Category Archives: Career

Women and Money: Earn, Save and Spend (in that order)

St. Paul–based financial educator Ruth Hayden has been giving women the same advice about money for 25 years.

And it’s not because she’s out of touch with the persistent problems of the gender pay gap or the glass ceiling. Far from it. No, Hayden — who literally wrote the book about women and money back in 1992 — is discouraged about how little has changed for female wage-earners in the past quarter century.Ruth Hayden

“I get more sophisticated questions than I got 20 years ago,” says Hayden, whose “Women and Money” classes are consistently sold out and whose four books include one on couples and money. “Women know the language. They know they have to make money. But they’re still deferring too long on investing, and they’re not earning enough.”

Advice may be cheap, but a conversation with the ever-quotable Hayden — a regular with Kerri Miller on Minnesota Public Radio — is like striking gold.

On financial education: “To my toes, I am a teacher. And there are three areas of money I work in:

“One, how do I earn money? Is it enough? Is the income stream sustainable? Because I’ll likely work a lot longer than I thought I would. Two, how do I consume or spend my money? Am I in charge of it? Three, how much do I accumulate? Am I in charge of my savings and investments?

“Without the first one in place — a solid income stream — the other two don’t hold.”

On saving as a necessary discipline: “The biggest risk for women is that we don’t get enough money put away fast enough. Two factors are at work: We don’t earn enough in a job that is sustainable, and we are uneducated about where to put that money. Because we feel incompetent about investing, we ignore it.”

On learning to invest: “Financial advisors tell women to pay off their house. And women like that. They like the concept of home, and they can touch it. But that’s why so many women are living in a paid-off house but don’t have enough money coming in to have a decent life inside of that house.

“Instead of telling women what they want to hear — ‘pay off your house’ — we need to encourage women to come into a field they’re uncomfortable with, and that’s the stock market. It is the only game in town to create money over time that grows ahead of inflation and taxes. All the stock market is, is other people’s businesses.”

On how to have money when you’re old: “I can start a business that I later will be able to sell. Second, I can invest in other people’s businesses, and that’s the stock market. Third, I can invest in real estate, including my own house.

“Men prefer the first one. They assume they will build a business and someone else will highly value it. I like a mixture of the three.”Women invest

On why women resent work: “If you lined up 10 women and asked them this question, they’d say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t resent my job. I have to earn money.’ Then you let the conversation go informal, and it may come out. It’s the resentment at having to do it.

“The women who are always exhausted or resentful about work have an issue with work. Somehow, they expect to be taken care of — and it used to be by a man. It’s not politically correct to say that now. But when I push on this in the women’s class, the room gets very quiet.”

On the ambiguity inherent in making choices: “Very few decisions are either right or wrong. There’s always a downside. That’s how you make a decision: ‘I want this upside, and I can manage and live with the downside.’

“This is where couples get fussed up. They look for a right and wrong. Instead of getting tangled in who’s right and who’s wrong, ask the question this way: What is the upside and what is the downside? Find a process to work through it. Make it a brainstorming session.”

On career vs. job: “When women are really overstressed, they say they’ll work in a flower shop or bookstore. No, those don’t pay well. That’s a job, and a job is temporary. A job is something I wish I didn’t have to do.

“Women need to get more engaged in the way we make money. It’s about learning to develop a career: A career is part of me. A career grows with me. Emotionally and intellectually, I own a career. And then we have to find a way to make the career more sustainable long term, because most of us will be earning money a lot longer than we thought we would be.”

On discomfort with age: “A Twin Cities–based corporation brought me in because their younger employees weren’t enrolling in the 401(k) plan. They showed me a digitized photo of me aged to 80. My brain did not recognize me. If I can’t recognize myself, why would I put money toward that person? Why would I invest money for retirement?

“I recently had a client, at 56, take $18,000 out of her retirement funds to pay for plastic surgery. And she is so happy! But she’s not examining the back end of that choice. Three decades from now, that $18,000 could go a long way toward making her comfortable.”

On women and power: “Women still feel powerless in their lives. When we pull out the credit card and get what we want: In that moment, we feel powerful.”

Executive Volunteers Bring Professional Moxie to Nonprofits

Back in 2006, when she was 52 years old, financial services executive Paula Meyer read a book that changed her life — and launched her into founding a nonprofit organization that is changing the world, one child at a time.

The book, Just Enough by Harvard University professors Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson, posits that the most balanced people among successful “high achievers” integrate four aspects of their lives: happiness, achievement, significance and legacy.

Meyer was happy and had achieved much in her career; her family and volunteer work added significance to her life. But legacy, “leaving something that endures after you are gone,” was not yet part of her personal and professional portfolio.

