally lighter about being more actively involved in matter of personal finances. If she is feeling lighter, it is likely, she will become savvier, too. And sooner, than later, one hopes.


Shaziya Khan is National Planning Director, Wunderman Thompson. She has won the Jay Chiat Grand Prix  for Strategy and Three WPP Atticus Global Awards for ‘Original Thinking in Marketing Communication’. Her views here are personal.


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