The world has made well-documented strides towards gender equality across the generations, from voting rights and women clergy through to greater female boardroom representation.
But, as the world celebrates International Women's Day on March 8, crucial pillars remain broadly unaddressed and infuriatingly stubborn, including that of gender pay disparity.
Jessica Robinson, a Dubai-based strategic adviser on green finance and sustainable investing, is among those incredulous that such issues remain prevalent in modern times.
“I am shocked that we have to talk about financial equality in 2021 … and that we still have so far to go,” says the author of a new book tackling many of the aspects surrounding female financial health.
“Globally, gender pay disparity still sits at around 20 per cent, with an estimated 200 years or so for women to achieve pay equality, based on the current rate of progress.”
Such staggering numbers – the latter from the World Economic Forum – in part drove Ms Robinson to create Moxie Future, a "passion project" described as the world's first education, insights and community platform empowering women as sustainable investors and "financial feminists".
And to publish her book, Financial Feminism: A Woman's Guide to Investing for a Sustainable Future.
It is touted as a “practical, jargon-busting, step-by-step guide to sustainable investing for women, no matter their investing experience”.
“There is so much talk about equality, diversity and gender progress, yet the harsh reality is we are so far off the mark,” Ms Robinson, 46, says.
“Financial equality really matters because, as Gloria Steinem [American feminist journalist and social political activist] put it so well, ‘We will never solve the feminisation of power until we solve the masculinity of wealth’.”
Ms Robinson’s interest in financial feminism, in particular sustainable finance, and the foundations of her mission to influence both, have evolved alongside her well-travelled career and as a single mother to three children.
She recalls being approached by numerous professional women following her appearances at conferences and events, seeking more information about sustainable finance. This, in turn, led to her researching about women and investing, and specifically environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing.
“While there was limited data out there at the time, what research we had confirmed my instinct that women are highly motivated to think about impact and non-financial returns in their investment and financial decisions,” says Ms Robinson, whose Moxie Future has since undertaken independent research across different countries.
“The findings are loud and clear … women really do care about where their money is invested. At the same time, there are other significant trends.”
This includes women tending to feel disengaged with the financial industry, often patronised by financial advisers, and excluded from the marketing and design of financial products.
Despite the many financial gaps, globally the female proportion of private wealth is increasing, not least with a rise in female business owners and in senior corporate roles. There would appear to be significant unfulfilled opportunity.
“Women, particularly those working and/or with some personal wealth, are looking for something the financial industry is currently not providing,” says Ms Robinson, who cites women who “want to do something different with their money but do not know where to start” as a motivation for her book.
“My big ambition is to create a movement, where women come together to push for wholesale change in the male-dominated financial industry … for financial products and services that address what women are looking for.”
In particular, women want to understand the environmental and societal impact of their investments – and to be able to invest in alignment with their values and make a difference in the world, Ms Robinson says.
At face value, financial feminism pursues a rudimentary and attainable right – the fiscal equality of women. It is a concept rapidly gathering interest and momentum across the world.
While women, and men, may question why such equality doesn’t already exist, Ms Robinson, a former management consultant in the financial industry who has lived and worked in many cities, including London, New York, Beijing and Hong Kong, is helping to guide the movement as well as confronting the challenges her gender faces.
“To me, financial feminism is not just about women earning and investing on par with men,” she says. “Financial feminism represents the opportunity for women to use their financial power to build the kind of world that they want to live in … gives women a voice to determine how the world should change for the better.
“I find the concept deeply inspiring – on both a personal and a professional level. I believe we can take powerful strides forward by recognising the importance of what financial feminism is demanding, but also the solutions needed to address these demands.”
Other than the recurring issue of pay gaps, women can face other barriers in pursuit of healthier finances and fiscal independence.
Ms Robinson warns against making too many generalisations as she points to research citing factors such as lack of confidence prompting some women to have caution as their default, and consequently lean towards low-risk options such as savings accounts.
Language used by the financial community can also be a deterrent, with research showing conversations can range from baffling to condescending, also signalling a greater need for female financial literacy as well as incentivisation.
Ms Robinson suggests communication about finances as a hurdle – “the core messages we communicate to women when it comes to our money assumptions and expectations” – and how it differs when related to men and women, something supported by research from UK’s Starling Bank.
Then there is perception. “It is probably true that many of us do not actually consider ourselves to be investors in the first place, which is crazy because if we are investing through our workplace pensions, we already are,” she says.
“For some women, there is certainly a perception that investing is simply ‘not for them’ … it’s not an option.
“Perhaps this is compounded by all of the issues identified and – in a world where, all too often, women are labelled as spenders versus men who are categorised as earners – it’s no wonder we struggle to see ourselves as investors.”
Since moving to the UAE three-and-a-half years ago, Ms Robinson has become involved in female investor groups, in particular angel investing specifically in companies founded by women, connecting with “many amazing women who are very focused on financial empowerment as well as supporting other women, in growing their businesses, accessing capital and building networks”.
She says: “This has been a real eye-opener because I think many people assume that we may not be as progressed as we are in the UAE.
“That said, I think there is some way to go in the region, in part, to educate more women when it comes to investing and financial decision making, but also for financial institutions to really understand what their female customer base is looking for.”
Ms Robinson also reiterates what some networking groups, such as Female Fusion, have highlighted that women can be largely overlooked by the traditional investment community, both in terms of business funding as well as tailored saving/investment products.
“Investing in women [as business owners] is such a critical area – female founders still receive such a small proportion of VC funding,” she explains, pointing to a global issue that is accentuated in this region.
“I am really involved in angel investing in female-run/owned businesses … I love that I can put my money where my mouth is.”
With all this in mind, the author is keen to stress Financial Feminism isn't a self-help book, nor is she a financial adviser.
Ms Robinson is rather a highly informed curator for change who describes her publication as an introduction to the field of sustainable investing “with an overlay of a manifesto for female empowerment”.
“I want to connect with readers on the possibilities of what they can do with their money,” she says. “By the end, I hope that the reader will feel like she could have a conversation about sustainable investing – with friends, partners, parents – then I want to encourage these women to help spread the word, have profound conversations about the future of money and what it can mean for us.”
Ms Robinson adds: “I also want to empower women to able to head to their bank or meeting with their financial adviser and confidently express what matters to them in terms of investment decisions, and not be patronised or fed misinformation.
“This ‘call to action’ is really important to me, because this is when talk becomes a movement.”