'Focus on positives' to close the gender pension gap


The pensions gap can be closed but it will need less jargon, more thought and a better understanding of clients' varying investment goals, specialists have claimed.

In a podcast with FTAdviser, Helen Morrissey, pensions specialist at Royal London, acknowledged the gender pay gap - which persists at approximately 17 to 20 per cent, depending on which metric is used - but said the pensions gap was significantly worse.

She said: "The gap is absolutely huge. A lot has been made of the gender pay gap but when you look at the pensions gap, I have seen this put around 40 per cent or even wider than that.

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"I was reading an auto-enrolment review recently which showed female participation in pensions is growing rapidly, which is great news, but there are still various headwinds that women in particular face, blowing this enormous gap in their finances."

Headwinds include giving up work to care for children or an elderly or sick relative, or coming back to work part-time on a lower salary.

Emma Hughes, communications director for the Chartered Insurance Institute and the Personal Finance Society, commented: "If you focus just on the gender pay gap alone, it is slowly closing. But as Helen said, it is not enough to just report on these gaps, but to understand the reasons why it persists.

"In 2016, the CII established the Insuring Womens' Futures initiative, which is voluntary and market-led and aimed at looking at ways to improve female financial resilience.

"Its research found there were a lot of causes contributing to women's lack of financial resilience in 2020, and much of this lay in deeply embedded social attitudes, and a lack of legal and social care systems.

"We have come a long way but there are still fewer women in senior positions, and still there are problems with pay and representation."

Indeed, the CII has estimated that while the pay gap will persist until 2050 unless there is intervention, the pensions gap will remain wide until 2100. 

Figures from the CII revealed that the average 65-year-old woman's pension pot is £38,000 - five times lower than the average 65-year-old male's pension pot.

To overcome these hurdles, according to Emma Morgan, portfolio manager for Morningstar Investment Management, it is important to "focus on the positives". She said: "The figures we see today on the pay gap will improve, and we will see the savings gap close but what is clear is that we need to educate women more.

"We need to help them to feel more comfortable talking about money, so they know how much they need before they retire."

She referenced stats based on recent research from Fidelity, which revealed 30 per cent of women said they would feel financially ill-prepared in the event of divorce, as an example of how much we need to bridge the knowledge gap.

Ms Morgan added: "The industry is full of jargon. We need to focus more on goals-based financial conversations, not our familiar jargon. Mary Smith, sitting at her kitchen table isn't going to think 'I want a volatility of between 5 per cent and 7 per cent'. No - she wants to focus on how to save for college, for example."