Gender differences abound in almost every sector in life, from what type of soap to buy to how to shop for clothes, to who holds the remote. Not surprisingly, there are gender differences in the way we respond to financial services and our expectations of those providing those services.
Men and women alike understand the need for long term planning and financial security. Recent media coverage about the inadequacy of Social Security, the uncertainty of the stock market and issues related to longevity have fueled a common concern among people to plan for the future and it's financial implications-regardless of gender. Women, however, may not be signing on to the workplace retirement plan as readily as men for a number of reasons and with some serious long-term financial consequences.
First, women have a different buying process than men. Just like in relationships, they require some "warm up" time. Many times, a woman will purchase a product or a service based first on a whether or not they trust the provider. After that, they will gather information and then move forward with the plan. With this in mind, your female employees may respond better to plan sponsors and their representatives who show a genuine interest in what is important to them and then take the time to explain how enrollment can fit with their priorities. Are your retirement plan sponsors taking time with each of your employees, discussing what their financial priorities are and taking time to answer their questions, or are they there to sign as many people up in as short a time as possible and leave?
Secondly, women do not necessarily view the accumulation of money as a goal in itself; rather they look to money as a means of providing them with security, independence, freedom and the ability to leave a legacy. With this in mind, are the presentations about the retirement plan technical, with a lot of emphasis on returns and performance? Or do your retirement plan representatives encourage participation by showing how the systematic accumulation of money can insure against dependency, poverty and not being able to leave a legacy or enjoy a worry-free transition to the second or third phases of life-working or not?
Thirdly, women like to be educated. Remember that women will do their homework before deciding on a purchase. Learning a new subject, however, can be overwhelming and fraught with emotion. Many women are already trying to meet the demands of their job, provide for their families and manage the other details of their personal lives; having to learn a new subject can sometimes be too much. As a result, the enrollment material goes neglected, the deadline is missed, and an employee misses out on an important benefit and the perks that go with it-especially if there was an employer match involved. A simple, relevant and patiently done presentation about the benefits of enrollment will go a long way• especially if there is time allowed for questions and answers or for people to think about it and sign up at a later, specified date.
If your company works with a retirement plan provider, request regular, periodic enrollment meetings-with some patient hand-holding. You may also discuss how your HR department can assist your employees with enrollment (all without providing investment advice) so that the whole affair does not seem so overwhelming. Be sure to allow ample time for questions and answers, keeping in mind it is a new subject with new language and a lot of fear of the unknown. A caring, personalized and simplified process will assist your employees in both defining and beginning a new financial journey. It will also increase their perception of the value of working for you by receiving the benefit of your sponsored retirement plan.