Josh Appel on Unsplash

Wait, this is not an article on gender-based financial stereotypes. The motivation for it stems from my observation of women who do happen to make short-sighted financial decisions in their relationship, and by my quest to look for answers.
During my research, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline Bell, Managing Director of FinMarie, and Jamie Lee, negotiation coach for women, two amazing professionals whose work I truly admire.

 

I work with conflict, and when I work with relationship conflict between men and women, money often plays a role. I have observed a recurring pattern of financial power imbalance between men and women, which surprises me because I thought that we had already broken down many barriers. How come women sometimes recreate in their relationship the inequality they fight against in the workplace?

A recipe for disaster

While the majority of women I get to work with in mediation or coaching don’t give up their career altogether when they marry or have children, I do see many who reduce their power to stand up for themselves and be 100% involved in the discussion of finances.

This happens in many ways, for example:

  • Delegating all financial decisions to their spouse
  • Surrendering control over their savings in the unquestioned assumption that it’s true love only if all assets are shared
  • Failing to raise the topic of estate planning for fear of upsetting their partner or coming off as greedy

These decisions can make women poorer because they affect their ability to face the unprecedented turns of life. It hurts to see women who don’t dare to exit a toxic relationship because they would face ruin if they left, or women who thought marriage meant being set up for life and are left with very little by their divorcing husbands. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Old attitudes die hard

For centuries, women have been taught to put the needs of others above their own. Could it be that this unspoken norm is still ingrained in our subconscious?

I have asked Caroline Bell, who has been giving financial advice and dealing with couples for 27 years and is now Managing Director of FinMarie, an online financial platform for women. Caroline doesn’t believe that there are gender-based differences in financial decision-making and that it’s rather a matter of personality. What Caroline has noticed many times, though, is that smart, intelligent women sometimes make not-so-smart financial decisions for the benefit of the relationship, especially when they are the main income earner. Societal expectations are (“more in Europe than in Australia,” Caroline adds) that the man is still supposed to be the provider for the family, and women who earn more sometimes willingly surrender control over their assets for fear that a power imbalance would make their partner look bad. 

Long-term consequences of limiting beliefs

Even though not all women are the same, I do believe that the shadow of these outdated gender roles might have contributed to shaping some women’s limiting beliefs about gender and money.

I have asked Jamie Lee, a leadership and negotiation coach for professional women in
male-dominated industries. Jamie firmly believes that it is our thoughts, not our gender, that determine our decisions. How we think about money and our ability to create wealth will inform our actions. Actions that are born out of limiting beliefs about money and gender may have far-reaching consequences, such as never daring to negotiate one’s salary, failing to manage one’s income properly or having one’s spouse take care of all things financial.

Jamie points out that, in order to overcome unconscious negative biases, women should be willing to do the “hard” work, that is educating themselves on finance and budgeting, getting involved in the discussion of finance and offering their thoughts and perspective.

Her message to women: “We can make money. We can appreciate money. Money is not scary, scarce or hard. Money can be easy and fun.”

A matter of choice

It sure does take work and consistency to become financially literate and I’m convinced that acquiring this knowledge is extremely important in order to share equal responsibility in a relationship.

As Caroline Bell puts it, “Be financially independent! Never be dependent on someone else for your finances because that means you’re giving up control over your future.”

Discussing money with your partner can come with some friction and it is advisable not to turn a blind eye for the sake of avoiding an argument.

Your financial well-being and stability depend on the choices you make every day, so don’t be afraid to choose wisely, and never neglect the big picture.

 

Would you like to know more about how you can discuss this topic in the relationship? I’d love to hear from you!

When we think about moving abroad, usually “language barriers” and “culture shock” first come to mind. Here are some less obvious aspects worth taking into consideration and how to tackle them.

A friend of mine asked on social media this morning how long it takes to get to know a new country.

In my opinion, it depends on your goals: if you aspire to have the lifestyle of a digital nomad or if you change countries every few years and live in an „expat bubble” with a global job, I believe you can adjust quite quickly to any new environment.

On the other hand, if your goal is to resettle more permanently abroad and integrate into a new country and society, the adjustment will take longer and will involve challenges as diverse as:

  • mastering the language to a level that you can work with the locals in their language
  • understanding the tax system and how it affects international pension plans
  • having a taste of how foreign individuals are seen in the country you have settled in

and many more.

Questions to guide you

I have now spent (voluntarily!) almost half of my adult life in a country different than my native one. As in all relationships, the relationship with my chosen home has gone through various stages: after the initial “honeymoon”, where everything seemed better, easier and more efficient than in the country where I grew up, now I have a more “mature” relationship with the place I’ve been calling home for twenty years: I appreciate its qualities and I am aware of its imperfections.

