Editorial – AVIATE with Shaesta – Financial Empowerment for Women

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Shelley Svoren is the Founder and CEO of Infinite Branches, which connects and transforms business aviation investments. With over 30 years of experience in finance, Shelley received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon in Finance, Economics, International Business, and Scandinavian Studies.

The topic of finance is an uncomfortable one for me. Growing up, my dad took on the sole responsibility of managing all the family finances, and I was told that girls should not talk about money. These circumstances set my five sisters and me back when we became financially independent. Today, I am determined to build my financial knowledge so that I can empower women in my family and community. 

My approach to facing my insecurity was similar to the method I used to fly around the world. I started with understanding the history. It wasn’t until 1974 that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed, prohibiting credit discrimination based on gender. Before this Act, many banks refused to give women a credit card without their husband’s signature and wouldn’t even consider giving credit to an unmarried woman. As we reach the 50th anniversary of this Act, women in the US are still facing challenges with financial health

  • Systemic inequalities
  • Gender stereotypes and roles
  • Women earn and save less money
  • Women are less likely to optimize how they invest in building wealth

With more than 12,300,0000 women owned businesses (40% of all businesses) that collectively generate revenues over $1.8 trillion annually, women are, in fact, very financially capable and contribute to our economy significantly.

So why does this math not add up? And why are there so many women like me who struggle with finance? 

To better understand financial empowerment for women in aviation, I had a brief discussion with Shelley Svoren, Founder and CEO of Infinite Branches. Shelley was a guest on the AVIATE with Shaesta podcast this season. Our conversation about the importance of community and Shelley’s extraordinary 30+ year career in finance empowered me to keep exploring this topic and build my confidence. 

Since there isn’t much information on financial empowerment, specifically for women in aviation, I reached out to Shelley and asked her the following questions.  

I have yet to hear about any surveys focused on financial empowerment for women in aviation.  My focus is on business aviation, and I hope that your readers see that my response does not incorporate women who are focused on Commercial Aviation or Cargo, both of which incorporate the leasing community.

Here is the data that I can share.  During my 14+ years financing aircraft for Ultra High Net Worth Individuals, I financed four aircraft for three women out of over 200 aircraft financed, less than 2%.  When one incorporates businesses where a woman was an equal partner in the business, that number doubles to six women who were actively involved in the decision-making process to acquire a total of 12 aircraft.  With the clients who maintained a female family office Chief Financial Officer or female advisor with whom I interacted, that number increased to 16 women who were involved in the decision to acquire and finance 23 aircraft.  In total, women who made decisions to buy aircraft represented slightly more than 10% of the clients with whom I worked.

One could argue that women are not interested in buying aircraft and I disagree with that statement.  Women owning aircraft is a much more nuanced conversation, and it starts with the visuals that we use to convey who owns and uses an aircraft.  Most often the images include a man (or men) boarding an aircraft with what is likely their spouse following the principal OR a woman serving a man onboard the aircraft.  It is seldom reversed or shows the woman in a position that one could believe that she is the owner, rather than someone who is along for the journey (and one seldom sees a picture that incorporates a person of color included in mainstream aviation media.) The benefits of investing in business aviation are not being conveyed other than to state that the aircraft is a time machine and my discussions with female owners who co-own and aircraft and family office CFOs who are women was often enlightening as to how limiting that notion is.

The language and the images that we use matters, and this was recently featured on an Ellevest Instagram post.  The language that I use to discuss owning and operating an aircraft is a function of my discussions with my husband, who is the VP of Finance for one of three women who co-owned a business that acquired and financed multiple aircraft.  I guided him to see the benefits of aviation ownership through the lens of his employer.

But that is only one part of a two-part issue that should be addressed.  Within the business aviation finance community, I can count the number of women in direct client-facing sales roles for financing an aircraft on less than two hands – and it is closer to one that two.  This number decreased during the past 12 months as two left to either work for an aircraft manufacturer or start their own business.  What financial institutions can do to rectify this is to intentionally create a career trajectory for women to step into a sales role, as many of the issues addressed in the Women In Aviation Advisory Board (“WIAAB”) Recommendations can be applied to financial institutions with some modification.  It is also important that financial institutions make an investment in these women by paying for them to attend industry events to build their industry network and knowledge. 

