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Washtenaw United: Closing the wealth gap for women and women of color

Melissa Joy
Melissa Joy


"Before founding Pearl Planning, I worked in the world of financial planning and investments for more than twenty years. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®, I specialize in working with executives, entrepreneurs, and those needing help with transitions such as retirement or divorce. Even though Pearl is based in Dexter, and has four locations in Michigan, our clients live coast-to-coast and we use all the tools of technology plus plain-old human connection to build relationships across the miles."

"Founded in 2018, Pearl Planning fulfilled my dreams to start my own company someday. Just as a pearl symbolizes wisdom gained through experience, I used my background running the investment and financial planning departments along with complex client practice experience to create a client-focused, personalized and modern wealth management firm."

"Dexter, Michigan is home for me, my husband, Jeff, and our kids, Gus and Jo. In addition to spending time with family, I have a lifetime love of playing soccer, reading, and travel. I also have a passion for supporting and promoting women in financial advice careers."

"My past recognition includes Investopedia 100 Top Financial Advisors (2020, 2021, 2022) and Crain’s Detroit Top Women in Finance for 2020."


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to a Women's History Month edition of Washtenaw United. Now, historically speaking, women have not been treated as equal. The Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has never been passed. Here in Michigan, women weren't allowed to vote until 1918. And when it comes to personal finances, did you know that women's rights were repressed right into the modern era? A woman wasn't allowed to own a credit card in her own name anywhere in America until 1974. That's a rather late start, historically speaking, to build financial security and independence. So, today, we're going to look at the work being done to close the wealth gap for women and, in particular, women of color. Our guest is a certified financial planner and certified divorce financial analyst. Melissa Joy is the founder of Dexter-based Pearl Planning. It now has four locations in Michigan and serves clients from across the country. And thank you so much for joining us today, Melissa.

Melissa Joy: I am so glad to be here. Thank you. It's such an important topic.

David Fair: As we assess across the country the wealth gap between men and women, how disparate are we at this point?

Melissa Joy: Well, it's very spread out when it comes to the wealth gap. So, what incomes right down to it, you see a vast disparity between men and women in general when it comes to wealth. You also see even more discrepancies when you go into subsets, for example, Black and Latino women. So, families are really feeling the pain of societal trends when it comes to equity and in terms of the ability to get wealth.

David Fair: Is it still true that women are earning less than $0.80 on the dollar compared to men?

Melissa Joy: Yeah, it's $0.82 per dollar when you just average all women. Asian women are a little bit ahead of that number. And then, white, Black, Latina and Native women are all behind, especially Latina and Native women. And so, you know, it's $0.55 on the dollar--your Hispanic woman compared to a dollar that a man earns. And we see that gap widened even more when it comes to more educated populations. There's a greater disparity.

David Fair: So, quite often, outcomes are determined by access and opportunity. How different are the financial future of women and, in particular, women of color when they are trying to access financial service offerings and build a future?

Melissa Joy: There are so many layers of differences, and some of it starts with the way that we're even raised. Men receive--or boys receive--more on average, of course, more of a bigger allowance than females of the same families. You see why you see this pay gap. Then you see situations where women are less likely to invest. You see situations where women have to take time away from work to care for family members or children. And so, everything seems to compound, and that becomes even more pronounced when you think about the people providing services, because, often, you go to work with people that look like you, people that you can relate to. And that is easier for men, especially white men, to find financial service providers who, you know, seem like them. And it is much more of a struggle if you're a woman. But if you were your most optimistic, you would say 30% of financial service providers are female, bu,t oftentimes, those are assistants to males in the profession.

David Fair: 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United conversation on strengthening the financial health of women during Women's History Month continues with Melissa Joy. Melissa is a certified financial planner and founder of the firm Pearl Planning. You are a successful female business owner, and, if I understand it correctly, you studied political science. So, how did that turn into a career in financial planning?

Melissa Joy: Well, it was just a serendipitous opportunity. I answered a want ad back when we had print papers and happened to get hired to work for a financial planner. And, initially I was an assistant and worked my way up the system. I didn't know about this career. I just knew I was good in an office. And, you know, political scientists aren't necessarily a career role unless you're going to be an academic. So, I'm so glad that I found that opportunity. And I find a lot of women in financial planning professions find their way into professional roles through the exact same path. But we're lucky now that there are programs for wealth management and financial planning. And one of the things that I know many women--professionals, like myself--really are working to do is to recruit women--women of color--to have those roles and find those programs earlier in their undergraduate education.

David Fair: Again, some of that is about access and opportunity. You became a partner in your old firm before you started Pearl Planning about five years ago. Did you encounter barriers to your personal progress because of your gender?

