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Dear John...

07 March 2011

My very cluey brother said to me: when your heart's no longer in it, it's time to kiss it goodbye. That may be true. But to achieve that goodbye kiss, be it in a relationship, changing jobs, moving house, retirement, death, you need financial independence.

I know many women don't have enough in reserve to make that kiss happen. In fact, this state of affairs has been the case for such a very long time it feels like a conspiracy? Most of us are not even financially literate let alone independent. And if you are literate and, worse still, practice it, I bet you feel like a traitor and keep it quiet?

The question is, why the silence? Because it's women and, most scarily, our daughters we're letting down.

Not to be a hypocrite I have to admit I am as bad as the worst of them. I went to my Super site the other day and thought I would just have a quick look at the calculator and what it assumes I should have when it comes to living out my \"golden years\".

Well, those years are going to be TIN. I am so far off the mark it is embarrassing.

What my Super amounts to, while not quite wilful neglect, certainly isn't tender loving care.

Super concerns were a part of my early working life even before \"Superannuation Guarantee\" came into being with the Keating government in 1992. But a laissez faire attitude on my behalf, a not so reliable former employer and periods of freelancing and conveniently forgetting to put aside have taken their toll.

I don't know where I thought I was going to get the finances to just even survive until I am 82 (my end point according to iDie, the iPhone application loaded onto my phone by my 7-year-old - if I'd been male it would have been 78), let alone live with a level of comfort and security.

I've tried to blame my role models, my parents. But when you look at the facts and the way they handled their retirements - they had no compulsory Super and were mainly self-employed, anyway - the responsibility is all mine.

Let's take the example of my mother, my father being now dead.

Okay, in that there is a clue. Certainly, she is of a generation who could be pretty sure they would be left stuff by their parents and then perhaps a spouse, and we all know the stats on grey nomads and baby boomer retirees living longer and \"selfishly\" spending it all. So, yes, she had something in the bank. But it could have fast been squandered and lost. Instead, she found herself a good accountant, read up on self-administered Super, equity markets, etc, and through education did herself and an already overburdened aged-care system a huge favour.

There are some interesting reasons why saving for the \"goodbye kiss\" is harder for women. Some of them become more obvious when you take a look at the research and reporting done by the EOWA (the Federal Government's Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency) on the current state of employment for women and their advancement in the workplace.

65% of the workforce is female. 90% of top management is male. If you are not in top management and not being promoted there, then you are not earning the dollars. And no matter how hard you try, if there's zero to save then that's zero.

Of course, we can all look for Employers of Choice on the EOWA site - as well as those on its non-compliant (a sort of \"name and shame\") file - to find those which are innovating for and developing themselves for the needs of female employees and their advancement in their organisations.

111 'choice' employers were announced in March 2009. 23 were new additions to the list. If all goes to type there should be some growth this year. The flipside of the coin is there were 13 non-compliant employers some of whom have been on the list a few times, others appeared for the first time in 2009. Seeing which ones have and have not corrected the situation for the 2010 announcements will be interesting.

Certainly, employer attitudes do help correct the balance but in the end Super and for that matter the importance of saving also comes back to self education: understanding our finances and discovering ways to create independence should be a priority, not something someone else will take care of or that a twist of fate might fix.

Women at work

Ruby has amazing contacts and networks and to celebrate that, we are beginning a new section on inspiring women of Australia. In time for this International Women's Day (March 8) we begin with two amazing trailblazers: Marion Potts from Bell Shakespeare Company and the recently appointed Artistic Director Malthouse theatre Melbourne, and Jenny Hill Ling, the Chair of Hills Industries board.