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Kelley M. Butler May 16, 2013 3 min read

On women and retirement planning: Employers have to "Lean In," too

Over the course of my career, I’ve collected no small amount of stories from others—not to mention quite a few of my own—about the small, but pointed, biases women have been subjected to when trying to make financial transactions or decisions.

Like one coworker who went with his wife to purchase a new minivan for their family, only to encounter a salesman at the dealership who addressed all of his comments to the man, rather than to his wife, who’d be the primary driver of the vehicle.

Like the two executive women who together run a multimillion-dollar business and who, when scoping out prospective office spaces, were ignored by the realtor showing the property. Rather, all of the realtor’s questions and selling points regarding the property’s attributes were addressed to a man—one not even affiliated with the company but who was just there as a guest.

Or like a friend who went with her husband to visit a financial advisor but found herself shut out of the conversation when all the advisor’s questions about the couple’s finances were directed toward her husband. He never even looked her in the eye, she said.

If these are the experiences that women—high-profile, highly accomplished ones, mind you—have when making financial engagements, can you imagine how difficult it must be to navigate the financially driven world of retirement planning? If a financial advisor won’t even make eye contact with her, looking past her for her husband, how can a woman be confident that interacting with her employer or retirement plan will be any different? How can she be empowered—no matter what her level of financial savvy—to use her retirement benefits wisely, in her own and her family’s best interests?

This is a question that demands answering, as new survey results from Working Mother magazine show that not only are women responsible for nearly three-quarters of all household spending, they’re also managing family finances. In fact, 59% of working moms say they are their family’s sole CFO.

Among their financial goals? More than half (56%) plan to save more than last year, with 24% specifically citing retirement savings; 36% plan to save for their children’s college education.

Cue the record scratch.

Working women are placing their children’s education ahead of their own future financial security. Do you imagine the results would be the same if working men/fathers were asked about their financial goals?

This is where targeted, personalized and customized benefits communications play a huge role. Does your company do this? Do you specifically educate female employees about your retirement benefits? Are your communications customized based on their different life stages, marital/family status and socioeconomic levels? If this type of segmented outreach isn’t something your benefits department has considered, you should—and soon.

No doubt, this is hard work. As you outline your benefits priorities for the year ahead, health care reform and other communications related to health benefits notices and changes almost surely take up the top slots on your list.

In a way, it makes sense. Health care—whether through routine doctor’s visits, an unforeseen medical emergency, regular premium deductions or a workplace wellness challenge—is something that affects you (and your employees) in the here and now. As Americans, we’re culturally conditioned to address our wants now in lieu of our goals for the future.

Retirement—some 60 to 70 years from now for the youngest employees—is a planning and saving pursuit we think we can put off until later because we have so much time to prepare. So, put it off we do.

And because employees are putting it off, perhaps you too are delaying that retirement communications campaign you’ve been meaning to launch. However, the time is now—for all of us but especially for working women.

Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook wrote a best-selling book encouraging working women to “lean in.” When it comes to retirement communications, employers need to do some leaning in of their own.

But it’s not just employers. Congressional leaders can and should do their part to “lean in” to improve retirement readiness for both genders. To nudge them in the right direction, Benz Founder and CEO Jennifer Benz will testify before the ERISA Advisory Council on June 6th about the current barriers to retirement readiness and steps to improve employees’ financial security. We’re looking for stories for her to share with lawmakers on this important national topic. Got something you want the committee to hear? Share it here!

Editorial Director