Keeping our biases in check

Dorie Fain
Dorie Fain is the founder and CEO of &Wealth, a boutique financial advisory firm dedicated to helping women who are recreating their lives, with offices in New York City and Baltimore.

Published 4/7/2017 in The Maryland Daily Record 

A client of many years recently pointed out to my staff that an email confirmation she received from my office regarding the completion of a money transfer is the first of this type of communication she had ever received.

This shocked me, because of all firms we certainly have a laser focus on including women as equal and active participants in the financial process. In my mind, I incorrectly assumed that after her husband notified us of his intention to transfer funds into their investment account, that he also notified his wife. This was very naive on my part, knowing the pace at which he operates as the CEO of a large organization. The time they spend together is valuable, and most likely this type of business isn’t high on the list of topics they discuss when they catch up with each other.

A friend of mine is in the process of building a new house. She and her husband met with the owner and lead architect of the contracting firm they hired to draw up the plans. They spent a good amount of time explaining that one primary reason they are moving and building this new house is that my friend needs a real home office that is more functional than what is possible in their current home. Her husband never works from home, so this is a key feature that matters to my friend. They talked through the various possibilities with the new space. When they received the first draft of the plans, the architect had drawn up a concept where there was a spacious office in the front of the house overlooking the front lawn with windows all around labeled “HIS” and a small windowless room off the kitchen next to the laundry room titled “HERS.” I’m not sure who was more furious, my friend or her husband, but the bigger shock to me is that this architect is a woman.

An accountant who works with a mutual client of ours recently went out of his way to set up a very complicated system to help our client handle her quarterly estimated tax payments. He felt that it would be too difficult for her to remember to make these payments each quarter. I reminded him that despite going through a difficult divorce, which takes a toll on anyone, she has successfully raised three children and managed to get them wherever they needed to be. I felt confident that when provided the information she needed, she was fully capable of meeting these payment deadlines. She doesn’t need to have her bills paid for her, she simply needs to be educated about the process.

Another woman I know was shopping venues for her son’s bar mitzvah. A single mother of many years, she hasn’t had her kid’s father in the picture for some time. So, we can all imagine how she felt when she went to one venue ready to provide a deposit only to be asked when her husband would be joining the meeting to sign the contract. She informed the sales person that there no husband would be coming; the response was to ask who would be responsible if she doesn’t have a husband.

Another client is in the midst of an emotional divorce process and finally had the energy and courage to go purchase a new car. She was well-equipped with all the specs for the car she wanted to buy. She had done her research and with much trepidation had been told by her husband’s attorney that the car purchase was OK. Upon arriving at the car dealer, the salesman wouldn’t let her test drive the new car until he was satisfied she had the money to pay for the vehicle. He insisted that if her husband couldn’t join them at that moment, they would need to speak with him on the phone to confirm her financial ability to pay. She was speechless, and the salesman lost the sale despite our client’s ability to pay all cash that day.

The moral of these stories is that even with the very best of intentions, we all have biases and ingrained expectations about roles and patterns for ourselves and those around us. As a passionate advocate for women, even I need to be conscientious and diligent about the deep-seated ideas I have about gender roles. I am aware that many of these messages were learned when I was a little girl and it will take continued mindfulness and effort to keep these important values front and center.

Dorie Fain, founder and CEO of &Wealth