Progress not perfection…

HomeBlogProgress not perfection…

It’s International Woman’s Day. It’s the 21st century. And all is not yet equal – especially in finance! Yes – we’ve made progress in gender equality, but there is still a way to go. There isn’t one simple solution to create equality, the big steps – like changing laws – have been made. For more than fifty years it’s been illegal to pay a female less than their male counterpart. Yet in 2019 the gender pay gap in the UK across all employees stood at 15.4%. But in financial service this rose to 31.9% – the battle for balance continues.

Directly linked to pay is pension savings and the gender pension gap towers over the gender pay gap at huge 40.3%. This clearly shows there’s still much more to be done – not just at a company level, but on a much wider scale.

Marginal gains

It is already illegal, most companies have additional policies and procedures to drive out inequality and discrimination, but we’ve yet to reach perfection. So now it’s time to sweat the small stuff… get right down in the granular detail where we can make marginal gains and reach perfection.

One of the areas that could make a difference is language. Women are less confident than men – 45% of men say they would feel confident investing some of their money compared to only 28% of women.

Words and behaviour

Cognitive scientists have been looking at the impact of words on behaviour – they’ve found that 38% of the world’s population speak a gendered language – where nouns are considered masculine or feminine. Countries with gendered language have an average of 15% lower female employment rate and significantly bigger inequalities.

English isn’t a gendered language, but we do have personal pronouns for each gender (he or she). And it’s likely, that without even thinking there are sexiest words that you might say or hear this week:





But they’re just words – right? 

We already know that all decisions aren’t made at a rational, logical level. Underneath these words are intrinsic bias, subtly helping us to make decisions without even being fully aware of why. Our brains will jump in afterwards to provide logical reasoning.

Double standards

It’s not just in pay that there are double standards – we can find it in language too: A man is assertive, a woman is bossy. A woman is difficult, but a man is confident. Behaviours that are described as ambitious by a man are often referred to as aggressive when displayed by women. In fact, managers (whether male or female) are significantly more likely to criticise assertive behaviours in females but review them as positive attributes in males. Even our non-gendered language has become gendered.

All the data tells us finance is a man’s world – from the number of females sitting on executive boards, to the gender pensions gap. But what about the bits that we can’t report on – the two bowler hats of Bradford and Bingley all those years ago and the example of Simon, the accountant, 32 who earns £39,000 that illustrates pension contributions on my statement.

Closing the gap

We already know that understanding of pensions and finance is low – this isn’t unique to women, but women are far less confident so much more likely to give up sooner. This is also demonstrated in the disparity of job applications – research shows women feel they need to meet 100% of the criteria for a role in order to apply whereas men apply after meeting 60%.

Using words and process to build confidence

The research is clear that women need a different approach when it comes to language. They need access to the tools which will help them build their confidence and reassure them along the way. Typically women are:

  > More likely to worry about finances

  > More likely to think and plan for the future

  > Less likely to believe in their own financial ability

  > Less likely to be responsible for household finances

What does that mean for pensions communications? Automatic enrolment has made a huge difference to get women saving, but the gender pay gap along with a higher chance of a career break mean it’s not a level playing field. Women actually have to be more engaged with their finances.

As a rule of thumb women approach decision making in a different way to men; they often shy away from any decision where they feel they lack understanding, they like to take time to think of how one decision impacts another and they like to talk things through. Offering shared experiences, examples or even a conversation is likely to be much more impactful than a ‘don’t delay – contribute today!’ message.

To move towards equality there are standard, practical approaches to use in your communications:

  •   > Remove jargon and use plain English – even for your compliance caveats
  •   > Use bitesize pieces of information – information is key to establishing intent
  •   > Make next steps clear
  •   > Don’t remove the human element – in a digital drive to self-service it’s easy to forget the importance of a human interaction
  •   > Use different channels and media to convey the same message and aid understanding

There are also far more subtle nudges that will make finance and pensions more appealing to women. It’s important to understand the impact of the unconscious when choosing things like icons, voice overs, images and social media posts. Think about breaking gender typical role models and making women represented, knowledgeable and relevant.

Then develop your communications:

  •   > Define your goal
  •   > Understand your customers
  •   > Design your nudges
  •   > Test, test, test

Nudges really do work – here’s an example of my favourite nudge – in Canada all parents have 40 weeks of parental leave – 5 of which are specifically designed for dads to take. Quebec renamed this section ‘daddy days’ which led to 84% of dads taking parental leave compared to 11% across the rest of Canada.  A fantastic illustration of the power of words and nudges and how they really can change behaviour.

Progress and perfection

When we look beyond equality, it makes sound business sense to get women engaged and saving… so what are we waiting for?


  > inequality

  > bias

  > discrimination

Ultimately, all communications are a process of knowledge transfer. It’s our job as message makers to create accessible and inclusive communications that help get more women saving for their future.

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