What a disappointing start to the morning.
You all know I’m loud with my #financialfeminism drum.
— Harriet Allner (@TheScribbleBug) May 22, 2019
The belief in the financial equality of women.
The effort to drive a conversation about women and our relationship with money – our investing, spending, saving, earning and negotiating.
The ambition to close the pay gap, the pension gap, the debt gap, the confidence gap. To see more women investing (because we’re statistically more successful at it than men anyway). To have more women buying their own homes, securing higher salaries, being spoken to as equals in financial dealings with banks, brokers, advisors and so on.
It’s a drum I have had the pleasure and honour to bang on about over the last few years – working with incredible CEOs and creatives, writers and technologists, founders and activists. All of whom have been women on a mission to make money equal.
So when I saw Stylist Magazine’s cover page promoting a new, joint campaign with NatWest Bank apologising for ‘using sexist imagery and language for the last few decades’, I was obviously intrigued.
From research conducted by Starling Bank in 2018 (which, full disclosure, I worked on at Common Industry), we know that the way men and women are spoken to about money is incredibly different. Laden with negative and misleading stereotypes, the language used to talk about finance suggests men make money and women spend it, that women are frivolous and men are only “Real Men TM” if they’re financially winning. Thrifty-splurger tropes proliferate in women’s media. Fear propositions are abundant in men’s magazines. There is a definitive split between the language of finance for men and the language of money for women.
The idea that NatWest could be endeavouring to take steps and follow in the footsteps of brands like Starling Bank and Ellevest – to maybe even push it further – felt exciting.
But – as you may know – disappointment was the order of the day.
For those who missed it, the campaign and launch of ‘A Woman’s Worth’ kickstarted on Wednesday 22nd May 2019. At tube stations around London, men dressed as Mary Poppins style bankers with plummy accents handed out copies of Stylist Magazine, complete with a so-called ‘apology letter’ addressed ‘to all women’. This was where the trouble began.
As I wrote on Twitter, on the surface the campaign looks and sounds like a good idea. But blink and you’ll notice the inherently sexist stereotypes at work in the imagery, language, presentation, and strategy.
First, the cover of Stylist became a bouquet of flowers made out of money. This imagery alludes to guilt flowers – the antiquated tradition of men buying a bouquet to appease their missus when they’ve done something wrong that she doesn’t know about (particularly cheating). Below sits the note, an apology, just to make the symbolism even stronger. And of course it’s followed up inside with longer “message to all women” in which a male first-person voice apologises for having ‘patronised [women], ignored [women], talked to [the] husbands, fathers and brothers instead of [women]’. It is signed off: ‘Mr Banker’, the eponymous ‘hero’ of this campaign.
Let’s pick that letter apart shall we?
There are three clear issues:
One: By writing from the perspective of Mr Banker, the campaign prioritise his experience and voice over that of women. It emphasises an ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude that is as outdated and damaging today as ever.
Two: By prioritising the voice of a man, the campaign falls immediately back into the tradition of mansplaining finance to women. Women have campaigned for equality when it comes to money (Equal Pay Day anyone) for decades. We do not need a man – fictional or otherwise – to tell us we deserve to be spoken to as equals or paid as equals.
Three: Taking accountability for their own sexist and outdated practices would be nice. It wasn’t so long ago that reports of staff telling women they should have taken their husbands names. But we all know what an apologist narrative looks like, and this is one. You cannot buy your way out of history. Especially not with a marketing campaign.
Because it is a marketing campaign.
For all the talk of their pledge for change (a nice piece of puff in itself), it comes down to customer acquisition and market research.
And I think that’s part of why so many people are so up in arms about it.
The Woman’s Worth Collective is a website run by a market research company QuMind. Moreover, for several women, myself included, who were interested in joining the initiative (because even if we think the execution is appalling we still understand the value of this conversation), it turned out we couldn’t join because our profiles didn’t match the criteria they were looking for: namely a willingness to take part in prize draws and receive marketing emails.
Moreover, the cited research behind the Collective skews the data quite significantly. Yes, 83% of women feel banks don’t make products easy to understand. But the same survey found that 79% of men felt the same. The negligible difference here suggests that banks perhaps just need to cut the jargon for everyone – speak to everyone differently – rather than just women. No wonder the responses rolled in with women frustrated by the condescending letter and approach.
Not only does it not feel like this is a space NatWest can credibly own (especially when they try to claim to be the bold new leaders of this conversation as if no woman or female-led financial brand has ever called the problem out before) but there is also a sense of thinness to what little authenticity it has because of this focus on marketing. Like the Pledge in the back of Stylist, which accentuates how NatWest is really just trying to appeal to female customers, the flimsy promise ‘to change’ ensures that even the most admirable of intentions feels like woke-washing rather than truly cause-led mission.
Saying all this I want to emphasise that it is the execution rather than the intention or the cause that I want to call out here.
We need to talk about money.
We need to talk about finance and women.
We need to talk about the systemic problems built into our banking and financial products as well as the language used to talk to men and women about money.
What we don’t need is for this issue to be used to empower the same antiquated ideas of the past. I believe in financial feminism. I believe the teams at Stylist and Natwest do too.
But it’s time that we all did better than this.
The intention is admirable, the execution not so much. Have an apology from the real CEO, not a made-up caricature, & feature real women owning personal finance. Make it less “us” & “you”: women aren’t a strange alien species. And fewer exclamation marks on the cover!!!!!!!!! https://t.co/oTA0HnzemI
— Iona Bain (@ionayoungmoney) May 23, 2019
Feminism isn’t saying “hey look I’m doing something to acknowledge women, pat me on the back.” It’s actually just treating women like equals because you’re not garbage and are respectful to all human beings. You don’t get a pat on the back for pledging to do the bare minimum. https://t.co/jDPHAdwqkD
— Leslie (@flashstick) May 23, 2019
Nothing like a bit of woke-washing (in a lovely hue of financial feminism) to “refresh your brand” and reach a “new demographic.” It is possible promote financial feminism without being patronizing, but these specimens miss the mark. Do better.
— Nina Mohanty (@ninamohanty) May 22, 2019
FOR MORE ABOUT MONEY AND FINANCIAL FEMINISM HERE ARE SOME GREAT ARTICLES:
The Silent Rise of the Female Driven Economy by Danielle Kayemby – this is a brilliant look at how women are the largest disruptive force in business – not least because of our purchase power.
The feminist guide to finance by Alex Holder – Alex’s book “Open Up” is a MUST read but if you need proof, here one of many fab articles by her on taking control of your money.
What does it mean to be a financial feminist? by Deena Drewis – This article was actually the first time I saw the phrase financial feminism written down. A smart little summary of what it is and why women need it, add it to your bookmarks ASAP.
Just Buy the F***ing Latte by Sallie Krawcheck – Written by one of the most astute and compelling spokespeople on closing the investment gap (as well as the founder of Ellevest), this article really digs into not only why we need to change the narrative around money but *HOW*.