SmartBe Wealth Aspirations Issue 05. - Jana Hlistova

Entrepreneur & activist dedicated to empowering women, Jana provides a perspective from across the pond.

Jana Hlistova profile pic.JPG

SBe: Where are you with your COVID journey? How are things in England? Who are you with? How are you holding up? What's your routine?
JH: I live in London and England has been under lockdown for nearly a year. It's obviously been tricky. I don't think it's been easy in any country, but I'm pretty hopeful that now vaccines are rolling out. I think everyone is feeling a lot more hopeful. I would say it's been a time of uncertainty and of reflection. It's just been interesting to watch how businesses have responded and I obviously watched the financial markets quite closely, so it's been exciting to see what's happened there. E-Trade recently looked at their data and interestingly there has been an influx of female investors that never invested before the pandemic. I find stuff like that fascinating and really positive. On a personal note, it's been a journey and I think you have to find a way of maintaining your mental health just to get through everything. I run 3 times a week and walk everyday.

How do you think we're going to come out of the pandemic?
Well, hopefully wiser. It's been quite shocking to see how the politicians around the world have or haven't responded. I think it's obvious that the female leaders have been far more successful. I love the way Jacinda Arden took action very quickly. She was very open & decisive communicating to her people live on Facebook. I think people trust her. And I've said this several times over that if we had Jacinda in the UK instead of Boris Johnson, I think we would have all had a very different experience. So I think it's time that we all learn from female values and leadership.

You know there's been so much acceleration of the major issues of social injustice like BLM and closing the gender gap. Give us your bead on London and Great Britain.
So much is going on, but I'll start with the gender pay gap. Interestingly, the gender pay gap has narrowed during the pandemic in the UK, however, I think about 1/4 of the employers haven't submitted gender pay data. I think the figures are skewed and we've had men who have been furloughed, possibly more so than women. Regardless the gender pay gap continues to be an issue we need to solve, improve transparency and take more seriously. We need to start the conversations because whether in London, New York or Calgary systemic biases are prevalent. It's not something that's going to go away unless we really shine a light on the systems and the bias that is inherent in how we hire, negotiate with women versus men and most importantly what women are usually paid. Comparatively speaking, on average women get paid 20 to 30% less.
I'm sure you're familiar with the research that's been done several times over where you take one CV with a female name and then the same CV with a male name. Sadly the guy gets offered an interview 20% to 30% more than the woman. So gender bias and other systemic biases are truly alive and well. What continues to surprise me is that even good guys, unless they have talked about the issues and gained real insight, aren't aware of the problems and how to question or come up with solutions. This problem is vital because so many of the good guys out there are wanting to help, and we need to figure out a way to have that conversation. Almost a playbook on how to eliminate the biases and make decisions that are closing the gap.

What specifically do men need to do?
It's about acting in the moment, not about saying one thing and doing nothing exactly. A good starting point is just for men and women to be aware that women on average will be paid 20 to 30% less, so whatever figure comes to mind and add 20 to 30 percent. I tell my female friends or anyone I speak to about negotiation how to get the salary that you want. Do your research on what women are paid in terms of what men are paid for the same job in the same industry and look across industries for similar job types. In the negotiation women tend to be offered less. So add 20 to 30% no less. I mean just, you know, stick with that number.
This is not just about the salary, it's also about the total compensation package including variable comp and equity entitlements.

In this time of chaos we learn a lot. We do a lot of introspection. Is anything clear for you right now?
Simple, what is clear for me right now is how important it is to have people that you love and people that you trust very close by.

Your bio says you're a wealth creator, activist, thinker. What does this financial feminism activism mean to you?
So financial feminism, for me is all about changing the conversation so that women are empowered to make the right decisions in terms of what to do with their money. How to invest it so that they are building their net worth and long-term wealth. Women are very values-based so they think about things like children's education, wanting to leave a legacy, climate change, sustainability or making a contribution. So money is great, but if it can have a positive impact that is aligned with their goals it takes on a whole new meaning. It's an enabler, more than “can I get a 10% return”. Of course women want a good return, but there has to be a bit more than that. I'm always talking to women about how they can you use their money to enable start-ups or shape the world that they want to see? Vote with your feet, vote with your money. Investing is one way to ensure financial resilience and wealth, but also to design and build the world that you want to see. That’s fundamental. It doesn't take long for women to appreciate a pitch by a female founder who's focused on the female market. They understand what that picture is about. On the other hand and in the mainstream certain male investors who are not familiar with the female market may struggle. It takes them a lot longer to connect or they tend not to invest. There's a huge role that women have to play, and that's what financial feminism is. It's being able to use your agency and money to build the world that you want to see.