Then she went to Africa.Ngong-Road-Logo

There, in Nairobi, Kenya, Meyer saw such a depth of poverty and need — children orphaned because of AIDS, struggling to survive — that she was inspired to co-found Friends of Ngong Road along with Peter Ndungu, who was orphaned at age 11 in the slums of Nairobi.

The nonprofit organization, now eight years old, seeks to transform the lives of boys and girls equally through education, daily nutrition, caseworker support and an arts-and-crafts summer camp that gets the children out of subsistence living in tin shacks.

Its organizational structure and strong financials — a seven-member board of directors overseeing a $650,000 annual budget and a nearly million-dollar endowment fund — speak to Meyer’s current work as a board member for corporations such as Mutual of Omaha and her past executive positions at Piper Jaffray, Ameriprise Financial and SECURA Insurance.

Executive influence

The success of Friends of Ngong Road is told in Kenya through the obviously improved lives of the 350 smiling, well-nourished, neatly uniformed schoolchildren that the organization serves each year. Here in the United States, the story is about creative middle-aged executives following Meyer’s lead, putting their resources to greater use and transforming their own lives through social service.

Paula MeyerMeyer jokes that, at 60, she is past middle age. In fact, her decision to uproot her life — to leave a high-paying career at age 52 and donate her skills not toward charity but sustainable change — puts her squarely amid the trend to re-examine priorities at midlife, and, ultimately, to give back.

  • Management consultant and former professor William Bridges describes it in his popular business book Transitions as “the shift from the question of how to the question of why.” A careerist naturally moves from wanting to “demonstrate competence” in her or his field to “being motivated to find personal meaning in the work and its results.”
  • The “working retirement revolution” examined in March 2014 by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave notes a pattern of “re-engagement” among young retirees like Meyer. Among the four types of working retirees — many “motivated by important non-financial reasons” — are “caring contributors,” people with financial means who “seek to give back to their community or worthwhile causes.” They make up the largest percentage of working retirees, the study found.

The Friends of Ngong Road board is made up of current and retired senior executives, men and women like former Piper Jaffray executive Karen Bohn, 61, who organizes up to 20 home-based fundraising events a year.

“A lot of people in this 50- to 70-year-old cohort are no longer working full time for pay,” says Meyer. “They have a lot of experience, and they want to use their gifts to make the world a better place. This is not licking envelopes; it’s meaningful work. Our board does the scut work, but we also shape strategy.”

Board member Keith Kale, a former marketing executive at Pillsbury, oversees the newsletter and informative website. Tom Gleason, a retired IBM executive and former Boy Scouts leader, organizes Friends of Ngong Road’s weeklong summer camps in Nairobi.

Meyer and Bohn are the chief development officers, using Gleason’s online relationship-management tool to track some 500 individual contributors and sponsors. They identify top prospects and divvy up calls among the board, which meets semi-monthly.

Crafting solutionsKaren Bohn

Bohn’s proudest achievement has been her “craft ladies” initiative, which yields about 5 percent of the organization’s annual revenue.

During a visit to Nairobi in 2009, she noticed two women who’d been waiting hours in line for free medical care. They were clutching ratty plastic bags — “the scourge of Africa,” Bohn says — out of which they pulled beautiful beaded bowls. Spotting opportunity, she and Meyer combined their Kenyan shillings and bought all of the bowls they could get their hands on.

Now, Bohn invests in about $10,000 worth of handcrafts every year and sells the bowls, jewelry and other colorful items for triple markup (“we’re shameless about it”) at the house parties she organizes. “These are our Girl Scouts cookies!” she declares.

The “craft ladies,” in turn, tithe 10 percent of their revenue back to Friends of Ngong Road. “It’s another example of something that I would not have thought of,” Meyer says. “Everyone on the board comes up with ideas. My approach is: ‘Feel free to add value!’”

Succession planning is becoming a priority. Only two of the seven board members are under age 50, and both Bohn and Meyer are realistic about the unpredictability that comes with age. The 18-hour one-way flight to Africa will become less palatable and physically less possible.

Meanwhile, as the board evaluates whether the nonprofit can be replicated in Bangladesh or India — and can become less volunteer-dependent in the United States — Meyer relishes working with creative professionals who have the means and the selflessness to offer children hope.

“It’s fun to create and work with great people,” she says, “but the most fun is going to Kenya and seeing the impact we have on children’s lives.”

5 Q’s: On How Life Integration Drives Success

“I like to challenge myself to take reasonable risks, and that can cause me to feel vulnerable,” says industrial-organizational psychologist Carol Lynn Courtney, Ph.D., a native of Buffalo, New York, whose leadership development and executive coaching business takes her throughout the country as well as to Ecuador, Turkey and elsewhere around the globe.