My chosen home and I have also gone through various conflicts that have weighed on our relationship and that I have managed to resolve by asking myself questions about issues that went far beyond the decisions of everyday life.

Here are some ideas for reflection on less discussed and yet very pressing topics:

How important is status to you?

Status – as long as we have it, we take it for granted. As soon as we lose it, we realize how the perception others have of us might differ from our self-image.

Maybe when you moved, you didn’t consider what reputation your country of origin enjoys in your chosen country and now you find yourself wondering why you have to dismantle stereotypes that you didn’t even know existed!

Establishing a solid reputation can be challenging when you start from scratch, especially as an “outsider”.

You might consider losing temporarily some of the privileges you were used to and equipping yourself not only with the self-confidence to overcome rejection and prejudice but also with the will to consistently consolidate your strengths and add to your skills.

How strong is your appetite for risk?

I assume that people don’t overthink the long-term consequences of their actions in their twenties – I most certainly didn’t!

Yet, when I found myself facing some major life choices, I realized that living abroad had tax implications I could not foresee when I was younger. During the past twenty years of globalization, it has become increasingly normal for people to develop a transnational biography, however, national fiscal regulations have not developed at the same speed and are not designed to accommodate the needs of international individuals. Penalizing tax regulations might affect you and you need to educate yourself and gain specific knowledge to make informed choices and avoid disasters.

What are your fundamental values?

Values are like a compass for decision-making. I found, time and again, that having a clear set of values and acting accordingly is the best help for navigating difficult times.

It is interesting, for example, to see the multiple implications that the importance given to family relationships may have.

When I decided to embark on my new life abroad, I didn’t think much about the logistics of how I would care for my aging parents – as most young people do, I thought they’d stay young forever! Years later, when faced with reality, I discovered the importance of cultivating strong family bonds and rejected an opportunity in a country further away just to be able to live at direct fly distance to my previous home.

Family is just an example of how values will shape our choices and I find it to be particularly interesting when moving abroad because of the unimagined consequences it may have.

Exploring all of this means getting to know a country way below the surface and getting to know yourself at a deeper level. I find it a very rewarding experience and one which stretches my resilience muscles, even after so many years.

What are you discovering in your journey?

Four weeks have passed since I completed my cross border family mediation training at MiKK e.V. and I feel it’s time to share a few thoughts.

When a group of people from 11 countries with different background and different level of experience meet to co-mediate, chances are that it will be challenging to find common grounds. It is from this very challenge that I got the most important learnings.

First: Interdisciplinarity is extremly enriching and it is worth taking some time to become well attuned to one another.

Mediators usually come in very different flavours: Some are lawyers, some have had a career in more than one arena before discovering mediation as the unifying profession for their unique set of skills.

The intensity of such influences (or conditioning?!) entails the danger of bias but also the gift of variety and impacts the relationship with your co-mediatior: While you can be irritated by your co-mediatior not opening up enough space for addressing feelings, one moment later you can be delighted by their ability to get the conversation back on track.

How can you become attuned to a co-mediator you haven’t worked with before? I found that a well-thought-out feedback is a powerful way of getting to know each other and I wish I had taken more time to cultivate it.

I have noticed a shift in the way we have given each other feedback. After the very first sessions it was more confrontational: „No, we in country X just don’t do that in mediation!“. After a week together I felt it was more driven by sincere curiosity. Something like: „Look, I’ve been trained to do this in order to achieve that, what is your experience?“.

We have learnt to find common grounds, yet I felt that feedback was limited to assessing which degree of difference in style we would tolerate.

I think that, in order to enable personal growth, feedback needs to address specifically the work we have just done together in the session rather than evaluating one’s style in general. Being very honest, specific and clear (without nagging) while at the same time being helpful and showing that you care requires candor and kindness. In Germany we call it „Fingerspitzgefühl“.

Next time I will contribute more to creating an environment that encourages feedback in a candid, yet kind way.

It is always a pleasure to listen to Joe Lambert. A couple of weeks ago I attended a webinar from Storycenter on Digital Storytelling in Education. Since we are developing a Digital Storytelling workshop format for conflict resolution it was especially interesting to me to see how this concept can be applied in various contexts and what lessons can be learned.

The process of storytelling can have a powerful emotional impact in the daily lives of learners because it supports them developing a perspective around a subject, it promotes meaning and can bring clarity to understand complex topics.

I see many parallels to the role of storytelling in dealing with conflicts: The very process of unpacking one’s story and being heard helps reduce complexity and focus on each other’s needs.

If we think of Digital Storytelling as a way of documenting the transformation of a conflict, then digital stories become markers in the process. And since a digital story depicts the situation as it is perceived at the time the digital story is created, it fits perfectly as the starting point for a good conversation that leads to deeper mutual understanding.