A recent experiment found that when women were given the option to answer “do not know” to questions measuring their financial knowledge, they often selected that response. But when it was taken away, they usually chose the right answer. So, what does that mean? We know that women invest and trade less than men, but the experiment makes you wonder, is it a lack of knowledge, or just a lack of confidence that causes this gap?
While Donna Mills-Lambeth, a leader in trading education at Schwab, doesn’t have the answer, she’s definitely witnessed women hesitating to speak up on the topic of trading.
“I have a Series 7 and a Series 24. I trade, and I’m successful at it. But even I don’t always feel comfortable talking about trading to my male counterparts,” explains Donna. “Talking about trading often feels like a foreign language; many women feel intimidated that they will make a mistake.”
Donna decided she wanted to get women talking. Leveraging a program created by TD Ameritrade coach, Ben Watson, she envisioned a forum where women at Schwab could gather and comfortably talk and learn about trading in an all-female environment. And boy (or should we say girl?) was there interest. Within 3 days she had 22 women saying they wanted to be a part of it.
A safe space to learn
Donna recruited Barbara Armstrong and Connie Hill, two internal subject matter experts, and developed an informal 10-week program for employees. The first two weeks would be focused on education and in the remaining eight weeks everyone would put their knowledge to the test with a friendly team competition to see who could make the most money using paperMoney®—thinkorswim’s® stock market simulator that allows you to test strategies without risking a penny. Since thinkorswim was developed by TD Ameritrade, it was also an opportunity for Schwab employees to develop more familiarity with the platform as Schwab continues to finalize the integration of Ameritrade.
But when the trading competition started, Donna realized pretty quickly that many in the group still didn’t feel comfortable enough to compete. They were armed with knowledge, but maybe it wasn’t enough? Or did they just not feel confident executing what they learned? Whatever the reason, they decided that they would rather be one team learning together than two teams competing against each other.
So, the group moved forward with weekly meetings where participants would come with questions for the subject matter experts to answer. Inevitably questions would come up throughout the week, so an online chat was developed to continue the conversation. And when scheduling became a problem, they started to record the meetings so others could play them back. One member made listening to the recordings part of her Saturday ritual. Some participants did begin actively trading for the first time. Others used the group simply to continue to expand their knowledge—like one member who regularly called on the group when she had questions about the Series 7 she was studying for.
When the planned 10-weeks ended, no one wanted to stop. Donna went on her 28-day sabbatical in recognition of her 10th anniversary at Schwab, and when she came back the group was still going. It went through the end of the year with 10-weeks turning into six months.
First comes knowledge, then comes confidence
Now Donna’s looking for the right time to reignite the group after the success of the original members. “I want people who work for Schwab, but work outside of our main brokerage business, like marketing and technology, to feel comfortable talking about trading for personal and professional growth,” she explains.
Donna envisions an expansion that would be inclusive of everyone, but above all she wants to maintain the sense of safety to ask any question at any level. “That’s what I did when I first started,” she explains. “I found other people I felt safe with. I asked them some ridiculous questions, but that’s how I learned.”
Regarding the question of whether it’s a lack of knowledge or a lack of confidence that explains why women are underrepresented in trading and investing, the answer is likely that it’s a combination of both. But when women come together to talk about finance and arm themselves with knowledge from experts that create safe learning environments (like Donna, Barbara and Connie), the confidence will follow.