Written by Brigette Schoenung
Financial freedom is a key element of self-determination, especially for women, but research demonstrates that women are not only less comfortable than men discussing economics and money, but are still often excluded from finance, both personally and professionally. Rhiannon Traill, Owner, President, and CEO of the Economic Club of Canada, sounds off on the unique financial challenges facing women today, and how a healthy relationship with money is an essential element of a balanced life.
“I watched my mother struggling throughout my life and working so hard…and so I grew up not wanting to have to worry about money,”, says Traill. The daughter of a single mother who worked multiple jobs trying to make ends meet, Traill recalls starting a dog-walking business at the age of ten for pocket money: “Going and getting a slice of pizza. I know it sounds small but if you don’t have that, it’s trying to figure out how you can have that.” Rhiannon Traill’s early life was instrumental to her goal of creating a healthy relationship with money.
Currently, she is not only Owner, President and CEO of the Economic Club of Canada, the Jr. Economic Club of Canada, and founder of the Annual Voice of Hope Awards in Ottawa — recognizing outstanding humanitarians who have dedicated their lives to the equality of women and children around the globe — but has also been named one of most accomplished business influencers in Canada. While Traill has certainly succeeded in her goal, she still considers her financial journey to be a work in progress.
A Solid Start
Being a top economist and a woman makes Rhiannon Traill an anomaly from the start, as women are largely absent from the upper echelons of the financial industry. According to Traill, part of the explanation rests with the difference in the way boys and girls are spoken to not only about money, but also about math and science. Statistics show girls trail behind boys in registering for STEM classes.
Traill addresses the disconnect between girls and economics: “Even when it comes to math — let’s just take money out of the equation — I think there is a real issue where lots of young girls and women are told ‘math isn’t for everyone’. And it’s sort of okay. But you wouldn’t say that about reading.” She believes building women’s financial confidence starts with our earliest education about money, and flipping the script for a new generation, by inspiring more girls to get interested in economics at a young age.
With her own children, Traill turns trips to the grocery store and toy store into a game in which they estimate cost. Though her children are young, they can understand that prices add up and that nothing is free.
Gender and Money
Even if many women weren’t educated about personal finance early on, it’s not too late to form a healthy relationship with money.
According to Traill, an important thing women can do is examine their emotional relationship with money, from questioning spending habits, to being comfortable asking questions.
For many women, earning their own money for the first time means acquiring status items that prove they deserve to be in the executive suite.
Traill says, “For me, growing up the way I did, when I was making my own money, I wanted to spend it because I felt as though I needed to look the part. As women, we tend to put more weight on what we own and are pressured to focus on our appearance, and so instead of thinking about investing in a strong portfolio, or in our savings, we often spend a lot of what we have on what is outside of us, and so I think the first thing is examining where we’re drawing our self-worth from. If we want a healthy relationship with money, we have to have a healthy relationship with ourselves. The second thing is not being afraid to ask questions.”
Traill stresses the importance of asking for help from friends and pros who have more financial expertise.
Expecting the Unexpected
As caregivers, financial burdens that arise from unexpected emergencies often fall on women, and even the most cautious planner cannot anticipate the financial setbacks resulting from situations like sudden illness, death or divorce. Though we don’t know what will happen, we do know something will happen, and Traill encourages women to expect the unexpected.
She advises, “I think our whole life is made up of a series of highs and lows and it’s this whole idea that we want to build something financially that can crash. We want to build something that can go off the path for a second and still be able to course correct.”
Traill herself has dealt with many of the same issues facing millions of women today, from the challenges of marriage, motherhood and divorce, to sudden illness, all of which can threaten financial solvency. She explains, “My husband and the father of my children was diagnosed with leukemia and this was back when we had just first purchased our very first home. We were then trying to balance how that was going to work with all the expenses of the treatment plan that he needed.” Everyone goes through financial “dark periods”, but Traill wants women to know a financial setback does not have to define their entire life.
Traill stresses the importance of being surrounded by a tribe, including financial advisors who share similar goals, as well as spending time, rather than money, with children.
“I would just say to women out there that our relationships with our loved ones, our relationship with our children, our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with food and health, and our relationship with money, are all interconnected and so, when we are diving in to do the work of trying to find balance, money is a part of it. I am on that journey right now…and it’s not always easy, but there’s a beautiful seed of truth in it.”
Brigette Schoenung is a freelance writer who specializes in topics of concern to women; she has an MA in the history of French feminism. Her work has appeared online and in print can be found on Buzzfeed and Medium. She is also a screenwriter and a novelist.