Several industry surveys (the WIAAB Recommendations, Lift off to Leadership, and Soaring through the Glass Ceiling) reflect that women are leaving the aviation industry due to the lack of opportunities for advancement relative to their male counterparts.  Industry associations can play a part by also being intentional in who serves on their board and that includes providing women with the opportunity to serve in leadership positions.  It also means we need to see many women (and not a token one or two) speaking on panels about industry topics as a way to broaden the vocabulary that we all use.  Some organizations, such as JetNetiQ, are intentionally doing so and listening to the recommendations of women as to who they want to hear.  And industry podcasts and periodicals are actively working to increase female representation on technical issues from finance, negotiations, and hiring.

When I stood on the sidelines watching our oldest son play rugby, I would emphatically say “Just Get In There” (and he always did!)  During the 2020 International Aviation Womens Association (“IAWA”) General Aviation Forum, I picked up the proverbial ball and ran with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discuss this issue with three remarkable women who I greatly admire: Liz Sara (National Women’s Business Council), Damineh Mycroft (Boeing HorizonX Ventures), and Malvina Kazanian (A-Rod Corp.)  Our conversation addressed many issues in finance that touched on the importance of understanding how to open a bank account and manage it; the importance of timely payment of one’s bills as that impacts your credit rating; developing a personal budget; and perhaps the most important – confidence.  All of these issues are inter-related as how you manage your bank account and credit cards impacts your ability to finance your personal assets at a lower interest rate.  Sometime this means we must make a choice between buying that fabulous French handbag or repaying your credit card by the due date.

Many resources can be found through the National Women’s Business Council and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Counsil for women who are starting a business.  MsMoney and HerMoney are two websites worth reviewing to start developing and enhancing your financial vocabulary.  Investopedia is also a bookmark-worthy site to learn more about financial products. Ellevest is a community created for women by women and explicitly devoted to financial empowerment for women. 

Start with ABC – Always Be Curious.  You are choosing to empower yourself through your desire to becoming a lifelong learner.  Understanding how your financial decisions today can impact your ability in the future is critical.  Women do live longer than man and we are more directly targeted to buy products than invest in ourselves.  We need to shift our focus from what we buy today to what we save for tomorrow.   We can also vote with our feet by replacing social media influencers with women who are focused on financial empowerment, such as Sallie Krawcheck, Kara Swisher, Caterina Fake, and Melanie Hobson; and the men who highlight and make space for women, such as Reid Hoffman and Scott Galloway.

“Financial Shaming” needs to be extracted from our vocabulary and replaced with “Financial Empowerment” as understanding finances are at the core of how women can ascend to leadership roles throughout our career. At the 2019 IAWA General Aviation Forum, our final panel specifically addressed how women who “run a Profit & Loss statement successfully” are the women who are tapped for Chief Executive Officer and President positions.  This means one must understand the short and long term financial consequences of revenue generation and be able to develop strategies to meet or exceed financial targets. As studies show, women who run companies change the way companies think and outperform their male counterparts over the long run.

What we do as women for each other matters.  IAWA’s Career Growth Committee (which is focused on building the business acumen of our members so that they grow throughout their careers) is delivering content focused on developing the understanding of what a balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement and are through the lens of a financier, a small business owner, and someone who is focused on developing her own Financial Empowerment.  The mission of this four-part series is to empower the people in our community with tangible takeaways so that they can confidently start the steps towards understanding what these financial reports are and why they matter.  We are also curating additional resources to keep learning and feed the questions created by curiosity.  I look forward to you joining me on this journey to make a positive impact for our aviation industry community.

To learn more about women’s financial empowerment, our LIVE AVIATE Lounge Chat today featured Liz Sara, President of the SCORE Foundation. My cohost for the lounge chat is Jessica Webster, founder, and president of the Hera Aviation Group. We asked Liz if women could quit their job like men, and here is what she had to say…


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