Veronica Dagher is on the frontlines of personal finance and wealth management. The Wall Street Journal writer generally interviews men, despite women controlling most of the purchasing power in this country. Dagher is trying to tap into that underrepresented market with the “Secrets of Wealthy Women” podcast, which she hosts, to help female listeners follow in the paths of successful women. Dagher sat down with She Spends to discuss the pitfalls of covering a male-dominated industry, along with topics such as pay equity and condescending men. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and the “Secrets of Wealthy Women” podcast, which recently launched at the Wall Street Journal.
I’m a Wall Street Journal reporter. I cover wealth management and personal finance for the Journal. I write stories, I do videos and I do this podcast called “Secrets of Wealthy Women.” We just launched it and we’re super excited about it. It’s a podcast essentially by women for women. We’ve had financial leaders like Sallie Krawcheck and Carla Harris on the show. We also featured Sheryl Sandberg; we recently had Barbara Corcoran, Bethenny Frankel, who’s also a reality TV star but she’s also quite the business woman.
That podcast came out of the idea [that] there’s a trillion dollar wealth transfer happening and women stand to control the majority of that for various reasons: Women tend to live longer and are getting more prominent roles in society. They’re also in control of the household finances, more often. There’s this huge opportunity here. We need to address this. Women are hungry for this content. They want to hear more, they want to know more, and they want to hear from other women. There’s this whole mansplaining thing -- we’re not doing that. I’m not opposed to having guys on the podcast, but if they do, I want to make sure they’re not going to sit there and mansplain to us.
I think women are responding to this because they want to hear, in their language and related to their goals. I think women look at their finances differently. They often, and this is a generalization, often look at it through their perspective in terms of how the money can help them achieve their goals and move their families or themselves forward, if they’re single. It’s not so much just for the dollar and cents. You don’t want to speak down to women because we know a lot more than people give us credit for. But we also want to hear what other women are doing to be successful, so that’s a big part of it. We’re really excited about the podcast and hope to continue booking great guests and blowing it out. We’re getting a lot of traction on social media, and it’s been really fun to hear different people respond on Twitter.
You cover wealth management, a sector that is primarily run by men. Have your male sources spoken down to you? Is that something you’ve experienced on the job?
In terms of chauvinism or people speaking down to me, I’ve had both men and women do that to me. It’s across the board. The majority of the people in finance are men, I would say; the majority of financial advisers are men -- I don’t know what the stats are -- but I would say, of the people who come to see me, maybe 90% to 95% are guys. The profession skews very male, but I also sometimes wonder if the guys are more prone to promoting themselves versus the women. A lot of men have publicists. I wonder how many of the women are actively doing that. Maybe they’re too busy, maybe they’re too shy. I would love to know. I would love to see more women coming into our offices and saying, I would love a meeting. I would love to talk to you. I would love to be featured on your show or featured in an article. I don’t see women being as aggressive in that area as I see the guys. I would love to see the women be more aggressive and proactive in promoting themselves.
When [the men] come to see us, they know it’s not going to land well if they’re doing any sort of chauvinism, so luckily I haven't had that happen yet. This was years ago, someone came in -- I had been covering wealth management and personal finance for about three years at that point -- and he was just trying to explain something very basic to me. Essentially asking, “Do you know what a 401(k) is?” I’m a personal finance reporter. I’m a wealth management reporter. I’ve been at this for a little bit. I’ve written about 401(k)s; I’ve written about target date funds. And he was trying to dumb it down for me -- I kind of got that impression. I just found that a little offensive. That said, maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was just trying to be nice and maybe his press people told him to keep things simple. I don’t know.
Do you find as a female journalist that men in power, whether that’s in your newsroom or with sources, look down on you? What would you recommend for women who are in that position as well?
I wouldn't say so much look down on me, but I think the issue of equal pay is very real, not just in newsrooms but in any industry. I hear my friends working in finance saying the same things. Part of the onus to fix that is on women, is to maybe get a little loud about it. One of the things we’ve done at the Wall Street Journal -- I’ve been an ancillary member but there’s some women who have really taken the lead on this -- is forming a women’s group and they’ve brought some issues like equal pay to the table and they’ve been vocal advocates for it. Fortunately at our company, they seem to be taking action. They have taken action on some level. Hopefully we’ll see more on that.
Since Dow Jones [the Wall Street Journal’s parent company] put out its report on the pay equity rates among employees, have you seen any changes to your pay?
I think women definitely in the newsroom are talking about it more -- and men too. I’ve heard some guys in the newsroom say, “Hey, we want things to be fair,” which is really inspiring to me; that guys in the newsroom would also be supportive.
One thing I just got an email about [in November], our editor in chief or head of HR just started a women’s leadership program that’s more formal. They’re taking a few women across the company and are trying to give them the skills and the tools to become the next generation of leaders within the company.
So it’s a pipeline program?
It’s a pipeline program, which we never had before. I have to say, I think it’s a direct result of the women’s group advocating. It had to be. There’s also management realizing we need more women. Women are a large part of your reporting force; you want to make them a big part of your editing force as well. I’m really excited about this program. I hope women apply to this program and raise their hand and are confident enough to say, “Maybe I should try out for this.” Worst you can hear is “No.”
You mentioned that there are men in your newsroom who want their female coworkers to succeed. What would you recommend for men to be part of the larger cultural change in the wake of sexual harassment scandals unraveling in the workplace?
I know that there were some reports, and we've probably reported on some of this, about how there was fear after some of these sexual harassment scandals that some good guys were going to pull back from mentoring and sponsoring women because they were afraid that, potentially, things could get misconstrued. My reaction was, “Oh no, don’t do that. This is when we need you the most.” I would say to men, if you are one of those positive forces for change, continue to mentor women. Continue to sponsor women. Don’t be afraid, because if you are a good guy, that’s going to come out. I would hate to see those sort of things stop because of what’s happening.
Is there one thing you learned on your beat that completely changed your view of personal finance?
Always have that emergency savings fund. That’s something I’m just absolutely set on. They say to have at least three to six of expenses. I have more than that because I tend to like to save. I would say to women especially if they don't have a backup plan or they don't have someone sharing the rent, I would say saving that money is more important than ever. You don't know if you’re going to lose your job; you don't know if you're going to get sick. You have no idea. Having that extra money saved will help you sleep better at night.
Do you have any advice for women interested in wealth management that I haven’t asked about?
You don't have to start with this big investment plan. You can start small. There are so many great budgeting apps. You could start saving a little bit of your paycheck every month, if you need to get started saving more. You could boost your 401(k) contribution just 1%. Just take one small step, because you would be surprised by how each of these steps really adds up in the long run.
- Amanda Eisenberg / She Spends Issue #33