When I used to think of the stock market, I instinctively thought of phrases like “high risks,” “millions of dollars,” and finally, “male-dominated.” For most girls, investing evokes the idea of a male-driven industry, and they are, in large part, correct. The stock market, something that seems so universal with its availability to the public, sees a lack of female participation even now. According to a Money Crashers survey, 59 percent of men preferred to manage their own investments, compared to just 34 percent of women. Even though studies show women investors consistently outperform men in the long term, women do not invest enough. And with the push for more young girls to get interested in STEM studies, finance seems to be left behind.
My experience with the stock market is like that of many young women: confusing. Starting by investing a little bit of money into the market, I was baffled by how it all worked. No one had taught me what the stock market was or encouraged me to be interested in it, so it all seemed like a foreign language played out in strange words like options, derivatives and earnings ratios. Investing for me felt very different than investing for my male classmates, who described it as something they had known about and were interested in since they were young, as opposed to my female friends who didn’t have much knowledge of the market.
Nghi (Sophie) On, a junior in high school and a member of its stock market club, has also seen and felt the lack of accessibility in the stock market for girls. “It feels like a boys’ club. When I think of someone who invests in the stock market, I think of an old white man, not a young woman. Growing up, while I was encouraged to be interested in STEM studies, I found that I was not encouraged to get into finance, and it seemed to be something that only the guys were doing. It wasn’t something many girls were getting involved in.” On’s high school’s stock market club is currently 92 percent male. This male dominance makes pursuing careers in finance a challenge for young girls. On states, “The environment feels isolating if you aren’t a male.”
This discomfort young girls feel in terms of investing is an echo of the traditional gender roles that are assigned to us from a young age. When asked about her thoughts on why women do not invest more, Cathryn Riedel, a high school junior, said, “Historically, men were always the controllers of wealth in the household, and women were not allowed to get involved in their financial affairs. This translates to women having less financial confidence in our society today.” Men controlled wealth throughout most of our past, and we are still seeing them control wealth now. This long history of women being less involved in their finances is something that is important and needs to be addressed. If women are less financially literate, they will be less likely to invest in the stock market and be less confident in their investments as opposed to men, who have been taught and encouraged to be financially confident in their decisions.
How do we solve this inequity? Representation and encouragement are key to driving progress. Young girls need to be shown the possibilities of the stock market just as much as their male counterparts, which in turn could help girls gain confidence in their financial abilities. Exposure from a young age is important to take away the elusiveness the market seems to hold for many girls. As On states, “If we start to encourage boys and girls equally from a young age, then we can close the gap between the genders before it even starts to be established.”
Pursuing a profession in finance is something that often can feel intimidating for young girls. “There aren’t many female role models to look to in the stock market,” On says. “Girls can’t picture themselves in the field.” Young girls need to see more females driving the stock market so investing becomes less daunting and more inclusive. In a study by KPMG, 86 percent of women stated that when they see more women leaders, they are more likely to believe they can get there too.
Financial freedom equals power and equity, which needs to be developed over time. While it’s never too late to start investing, beginning early allows more young women to build confidence to take charge of their financial security and prosperity. This long history of women being less involved in their finances is something that we, the future leaders, should make a priority to change.
Paige McCullough is a rising senior at Dwight-Englewood School in New Jersey and a board member at Être, a program that offers mentorship to middle school- through college-aged girls and women.