“Talk about it.” with Diane Bourdo

To actually close the gender wage gap, we need to increase the national minimum wage to $15.00 per hour. The data tells us that the total number of hourly wage workers in the United States is split evenly between men and women — 50/50. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, women made […]

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To actually close the gender wage gap, we need to increase the national minimum wage to $15.00 per hour. The data tells us that the total number of hourly wage workers in the United States is split evenly between men and women — 50/50. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, women made up 63% of all workers being paid at or below minimum wage. Herein lies the disconnect. Increasing the minimum wage could be significant in lifting women and families out of poverty, boosting their earning power and setting them on track toward continued, and long-term, financial success.

As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Diane Bourdo, President of The Humphreys Group, an all-women-owned and -operated wealth management firm based in San Francisco. Diane has dedicated her life’s work to helping women make smart financial decisions. For nearly 30 years, she has developed investment management and financial planning strategies that allow her clients at The Humphreys Group to create lives that reflect their values. Diane is also a passionate champion of women; nothing is more gratifying to her than seeing a client discover, and step into, her financial power. She is the co-author of the book, “Rewriting the Rules: Telling Truths About Women and Money,” released in 2018. Diane is one of the foremost experts in facilitating conversations about the non-numerical aspects of money. She has served as a mentor at the FPA Residency Program, contributed to Golden Gate University’s Financial Life Planning program, and participates in pro bono events that provide financial planning to underserved communities. Diane is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional, and holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and an M.B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley. She is an inspiration to women in the industry and has played an instrumental role in developing a new generation of female financial planners.

Thank you so much for joining us, Diane! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

Thanks for having me! I graduated college with a liberal arts degree and made the cross-country move from the Midwest to San Francisco, where I ended up finding a boring office job. Through a friend, I was introduced to investing — about which I knew nothing. Growing up, I was never exposed to the stock market; it just wasn’t part of my experience. But it didn’t take long before I became fascinated by this world, which was both new and exciting to me.

Fast forward to five years later, when I received my MBA and my fascination with investing evolved into a full-blown passion. Four years later, I earned the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ designation, and the rest — as they say — is history. From there, I set off on the path toward becoming a personal financial advisor.

My interest in investing is what drove me to this career path, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I realized why I wanted to stay. Every time I met with my clients, I could see, first-hand, the positive impact that true financial planning could have on people’s lives — especially for women. Financial agency and freedom provide a sense of empowerment, confidence, security and independence.

I have been a lifelong feminist. A fun fact: When I was 11- or 12-years-old, I wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper, which ended up getting published. On the topic of whether women should become priests, I asked: “God wouldn’t mind, would she?” Working to empower women and help them soar to new heights, both financially and personally, was a no-brainer for me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

I once worked with two clients — a married couple who had three boys. I recommended that both of them should consider life insurance. The husband was an investment banker who traveled a lot; the wife was a stay-at-home mom. If something happened to her, he would have to hire live-in help.

He purchased life insurance coverage without delay, while she dragged her heels, skipped out on our meetings and dodged her husband’s questions. She procrastinated purchasing the coverage for a year or two after we initially discussed the topic — and eventually, she just shut down emotionally whenever we brought it up.

Finally, at one of our in-person meetings, she started to become engaged in our discussion about coverage, so I took the opportunity to dig a bit deeper. I quietly asked, “What is the stumbling block?” She hesitated to respond … and then hesitated some more. Finally, she took a deep breath and made her confession: She felt so unappreciated and taken for granted by her husband and her boys. She told me that she just could not stomach the idea of them receiving all of this money because she was dead — especially because they didn’t even care much about her while she was alive. Her confession both shocked and saddened me.

Once she summoned the courage to speak her truth, and allowed her true feelings to come through, other necessary, personal conversations followed. She managed to put the policy in place within a month. What I felt that day has stayed with me over the years, because it is a perfect example of the need for both expertise and empathy when it comes to what we do, as financial advisors. “Money stuff” is rarely just about the money. As advisors, we need to address the issues that lie underneath in order to make progress, have real discussions (as difficult as they may be) and offer solutions to the problems our clients face, problems that extend beyond just the numbers.

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Have you ever heard the old proverb, “The cobbler’s children have no shoes”? This is one of those stories.