Melissa Joy: I think that, you know, it depends. I sometimes would be in rooms where there were very few women, very few women who were under the age of 40 or 30 earlier in my career. In my own case, I knew that people would notice the difference. And so, I tried to, you know, seem intelligent and ask questions, so that I wasn't a wallflower in the room. But there were definitely have been hurdles along the way, especially, I think, in the desire to focus on providing access to both women for their careers in finance, as well as provide services for women, is something where it's like, "Well, why can't you just focus on everybody? It's things that are more normalized nowadays. You don't need to be overly focused on that." I don't think that that is always a welcome area of focus. But I found when I founded my own firm and primarily most of our workforce is women, that barrier eliminated itself.

David Fair: So, when you did start your own business, did you go in with the idea that diversity, equity, and inclusion would be a primary part of your strategy in both customer service and in dealing with your employees?

Melissa Joy: Well, I think diversity, equity, and inclusion is a way of life if you choose it nowadays. And I certainly wanted both the way we talk to people to feel inclusive, even from our website, people that we interview on our podcast called 52 Pearls Weekly Money Wisdom. We made sure to have...well, we have primarily female guests with all different types of backgrounds, and then to do community work to increase visibility of financial services needs for financial services and access to information. These are all part of our strategy. And then, we're a flexible workforce as well, which is important, whether you're a caregiver for an elder family member or the mother--a nursing mother--of a young child.

David Fair: This is Washtenaw United, and our conversation with Pearl Planning founder Melissa Joy continues on 89 one WEMU. As I understand it, more than 90% of your employees are women. Why are you so intentional about that?

Melissa Joy: I really think that it's just the same reasons that men have more men working for them. It's the natural gravitation. For most of the hires that I've had, they've come out of my personal network, whether I've approached people or they've they have approached me. And I also know, for example, we had a graduate of Michigan State's wealth management program, and her professor approached me and said, "This person's looking for a job. Not finding the perfect fit. I know you're a female owner. And would you be interested in talking to her? She's one of the few women in my program." So, I think there's a natural magnetism that if you can get female deciders into ownership, which that is certainly something we see that there are more entrepreneurs in the female groups because they may, you know, kind of opt out of the traditional corporate setting. I do think that as there are more women and women of color who own firms, that that will be a more natural entry point for women into the profession.

David Fair: So, as you look down the road, 10 to 15 years, do you envision more stability and financial settings among women in general and the narrowing of the wealth gap among women of color and greater equality in employment and income?

Melissa Joy: I really hope so. There are some encouraging signs. One thing is that if women choose to invest, now we have to get over a barrier that women are less likely to invest even when they have money. But if women choose to invest, they're actually, as a group, not to overgeneralize, good investors. Studies show that women are more patient investors. They make changes less frequently. And they take less risk that is unnecessary. And all of these are good habits for investors. We also know that providing insight into the wealth gap, into the pay gap, into the investment gap, will help to have more important conversations. And I really hope people listening in today will evaluate their own life and maybe make a list of things that they may feel less confident about. Perhaps, and we see this in studies, men feel about two times more confident than women when it comes to money. And, in fact, women are much more likely to feel negative in terms of their emotions around money. And if we can have this conversation to say, "Hey, you may be doing some things right." And there are resources and opportunities to find out more. I think that's one of the paths. So, we have to focus both on the big picture about closing the gap, getting the knowledge out, researching pay, and providing opportunities to, you know, continue to have access, but also just one-on-one. I hope people listening to this conversation will take the time to think about their own personal choices and see if they can improve their circumstances, because that's going to move the needle as well.

David Fair: Well, thank you for your insights and perspective today. I appreciate it, Melissa.

Melissa Joy: I am so glad to talk on this topic. It's so important for all of us and our society. So, thank you for bringing light to such an important topic.

David Fair: Melissa Joy is a certified financial planner and certified divorce financial analyst and founder of Dexter-based Pearl Planning. It has four locations in Michigan and serves clients from across the country. For more information on today's topics and Melissa and her work, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw. United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and we bring it to you every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.


Pearl Planning

Pearl Planning Podcast

Investment Resource Page (Defintions, etc.)

Adasina Social Justice Investment

Closing Racial Wealth Gap Podcast Episode


United Way of Washtenaw County strives to help Washtenaw County residents have greater financial self-sufficiency. In honor of Women’s History Month, United Way wants to bring attention to the financial hardships that disproportionately affect women and people of color.

Our ALICE Report illustrates, 31% of Washtenaw County residents struggle to afford basic needs. To combat poverty and times of financial hardship, United Way has teamed up with TrustPlus to provide freeone-on-one financial coaching sessions.

This tax season, Washtenaw County residents who made less than $60K in 2022, can receive free tax preparation through the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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