So you're doing that. You launched the purse in 2020. You're publishing a weekly newsletter Join the Purse and you've launched 10 episodes of The Purse podcast. Long, hard and sometimes thankless days with lots of risk on the line. Tell us about your journey to the Purse.
For as long as I can remember I have been very passionate about supporting women. I had a start-up which I launched in 2014 that was all about connecting highly skilled women who were looking for flexible part time work with scaling tech businesses. That turned out to be a successful business model until our largest client decided to self-administrate, which caused our company a whole lot of pain. During that time what became really obvious to me was that there was so little support for women around money and investing. The crisis really helped me identify this whole problem for women and investing, which I guess became my opportunity. It's what propelled me to think very carefully about what we need to be doing differently to support women around money and investing. I spent the next couple of years doing my research and really thinking about what needs to be done. I'm really glad to say that since 2018 so much has moved forward for women. There are quite a few fledgling businesses focused on women, money & investing. My whole mission is to support women. The challenge is that the financial services industry has been designed by men for men. It's very alienating for women. Women feel quite divorced from it. The challenge for me is to get the right information to women at the right times so that they can make the right financial decisions. That is essentially what my business is about, but I'm at the very initial stages with the focus to building a media company that addresses the financial feminist market.

How is your audience responding to the brand promise thus far?
I have very enthusiastic readers. I've tended to combine lots of aspects of financial news, personal plans & investing. I like to include pieces about female lead businesses and female founders. Our readers are really good at joining the dots and thinking more holistically. They bring The Purse to life. The point is that we want to bring enough information to women so they can pick and choose what is of personal interest. Some of our community might find that they actually qualify as an Angel investor and choose to spend more time talking to female led start-ups and then choose to invest. Alternatively, some might feel more comfort putting 100 pounds into an ETF every month, or picking stocks, or day trading. And that's fine. The problem is most women are disconnected from the term "investor". Many find it's quite frightening. Most everyone assumes that if you're an investor, you're a stock trader and nothing could be further from the truth. If you're an investor first and foremost, you have been a saver at some point in time. My whole mission is to change the conversation from just talking about saving and budgeting to investing. Because the media, in my opinion, has done an enormous amount of damage by pigeon-holing women and making it difficult for them to self-identify as an investor. The typical mainstream message goes something like “We were going to talk about money OK? How do you save the pennies and get the kids lunches together?” The conversation usually stops there and is very condescending and extremely concerning. Of course, there is this whole debate about whether women are risk-averse but I think that women are very risk aware. Given how alienated they have been from the financial services industry it's actually quite smart not to engage until you feel comfortable. In reality there are a lot of women who are very successful at investing, and that's the story that we don't hear enough about.

You mentioned that you had a shock that changed the course of your financial journey. I suspect that was your 2014 story but help us understand your relationship with money.
Yes, it was. It was a big wake-up call because as I said, my biggest client went into administration and during that time I did everything I could to keep my business afloat. We know that less than 3% of global VC funding goes to female led entrepreneurs. There's a lot that's happening now in this space, which is fantastic, but the majority of women still boot strap their businesses. They tend to regard it as a child, and they will put their own money in. That's certainly what I did when I was trying to save my business. That was a very expensive lesson for me. And like I said, I woke up to how little education I had really been given in terms of money and investing even though I studied economics and accounting. I had read so many books on money and investing but I still had this programming or these negative financial beliefs that are imprinted on girls, young women that really become a limitation when you are in a difficult situation financially. There I was without knowledge of what to do, without any female friends or people who I would be comfortable speaking with. I tried reaching out to this financial advisor and it was just a terrible meeting. He was not able to help in any shape or form, so I think there are a lot of things that were happening there that made me think something's not right here. The system is broken. This shouldn't be happening and so, the more I read, the more I discovered that this was a problem, but also an opportunity. In my relationship with money I am constantly reading about it and I think it's really important to examine your own beliefs about it. The good and the bad. And it all comes down to very careful, thoughtful management and education.

