DRC Women’s Equality Series: Jennifer Chandler, Bank of America

Bank of America is one of the world’s leading financial institutions, serving individual consumers, small and middle-market businesses, and large corporations with a full range of banking, investing, asset management, and other financial and risk management products and services. Bank of America Dallas President Jennifer Chandler discusses ways women can get on more equal financial footing with men and shares investment trends for women.

Jennifer Chandler, Bank of America Dallas President

This Q&A is a part of an ongoing series of DRC interviews with representatives from our member organizations and partners.

Q: While the gender pay gap is narrower in Dallas County than other Texas markets, a $2,600 salary differential remains. What best practices can employers use to help close the pay gap in the Dallas Region?

A: The progress Dallas has made toward closing the gender wealth gap is very encouraging. I’ve seen the improvement firsthand in my two decades with Bank of America in this market, but there is more progress to be made. A recent Merrill study revealed that women may earn as much as $1 million less than their male counterparts by retirement age, and a report from the World Economic Forum found that the gender wealth gap could take more than 250 years to close.

Employers are critical in the fight to reduce income inequality and empower women. The first step sounds obvious, but it bears raising: pay employees fairly and equally, regardless of gender. An internal study of Bank of America employees in the U.S. and U.K. found compensation for women is, on average, equal to greater than 99 percent of that received by men company wide. But as you point out, there is still potential for improvement here — $2,600 worth here in Dallas, in fact.

It’s also important to note that pay goes beyond salary. Employers should offer better benefits beyond vacation time and sick days. Flexible work arrangements, paid parental leave, and child care — these are some examples of benefits employers are offering to attract, retain, and fairly compensate employees. Often, women bear an unfair burden in these areas of personal life, limiting their capacity to achieve professionally when employers do not offer flexibility to accommodate these circumstances.

From a corporate standpoint, investing in women makes good business sense. Diverse and inclusive workplaces are essential in ensuring diversity of thought, greater creativity and innovation, and meeting the needs of today’s clients, communities, and other key stakeholders.

Q: What major barriers do women face in reaching financial equality and independence?

A: Pay gap aside, a significant barrier women face to long-term financial equality and independence is career breaks. Giving birth and caring for family members is life-giving, quite literally, and incredibly fulfilling. Typically, women must take time away from work for these life events — whether short-term by an expected maternity leave, or long-term, unscheduled absence from the workforce. Additionally, women disproportionately handle the bulk of domestic chores and child-caring responsibilities — our working time is limited. Each break means less earning potential and missed professional development which can compound over time to a reduced investment portfolio and fewer promotion opportunities.

Another barrier women face to financial equality: themselves. Studies show men negotiate for higher salaries more often – and more aggressively – than women. The lack of negotiation for a higher salary can compound at each job offer or annual review, and women then fall further behind. If repeated over a career, women miss out on massive earnings simply because they failed to ask. Asking for a higher salary is nerve-wracking and your work must back up the ask. But if you feel it does, ask for what you think you deserve. The worst an employer can do is say no.

Finally, building a business — a common path to build long-term wealth —is more difficult for women, as access to funding remains a substantial barrier, a Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight found. On a positive note, we are finding that women are developing strategies to overcome these barriers and to grow their businesses, as evident in a recent Bank of America Private Bank report.

Q: What is the best tool for women who are looking to invest for the first time?

A: Start with learning — learn about yourself and learn about finance. For yourself: what are your life priorities and how do your finances impact those priorities? As best as possible, women should identify career goals, family plans, ideal retirement age, etc. These are questions nobody else can answer and these ends should determine the financial means.

Next, learn the basics of finance: investment types, Social Security, 401(k) vs. Roth IRA, basic tax deferments; this knowledge foundation will empower you to make informed decisions with confidence. Bank of America research found gender-based biases toward investors persist, making women feel they must prepare more for meetings and speak up proactively to be heard, but the subject need not be intimidating: Bank of America’s Better Money Habits website, a free online financial education platform and interactive resource for investors new and old, is a great place to start.

With priorities and knowledge in hand, arrange a meeting with a certified financial advisor at a financial center, the Bank of America Private Bank, or through Merrill, a Bank of America company – or even a close family member or friend whose financial advice you trust. Discuss the financial barriers mentioned here. Be transparent and discuss savings goals, debt repayment, monthly budget, and retirement. Often these goals feel too big, almost beyond achievement. All financial goals (within reason) are possible with a good plan. A journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.

Q: How is the narrative around women and wealth changing?

A: A new generation of women is shifting the conversation around women and wealth. Notably, younger women investors are twice as likely to lead their families’ financial decision-making than previous generations, according to Bank of America research. Younger women are paving the way in financial empowerment and taking control of their financial lives: 75 percent of women under 45 manage their own finances compared to 50 percent of women 55 and older, and women under the age of 55 are nearly 60 percent more likely to feel comfortable discussing financial topics.

Encouragingly, more and more employers are creating employee networks and support groups to enable women and other employees to connect and develop skills, growing women employees into future leadership roles.