Equality and Sustainability

Why I Chose To Spend My Free Time Writing Books On Sustainability

Founder & CEO smartwaytostart.com,
Author, International Public Speaker, SDG Advocate.

Many people are keen to understand why a banker like me chose to write children’s books on sustainability – and the most frequent question I get is how do I find the time, on top of a demanding day job. My only answer to the finding time questions was “I don’t do Netflix”. As for the motivation that drove me to write, below you can read all about my unexpected journey… and the VERY exciting news we are announcing today!

It started out with a genuinely curious question at work one day, which caused me to set out on a personal mission to increase women’s financial confidence, and led me to writing a book for adults: Women and Risk – Rewriting the Rules.

The question I had I asked was the following: How does a pay gap affect a woman over the course of her lifetime and how does it affect her wealth creation, compared to a man?

I went to our Chief Investment Office with that question in hand and asked my colleagues whether they could try and answer this question (there was no research on the matter). They simulated the wealth creation of a man and a woman over the course of a lifetime. Many assumptions were made, of course, and the simulation allowed us to quantify 5 key factors that affect women’s wealth: pay gaps, career breaks, part time work, longevity and generally lower risk appetite than men.

While we did expect a significant discrepancy in male and female wealth accumulation, no one expected the gap to be as high as it was. A 10% pay gap alone (which is well below the average pay gap in many countries) and all else equal, resulted in a 40% wealth gap over a lifetime. The cumulative effect of all 5 factors listed above can lead a women to run out of wealth before she runs out of life. The picture was very bleak indeed.


This got me thinking: can you imagine what women are missing out on, and how their quality of life after retirement is at stake if we don’t do something to fix this! If women do not know their worth, if they do not know how much more male colleagues are earning in similar roles, if they do not negotiate well enough, if they take family care-related decisions that influence their careers without knowing the long term impact, if they don’t invest because they lack confidence or are scared to take financial risks, if they are reluctant to get involved when it comes to major financial decisions. All these aspects can have terrible long term consequences.


So – with that simulation result in mind – I went on to do my part to help address this inequality. As a banker, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to put these learnings into practice every day and support many women increase their financial confidence, financial literacy and participation in decision making. I wanted to spread my learnings to everyone and raise awareness for the long term implications of pay gaps , especially to all the women who are not aware of these risks. And while doing research for my book Women and Risk, I became acutely aware that the root cause of all these problems lies in biased money semantics: the way we talk about money to men is fundamentally different than the way we talk about money to women.


Look around you and you will see that indeed the majority of media money messages targeting women relate to spending, and the majority of money messages targeting men relate to earning and investing. And what was most shocking was the realization that these money biases are visible everywhere, affecting our children too. In fact, research shows that already by the age of 10 girls experience pocket money pay gaps! I thought: this can’t be true! And then realized this is why pay gaps keep on perpetuating. Generation after generation, girls are growing up with money messages that hold them back.


I then stumbled upon research indicating that confidence is shaped by the age of 5 and that adult money habits are set by the age of 7.


Those pieces of information got me thinking that by engaging only adult, working women, I might be tackling the issue a little too late. 20 years too late, if not more! In addition to fixing the problems of today, I need to prevent these problems for the next generation of girls. I wanted to address both ends of the problem, in order to have deeper and broader impactful difference on this issue. I knew I needed to find a way to tackle pay gaps and wealth gaps from their very root — which is early childhood and the money habits that children form during that very important developmental stage.


It was a comment by Shelley Zalis, at the Equality Lounge in Davos in 2018 that sparked my writing in rhymes: “Oh the places you’ll go”… with financial confidence!, quoting the world renowned book by Dr. Seuss.


So from writing books geared to the adults, I made my pivot and decided to write children’s books. To me, it made perfect sense — I’m a mum of 2 myself and I certainly didn’t want the current reality of pay gaps to affect their financial future. I wanted to do my part and help snip the problem at the bud.


Armed with my iphone and nothing else, I began to write A Smart Way To Start (our little heroine Marty was only given a name a good 18 months later!). After writing about money, earning and equal pay, I knew already that I wanted to continue writing more. I was determined to teach children not only about money and equality, but also about sustainability: every money choice we make has an impact on other people and on our world.


I decided to write the series in easy-to-read rhymes because I wanted to make Marty’s World and my advocacy for gender equality and sustainability accessible to all. I wanted the idea of financial literacy to reach as many children as possible (which is why our first books is free for all to read), and I wanted the children to engage on the topic of money, and grow to love Marty as a role mode for money matters. I wanted to make a difference in the world by helping parents raise kids that are financially savvy. Girls who dare to talk about money and negotiate their worth. Boys who understand the importance of equal pay and who are advocates for a fairer world. Children who know their money decisions can shape a better future.

Today, I am delighted to announce that our fifth book A SMART WAY TO START DOING GOOD will become part of the United Nations’ library as first reference book on the Sustainable Development Goals for little children. We are working closely with the UN Office at Geneva to include the book in their Perception Change Project.


Mariajo (my wonderful illustrator) and I are infinitely grateful for this opportunity and I will be sharing more about the Smart Way To Start journey, and all the team behind the scenes, over the weeks to come! A heartfelt thank you goes out to all our readers for the support we get from all of you and we do hope you continue to do so by helping us spread Marty’s World and her adventures to kids all over the globe.

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