We spoke to Countdown’s Susie Dent about how being comfortable using financial language can help us succeed.
It’s no secret that, because of the history behind our patriarchal society, women have been discouraged from succeeding in areas that have always been dominated by men.
100 years ago this meant that having a job, and financial independence, was an outrageous idea for a woman. And, although things are very different today, those remnants still remain in issues like the gender pay gap.
There are many factors that play into this, but something that goes hand in hand with women being held back in their careers is our relationship with the very thing that we go to work for: money.
Recent research from money sharing app PingIt has shown that women have a big problem when it comes to talking about money, with 65% of women saying they don’t like talking about money, and 41% admitting it can make them feel awkward.
This, says Countdown star Susie Dent, is in part because of the villainisation women have experienced in relation to success.
“I work with the Oxford Dictionary databases, which sounds really boring, but they’re actually fascinating as they show you how current words are being used,” she said. “One of the things I noticed is that if you look up the word ambition you will see that when it’s applied to women, it’s almost always negative.
“If a woman is ambitious she’s cutthroat, she’s seen as more unpleasant. Whereas when its attached to a man it’s far less negative.”
Dent explains that it’s not just women who struggle to talk boldly about money, it’s something many of us find uncomfortable.
“It can be a really sensitive area, for example talking about wills is something people can find really distasteful and I think it’s even more exaggerated for the British,” she said. “I think we’ve been brought up to be quite reticent about money because it is seen as a vulgar subject.”
However, becoming comfortable using financial language is something that Dent thinks could be key to women taking more control over the subject, and could lead to feeling empowered to have difficult discussions at work.
“We know there’s the gender pay gap and we’re making huge strides at the moment to try and level that out, but I think this feeds into the need for women to be more comfortable talking about money,” said Dent.
“In terms of historically why we found it difficult I think it’s because we have been assigned expectations of keeping quiet, rather than feeling confidence to express a dissatisfaction with what we’re being paid.”
But how can we do this? Dent reckons it’s a mix of embracing the playfulness around some of the slang words we use in relation of money and letting this make the conversations easier for us, as well as familiarising ourselves with jargon – and noting how this can help us in group situations.
“One of the things that we use as a strategy is to change our language around money and make it feel a lot more like banter. Being a bit more playful can help a lot, it is after all a very British thing to use humour and euphemism to deal with uncomfortable situations.”
Dent thinks that part of this can be understanding these terms, as it will help us feel more assured when using them, for example the reason people refer to bread and dough is because these are the staples of life, what we need to survive.
Or quid, as Dent explains: “Quid for pound goes back to the 17th century, but it probably comes from the Latin word quid meaning what. The unspoken background is that ‘what’ is at the centre of how we survive, it’s a crucial sense of survival that’s been there for centuries.”
Moving on from everyday language, jargon can also be mastered in a way to help confidence.
Dent says: “We tend to think the language of finance is completely shrouded in unpenetrated jargon that we will never get through. Certainly, when discussing finance and politics it’s the most boring, obscure, alienating vocabulary, but there’s so much more to it.
“Language is essentially tribal, so jargon can actually be a really good thing because it unites people. Although we tend to think of jargon as being ridiculous or cliché there’s so much colour in there as well, and to feel comfortable talking in financial circles or even talking to friends, using the language of that group can be really empowering.”
Dent recommends reading financial magazines, papers and journals every now and then to dip into this world and create a sense of familiarity around these terms.
But essentially, the most important thing if you want to see change, is to be that change. “It’s all about direct action, if we want a word to be used more it’s all about using it.
“If we want to change the nuance of a particular word we have to change that ourselves. We need to be more that we can be openly confident and not embarrassed or ashamed about being ambitious.”
Susie Dent has teamed up with money-sharing app Pingit to investigate the language and slang words we use for money and how these are changing. More information can be found at www.pingit.com or the app can be downloaded from the App store.