From the beginning of my career and well into my late thirties, I did work I loved, with clients I loved and with colleagues I respected. But the truth is, I wasn’t taking myself seriously. I didn’t think too much about the future or think strategically about my own career because I thought, “I’ll just let my husband worry about that.” Today, I look back on the way I lived and my mindset with amazement — and admittedly, embarrassment — because I was a financial advisor at the time, not to mention a proud feminist!

All of that changed at age 40, when my then-husband and I divorced. It was in that moment I realized I was no different than our clients who were struggling with similar issues. After all, I spent my days advising others about the importance of planning for their financial future: why it was crucial to have a plan for the unexpected, one that would keep them secure and wouldn’t throw their financial lives off course. But I wasn’t practicing those same principles myself — and I didn’t have any excuse.

It was an experience that taught me how to invest in myself and take myself seriously — not in a somber, heavy way, but in a way that reminds me to maintain my self-respect, and honor my ability to achieve and be a leader — even if it’s just in my own life.

Ok, let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?

There is no getting around it: We live in a patriarchal society, and men hold the power. Up until this point, men, particularly in the corporate and political spheres, have considered it in their best interests to hold that power, so they use all the levers they can to keep it — taking measures to control women’s bodies and their earning power, among many other factors. All of these combine to foster a society that tolerates — and even defends — a pay gap.

Gender stereotypes also play a role in perpetuating the gap, stereotypes that have normalized different societal expectations for behavior. Men are expected to be ambitious, assertive, self-confident, direct and instrumentally competent. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be unselfish, caring, emotionally expressive and interpersonally sensitive. Even when women do advocate for themselves — and that includes asking for a raise — we pay a price for acting differently from what society expects of us. When we act “out of role,” the response we receive is exaggerated.

Self-advocating by women is seen as even more self-promoting, even more aggrandizing, than if a man were to display the exact same behavior. There is a social cost for the woman who promotes herself, most notably being “less liked” by both men and women. This can be detrimental, because being liked is a powerful tool of persuasion, whether it’s at work or at the neighborhood block party.

Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

At The Humphreys Group, our financial planning approach incorporates equal parts empathy and expertise, so women have permission to explore the non-numerical aspects of money. It’s safe to say that the financial services industry was built by and for men — and the institutions that created the status quo have excluded women from the narrative.

As an all-women-owned and -operated firm, we can relate to the women we serve and have faced the same challenges they do. We encourage them and provide exercises and a framework for self-reflection, all of which lead to self-knowledge and more self-confidence. This approach — along with providing step-by-step financial education and skill-building in the “technical” stuff — results in better financial outcomes for the women we work with, including recognizing and standing up for their own worth in the workplace.

We also recognize the coded patriarchy that has characterized the financial services industry for decades now. We can see and speak out about the fact that women have different preferences, perspectives and strengths when it comes to personal financial planning, compared to men. It’s in the data, and we see it all the time. Most importantly, we believe that women are already smart about money and that much of the often-written-about “confidence gap” (the idea that women feel less confident than men in their own abilities) is a result of an industry whose interests are furthered by things staying as they are. We help women recognize and embrace their innate strengths and then build their financial knowledge upon that foundation. With the tools and guidance we provide, the women we serve gain the confidence they need to know their own worth, know when it’s being undervalued and know how to advocate for themselves to create positive change in their own lives.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap? Please share a story or example for each.

1. To actually close the gender wage gap, we need to increase the national minimum wage to $15.00 per hour. The data tells us that the total number of hourly wage workers in the United States is split evenly between men and women — 50/50. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, women made up 63% of all workers being paid at or below minimum wage. Herein lies the disconnect. Increasing the minimum wage could be significant in lifting women and families out of poverty, boosting their earning power and setting them on track toward continued, and long-term, financial success.

2. We need to legislate equal pay. In the media and even in pop culture, we hear a lot about how women need to become better salary negotiators, how they need to become more courageous, and how they need to “just do more,” and do it better. The organization, Ladies Get Paid (which is great, check it out!), actually does a terrific job in helping women build skills to address these areas. But we also need to recognize that the issue takes deeper roots. A 2018 Harvard Business Review article outlines recent research showing that women ask for raises just as often as men do — but they are less likely to get them. With this impossible-to-ignore data, it seems that rather than changing ourselves, we need to change the system — and that starts with legislating equal pay laws.

3. Pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) — it’s about time. I remember the first time I became aware of the fight for the ERA. I was about 13-years-old, waiting for my piano lesson to begin. I sat across from a very cool teenage girl wearing an ERA/Wonder Woman t-shirt. Given how long ago that was, we’re long overdue to make this happen.

4. Recognize systemic and structural barriers for women in higher-paying industries. The original computer programmers were women — but over the years, they were systematically “weeded out” and replaced with the stereotypical, white-male “computer nerds” who get the high-paid data engineering and coding jobs. This is just one example of the many barriers to entry that have held women back throughout history, and still do today.

5. Challenge corporate CEO leadership. We’ve heard about the “pipeline” problem for years — and it’s just an excuse. When corporate CEOs are motivated to advocate for female candidates and lift them up the ladder, the pipeline problem disappears. Executive leaders simply need to decide to do it and prioritize it. We need more CEOs like Salesforce’s Mark Benioff, who has worked hard to eliminate the pipeline issue across his organization and has made equal pay practices a priority — to great success. Renowned actress Michelle Williams, who recently and publicly experienced an imbalance in pay, summed it up perfectly in her Emmy acceptance speech: “When you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value. And then where do they put that value? They put it into their work.” That gives me chills.

6. Talk about it! We need to start talking straightforwardly and transparently about compensation with our female friends, family and colleagues. At a legislative level, requiring the publication of salary data will also help reveal and remediate pay inequality across industries. In so many organizations, women don’t know how steep pay inequality is — and therefore, have no opportunities to address it — because it is all kept confidential. This needs to change.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My personal and professional calling is to flip the narrative about women and money. Bust the myths. See the role of coded patriarchy in our financial services paradigm — and take steps to make the industry more accessible to marginalized groups, including but beyond women. Together with my colleague, Hallie Kraus, I wrote a book on the topic, which I hope ignites conversations within our space about the problematic stereotypes that have held women back, and I hope it empowers women to harness the strengths and confidence they already possess, in finance and beyond.

I also want my peers in the financial services industry to recognize that expertise and empathy have roles to play in personal financial management. Anyone who focuses on one at the expense of the other is presenting a false choice and doing a disservice to their client’s own, lived experience. It’s not all about rates of portfolio return, or a person’s net worth. We’ve seen that embracing the emotional side and having pivotal conversations about how it fits into our lives can lead to better financial outcomes.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.” I often repeated this to my daughter as she grew up, and I frequently repeat it to my staff. Asking for help can make us feel vulnerable and exposed — but I believe that “showing up” in this way builds trust in our relationships, both business and personal. On an individual level, it allows us to let our guard down, and gives others permission to do so themselves, which deepens our connection with the people who play a role in our everyday lives. On a practical level, if you don’t ask for help, you may get stuck, you may go down the wrong path, or you may lack the clarity and confidence to move forward.

One of my other, favorite “life lesson” quotes comes from Louis Pasteur, who said: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” As a financial planner, I have been trained to keep a forward-looking mindset and have seen countless examples of how preparation — and having a vision — helps us attain the outcomes we desire for our lives, both financial and otherwise.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them.

So many incredible and inspiring women come to mind, but here are my top six:

Abby Wambach and her wife, Glennon Doyle: I have read and been moved by their respective books: “Wolfpack” and “Love Warrior.” Abby’s concept of “The Wolfpack,” and the way in which she has championed it, has had a direct impact on our work at The Humphreys Group, particularly in our conversations with other women in the financial services industry. Glennon’s memoir has inspired me greatly, with its incredible honesty, vulnerability, humor, grit and grace.

Michelle Obama: After reading her memoir, “Becoming,” and seeing her on tour, I just want Michelle to be my friend, like everyone else.

Reese Witherspoon: At Glamour’s 2015 Women of the Year Awards, Reese gave a moving speech and proclaimed that “ambition is not a dirty word” — I admired and was so inspired by that declaration. She is also an avid reader (like me!), tirelessly champions women and is not afraid of her own power.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Sonia Sotomayor: I am in awe of both of these women, and I admire and respect them greatly for their intellect and leadership.

Thank you so much for all of these great insights!

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