Placing herself in stressful and unfamiliar situations helps her better understand her clients, who include top leaders and mid-level managers in corporations, universities and nonprofits. “We ask people to change their behaviors every day,” says Courtney, president of Courtney Consulting Group in Minneapolis, “and that’s a scary thing for them.”

Courtney, 56, both busy and balanced — accomplished and yet accessibly down to earth —created a coaching model called “Life in the Center,” which she uses to guide her clients toward more integrated lives.

Recently, before her weekly saxophone lesson, she talked over a vegetarian dinner about how values and purpose, relationships, creativity, lifelong learning, purposeful investing, exercise and play all contribute to a vital and fulfilling career — as well as a meaningful life.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Why do you use the word integration rather than balance?

It’s not about life-work balance. You can never have life-work balance. A healthy life is about integrating all of your priorities and activities, and that practice may work differently on different days.

At my home office, for example, I can be writing a report and get up to play my sax for half an hour. That’s more difficult to do when I’m at my main office. Recently, I’ve tried to avoid scheduling any client meetings before 8:30 a.m. That allows me to exercise and meditate first thing in the morning, so when I show up for my clients, I am even more engaged.

I’m being intentional and deliberate: These practices are going to help me grow. The self-care and self-expression are just as important as the work I’m doing. In fact, they inform and improve the work. That’s why I call it life integration.

How does this play in the corporate world?

As an industrial psychologist, I’m dealing with the workplace and the challenges that my clients have at work. But I tell people that I work very holistically. There’s a vulnerability any time somebody puts themselves out there, to look at their work style, their strengths or blind spots. My clients’ work issues often have roots in other realms of their lives: physical, financial, emotional or social. Whether we like it or not, those issues can impact how we show up in the workplace.

You challenge yourself to “avoid becoming too comfortable or complacent.” Why continue to take risks at this stage of your life and career?

It keeps me honest. I ask my clients to do some pretty tough things. I could just say, “Well, go do this, make this change.” Instead I say: “You’re going to have to do this, and it’s going to be difficult. And you can get past the fear.”

At times, I’m scared when I get up onstage and play my saxophone — an instrument I didn’t pick up till my 40s — but once you do it, it’s like you’ve never been afraid. By doing the very thing that you’re nervous about, you get through it. You say: “OK, I did that. I accomplished that.” It’s a success, and not just from an ego point of view.

I find myself giggling and saying: How amazing! I was able to do this crazy thing — whether it was playing the sax with our band of I/O psychologists or bungee-jumping in South Africa or taking dance classes every week from a woman young enough to be my daughter.

You say that the decisions we make at midlife will affect the old age we’ll have. When did you recognize that in your own life?

Growing up, I was seeing people around me who gave up in their 40s, plus a lot of people in my family died in their 50s. Heart trouble, cancer, mental health issues — it’s all in my genes.

That impacted why I decided in college to become a vegetarian. I played sports during my undergraduate years at Wells, and only the salad bar would be left in the dining hall after soccer practice. I learned how to control the things I can: exercise, eating, emotional well-being.

Research now shows that if you hit age 50 without major health issues, you increase your chances to live to age 80. I see this with clients and the choices they make. Clients will say: “I’m going to retire and then travel.” Great! What kind of exercise are you doing? Because travel can be rigorous. I have experienced this firsthand.

My exercise — running, swimming, biking, kettlebell classes, kayaking, lifting weights — helps me play my sax better. Those practices aren’t distinct; they’re integrated.

How do the sax playing and the lessons at Zenon Dance Company up your game as an industrial psychologist?

The discipline I have in my work is the same discipline I bring to my sax playing and my other avocations. To play really well, you can’t be self-conscious. The more relaxed you are, the more in the moment you are, the better you’ll play. I’m still learning this.

Similarly, when I’m rolling around on the floor and jumping in dance classes with people 25 years younger than me, I have to trust my body. I have to let go! If you are nervous and your muscles tense up, you can’t move in a fluid way. As adults, we become more physically self-conscious. We brace ourselves when we think we are going to fall and end up becoming more vulnerable to getting hurt.

It’s a great analogy for life.

The work that I do coaching teams and executives on their performance is like music or dance or any physical exercise. Once you’ve mastered the foundational knowledge, it frees you up for the art of what you’re doing. I don’t sit there thinking: I’m using this theory. That’s second-nature by now. And so I’m free to work with the art of the person, to focus on the individual or team, and to see the nuances.

Learn more: To nominate yourself or someone else for a “5 Questions” interview in “The Middle Stages,” contact Amy Gage at