As a woman who's worked in finance for more than 25 years, Kristen Kimmell knows all too well what it's like to be the only female in the room. For a long time, she didn't fully understand what was behind the gender imbalance.
Then she had daughters.
“It starts at an early age that it's not cool to be good at math," says Kimmell, head of advisor recruiting and field marketing at RBC Wealth Management-U.S., explaining how she watched one of her daughters, who was particularly strong in math, start to downplay her abilities as she progressed in school. “And that's concerning."
It's concerning, she says, not only because these stereotypes limit a girls' career opportunities, but because they stand in the way of girls become financially savvy and confident women.
Research shows girls' confidence in math begins to plummet as early as age nine, according to Rock the Street, Wall Street, a financial and investment literacy program that teaches and empowers high-school girls. That's despite the fact girls' test scores equal those of their male classmates. Meanwhile, two out of three grown women say they know “little to nothing" about finance.
“I want to do some myth busting to raise girls who are confident they have the skills, and they're ready to seek the knowledge and guidance they need around money," Kimmell says.
Here are five steps you can take to raise financially confident girls:
1. Talk openly about finances
Busting old myths about men being in charge of finances begins at home. “It's important to allow for open conversations in homes with kids," Kimmell says. “Let's take away the taboo of talking about finances and let it be a normal, healthy conversation."
Parents can start by examining their own beliefs and habits about money, including subtle messaging and beliefs around gender roles and financial power.
Research shows that dads speak to their sons about investing, but not to their daughters, says Rock the Street, Wall Street founder Maura Cunningham. “It's like sex education, but worse, because nobody's talking about it," Cunningham says.
2. Teach budgeting basics
Kids in elementary school can learn about spending versus saving if you make it fun and visual. This can be as simple as labeling clear jars for spending, saving and giving. Seeing into the jars helps them see their progress, as well as gaps, once they decide to spend.
Though it may feel old school, there's value in teaching older girls to keep track of their earnings and spending on a spreadsheet, Kimmell says. It helps give a clear visual and a deeper understanding of exactly where their money goes.
3. Introduce healthy money habits early
Just like creating healthy eating habits early, it's important to create healthy financial habits early. Kimmell gives the example of a woman whose parents taught her in childhood to take 20 percent from every earning and put it into a savings account. By the time the girl got to college, she had a healthy savings account—with more money than any of her peers. This allowed her financial flexibility at a young age and the ability to travel for three months after school. Once this woman began full-time work in her twenties, she had the makings of a life-long habit, automatically taking 20 percent from each paycheck and investing or saving it, Kimmell says. This hypothetical woman learned at a young age the benefits of saving, and carried that valuable skill into adulthood.
Similarly, start teaching basic investing as early as age seven or eight, Cunningham says. Give her the chance to choose two companies she knows—like Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme, or Google and Apple, for example—to help make the lesson relevant. Then follow her stocks weekly or monthly. "The price moves give you an idea of what's happening to the company, but also the market as a whole," Cunningham says.
4. Get creative with money lessons
When Kimmell's girls were in high school, she started savings accounts for each and introduced a “match program." For every dollar her daughters chose to save from their babysitting or other jobs, Kimmell matched. Though they couldn't touch the money until college, they saw how it added up.
Once her girls were grown and entered the workforce, they immediately understood the idea and impact of a 401(k) employer match program. “Without sitting them down and saying `here's the power of compounding,' they already understood the concept," Kimmell says.
5. Sign her up for a financial literacy class
Ideally, high schools would require budgeting classes and the basics of banking, Kimmell says. Most schools don't, however. If they're offered as electives, urge your students to sign up. “We have to pump in a healthy dose of confidence into these girls about their ability to manage money," she says. “What better place to do that than in schools?"
Unfortunately, 80 percent of teachers report they don't feel confident enough to teach financial literacy, Cunningham says. She combats that with Rock the Street, Wall Street, which serves high-school girls in 15 states. Cunningham says girls bloom with confidence around math and finance by the end of their program.
“We have to get the word out that (finance) is a good profession. We can change the world," Cunningham says. “If (girls) really want to change the world, they have to know how money works so they can get a seat at the table of the board they want to be on."