Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, head of the Charles Schwab Foundation, and Shannon Schuyler, PwC’s chief purpose officer, discuss the importance of financial literacy for women.
Financial literacy is important for all people, but especially for women because of their longer life spans, weaker earning power and bigger gaps in employment as they quit to take care of young kids or aging parents. “We’re paid less. We go in and out of the workforce. We live longer. We have fewer dollars, but more years [of retirement] to pay for,” says Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, board chair and president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.
Technology could help alleviate some of these problems, allowing women to work remotely and thus have flexible work schedules, adds Shannon Schuyler, chief purpose officer and U.S. corporate responsibility leader at PwC, as well as president of the PwC Charitable Foundation. Men also play an important role by giving women a leg up the corporate ladder and sharing more responsibilities at home.
Knowledge@Wharton spoke to the two leaders about the importance of financial literacy for women in an interview on the Knowledge@Wharton radio show, which airs on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111.
Below is an edited transcript of their discussion.
Knowledge@Wharton: What do we need to do to improve financial literacy here in the U.S.?
Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz: We need to make it [a part of the] culture, where we take it as a responsibility to understand and learn about financial literacy. … The climate is changing where today we don’t have [as many traditional] pensions, and retirement doesn’t provide a lot for us — so we need to learn [to be financially literate]. You start [the financial education] from the schools. You start from the nonprofits, universities, the workplace — and families also need to talk about it. It really needs to come from all institutions in our society.
Knowledge@Wharton: A recent article by Sally Blount, the dean of Northwestern University’s [Kellogg School of Management], noted that past data predicts that at least 50% of the women graduating from top MBA programs this year will leave full-time roles in the U.S. workforce within 10 years of graduating. This is either because they chose to step out or they are forced out. Do you agree with this view? If so, why do you think this is happening?
Schwab-Pomerantz: I look around at Schwab and all my colleagues and I have to admit we have great tenure here. The women that work for me have been here 15, 20 years. They’re in their mid-40s and right in the middle of raising their children. But having said that, studies do show that more women drop out [of the workforce than men].
I was talking to a friend who was at Harvard Business School, [where she got] her MBA, and she was also a member of YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization). She was lamenting that a lot of her colleagues are dropping out. I definitely think that’s the case, and for a lot of obvious reasons. There’s not the flextime [women need]. Women want to work, and [also] have a higher purpose. I think they also decided, “Hey, I’m just going to work for myself and call my own shots.” But I do think this is not just ‘a woman thing.’ I think millennials in general are also moving in this direction. So companies are going to have to respond.
Shannon Schuyler: By 2020, about 40% of the workforce will be freelancers. It used to be that people wanted to come to an organization and stay, and again, [this was true] across gender groups, and across other demographics. Now people want to leave. They want to define themselves. To Carrie’s point, they want to have their own purpose. They want to find [their calling] and be able to put out their own shingle.
We’re seeing that happen more and more and one of the things that is encouraging is that women tend to like to take that leap. Because they see so many things happening not only in their careers but in their personal lives, they see it as potentially having more flexibility, but also having the courage to say, “But I want to do something different,” and get together with other women to create different organizations and new companies.
“We’re paid less. We go in and out of the workforce. We live longer. We have fewer dollars but more years [of retirement] to pay for.”–Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz
I think women [in the workforce] are moving. I don’t know if they’re being forced out or [they see themselves in a situation where they are] not just taking care of the children, but also taking care of their parents, and seeing what they really needed to do in order to have all of that work for them.
Knowledge@Wharton: In the same article, Blount identifies three big challenges that women face that you just happened to mention. The first is that at the early stage of their careers when women are in their 20s or mid-30s, they earn just about 80% of what men do. When they enter their mid-career phase, say from the mid-30s to 40s, they usually bear a larger share of household responsibilities, caring both for their children and parents, in addition to managing their careers. Finally, when they make it to senior levels of management in their 40s and 50s, breaking into the C-suite can be such a huge challenge. A number of people have said that they spend years in so-called C-suite limbo.
At each of these stages, research shows that women tend to drop out of corporate life. What do you think companies should do to support a strong pipeline of women leaders at each of these stages? Could you tell us about what you are doing at your company to create such a pipeline? Also, how in your own careers did you manage these pivotal points?
Schwab-Pomerantz: Mercer (an HR consulting firm) also had a study that showed that women drop out of mid-level management. Like you said, there are different obstacles for women throughout their careers. For us, mentoring programs for middle management are really important, leadership opportunities and programs are important, which we do have.
We talked about flexibility, and the ability to telecommute and work from home goes a long way — at least one day a week. [It is also about] building that community, whether it’s around doing nonprofit work together, encouraging board positions, learning other aspects about their lives, and also potentially working part-time. I think all of those [are about] flexibility.
Now in terms of my own life, I fortunately also married a journalist. We pretty much punted back and forth, helping each other when we did. But it was hard. My kids are a little bit older. But fortunately today there are a lot more resources available to parents, whether it’s meals being delivered through Blue Apron or DoorDash or even online shopping — they go a long way. There are a lot of programs we can do to help women along the way.
Schuyler: Look at what companies have done — whether it’s been forced mandates like in the