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Meg Bartelt: 'Stock Options Work the Same Regardless of Your Gender Identity'

The founder of Flow Financial Planning explains why she made women-in-tech her niche and the opportunities and challenges female tech professionals face.

In a recent conversation on The Long View podcast, we spoke to financial advisor Meg Bartelt. In 2016, Meg founded Flow Financial Planning, a fee-only financial-planning practice geared toward providing financial guidance for women in the technology sector.

In this excerpt of our conversation, we ask Meg why she decided to focus on women in tech and what some of the commonalities are when it comes to their personal finances and challenges they face.

The complete podcast recording and transcript also cover a number of other topics, including why women don't tend to stay in the tech industry for their entire career, career coaching, negotiating for new positions, life planning, helping clients navigate motherhood and career, how women invest, dealing with IPOs and restricted stock, and more.

Benz: We want to talk about your specific focus in your financial-planning practice. Many in the financial advice industry have embraced this trend toward specialization, especially given the evolution of financial advice into an all, sort of, digital virtual format. Can you talk about how you arrived at your firm's focus on women in the technology sector?

Bartelt: The most obvious origin of that niche is that I used to be a woman in the technology sector myself. Financial planning is my second career. So, when I launched my firm or in anticipation of launching my firm, I had fully drunk the pick-a-niche Kool-Aid. So, I knew I needed to pick one. And just from a perspective of affinity, what community do I already know? I already know members of that community. I already know who these people are, what are the challenges, what are the opportunities. So, women in tech was sort of a natural choice. I did, in fact, first choose to focus on working mothers in the tech industry, because I was also a working mother at that point. But that particular twist on it didn't really stick as one working mother in tech eventually told me, "I'd love to work with you, Meg, I just don't have any time." So, I did transition actually to women in their early to mid-careers in the tech industry. I wanted to explicitly exclude people approaching retirement.

Ptak: What are the key commonalities from a personal financial standpoint among women in tech? What are the common problem spots in their financial plans if you had to pinpoint them?

Bartelt: Well, there's two aspects to that demographic. There's the in tech and there's the women part. In tech means that a lot of them are dealing with equity compensation, restricted stock units, employee stock purchase plans, stock options, which most people have never dealt with at all until they get into the tech industry. So, they have no context for understanding this complex form of compensation. Also, a lot of these people are making--at the age of 23, they start making more than their parents do. And so, they have no one--and I've had people say this to me, "I have no one in my life that I can go to to talk about this. It would be embarrassing for me to talk about the amount of money I make." So, there's that sort of behavioral relationship aspect. And then, within the tech industry, there's also a lot of commonality in terms of how 401(k)s work and employee benefits packages. And these are hugely influential for people. I don't know if it's especially earlier in their career, but certainly earlier in their career making the right choices around 401(k)s and employee benefits can have huge financial impact on people.

The reason I targeted women, because, obviously, stock options work the same regardless of your gender identity, is because it is a challenging industry to be a woman in much like the financial-services industry. And so, I get to really honor that challenge and be focused on their career. And honestly, a lot of women don’t see themselves in tech for the rest of their career. So, we’re starting to have a lot of conversations with clients around leaving tech. And that seems to be a fairly common and growing focus among our women-in-tech clients.

The author or authors do not own shares in any securities mentioned in this article. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.

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About the Author

Christine Benz

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Christine Benz is director of personal finance and retirement planning for Morningstar, Inc. She is also the author of a new book, How to Retire: 20 Lessons for a Happy, Successful, and Wealthy Retirement (Sept. 2024, Harriman House). She co-hosts a podcast for Morningstar, The Long View, which features in-depth interviews with thought leaders in investing and personal finance.

Benz joined Morningstar in 1993. Before assuming her current role she served as a mutual fund analyst and headed up Morningstar’s team of fund researchers in the U.S. She also served as editor of Morningstar Mutual Funds and Morningstar FundInvestor.

She is a frequent public speaker and is widely quoted in the media, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, CNBC, and PBS. In 2020, Barron’s named her to its inaugural list of the 100 most influential women in finance; she appeared on the 2021 list as well. In 2021, Barron’s named her as one of the 10 most influential women in wealth management.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and Russian language from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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