Are you in the scientific method and not trying to predict the future and the whole quantitative sphere?
I think what's really important initially is to establish a financial foundation and to consider how much money you are able to invest every single month. I believe in investing on a regular basis rather than one off lump sums. Investing in ETF's? Yes, I have invested and invest with the likes of Vanguard. Obviously, these are not investment recommendations, but you know I have a self-invested pension in the UK and I ensure that my financial foundation is steady and consistent. We should absolutely not predict the future. It's not about timing the market, it's about time in the market. Equally I'm always drawn to alternative investments and so I section off a small amount every month to think about, diversify or invest into exciting investments. I'm quite into Bitcoin personally.

How is ESG and this whole movement shaping your thinking of SG as it relates to the investment universe?
I can't wait for the day when it stops being something that's kind of out there and that ESG is just normal. There's still a lot of work to be done. There is a lot of companies out there that just greenwash ESG. The same way a lot of asset managers green wash their investment universe and quantitative strategies when they're just closet indexing and marketing untruths. It's a sad reality the tactics used against people that are just trying to make money.

What's your first impressions of SmartBe?
I have to be honest I'd love to know more. You seem to be looking at what's innovative, what's new. I think ETF’s are the way forward. There's been a huge influx of money into ETF's. I think especially if you're quite early in the investing game not paying high fees for active management is a good strategy. So for individuals who haven't invested previously, I think it's the best way forward.

What resources do you use to inform your financial decisions? Do you read? Do you talk to people?
We have to read quite a bit so I can create my newsletter every week. Some of it's the obvious Financial Times and Bloomberg, but I have so many different sources and I pull all that together using Google alerts and then I sort of curate. I'm very values oriented so I tend to focus on the investments that are interesting to me for whatever reason. Sustainability is really important. I'm very drawn to businesses that are led by women.

So if you were Angela Merkel or Jacinda Ardern running a country doing something big, what would you do right now?
I would make sure that every single person on this planet had access to the vaccine free of charge. Within the next 8 weeks. Wow, that would be amazing. It will change all of our lives from this very unusual time in life.

Who are your role models right now? Who are you looking up to?
Sara Blakely has always been a huge role model for me. She's the founder of Spanx. She's a female entrepreneur with a phenomenal story about coming up with the idea that every woman needed to wear nickers with tummy control. You want a slim look under your jeans and dresses or whatever. She saved $5000 of her own money and she launched the business literally from a standing start. And sold it into some of the biggest box department stores in in the US. She has never taken outside investment and I think the companies valued at over 2 billion dollars. She's an incredible advocate for women and for female Entrepreneurs. She's doing so much great work; she's loads of fun and she's married with four children. I mean she is a superwoman, extraordinary. And then Serena Williams. She said she wanted to start Angel investing a couple of years ago and she now has a VC fund supporting female investors. She's a great role model. She is backing lots of female lead businesses. She is also one of the investors behind the big female Soccer League and LA's expansion team called Angel City. Let's hope it gains the traction it deserves.

What are you reading, watching on Netflix, podcasts or music? What's your leisure consumption?
My favorite podcast is the Tim Ferriss podcast. I'm a big Tim Ferriss van. I listen to a lot of US podcasts. I like the openness and frank discussion. Tim Ferriss started so many things like how to blog or how to gain X number of subscribers. It's all about how to be successful in life and as an entrepreneur. And then he just switched to Angel investing and has obviously done quite well. What happened to him as a four-year-old, his mental health issues and his life journey has been interesting for me over the last 10 or so years. He is just incredibly smart, thinks very deeply and is intellectually stimulating for me to listen to him. What am I reading? Beyond my work reading I'm reading a book called Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner, which is by a feminist economist Katrine Marcal. She will be interviewing for my podcast quite soon.

What's your superpower? What were you put on the earth to do?
To change the conversation for women about money, investing support, women support, and female entrepreneurs.

You mentioned your walks and your runs. Are there any other practices that you're tapping into spiritually, emotionally or physically?

Jana in the park

Walking to Battersea Park, and round and back every morning is almost like a meditation, but I listen to podcasts and audiobooks and I make notes as I go. I have been known to run into trees unfortunately and live to tell the tale. That's a really fun start to the day and I also try and maintain my fitness by going for a run about three times a week. That's also quite meditative for me, I'm a lot happier. It just clears my mind, it's brilliant.

What do you think the world needs most right now? What’s your version of a big hug for the world?
I think we need more empathy and more understanding. The ability to make space for voices for people who haven't had the space and who haven't had the voice.

Has Covid taught you anything?
Just keep going, but I guess I knew that before but it's true. Keep calm and carry on. Just try and find a reason to be thankful for the good stuff every day. It’s choice you have to think about especially as things are tricky, sometimes deadly.