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Fidelity’s most powerful women on ‘The Confidence Gap’

Abby Johnson and Kathy MurphyAbby Johnson and Kathy Murphy
Johnson (left) and Murphy

Women are on track to earn $18 trillion in America this year; that’s 50% more than they earned just five years ago. Studies show that by 2030, women will control two-thirds of our nation’s wealth.

At Fidelity we serve millions of women investors, giving us unique perspectives on how women save and plan. Through conversations with clients and their families, here’s what we’ve learned: Women are, in fact, making more money, but too few of them are taking control of it. While women exert tremendous influence in many areas—careers, parenting, health—they are not using their power when it comes to being financially ready for the next stage of their life.

According to research we conducted last year with 800 couples at various stages in their committed relationship, 52% of women still think that their husband or male partner does a better job overseeing the family finances. About 80% of affluent females consider themselves “beginner investors,” compared with 50% of men. Surprisingly, only one in eight members of Generation Y calls herself the primary decision-maker when it comes to personal finance.

That’s not to suggest that professional women aren’t handling their everyday financial situations. They know how much they’re bringing in, what they’re spending, and where they’re saving. Our research shows a lack of confidence in women’s ability to make decisions about their own investments, as well as a lack of understanding of the long-term implications of making those investments.

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This “confidence gap” is in stark contrast to the narrowing gender gap. More wealth is being earned by women rising through the ranks in the workplace, and even more is being moved into women’s hands as surviving spouses and children inherit money. Yet many women haven’t spent the time to educate themselves on how to manage this meaningful opportunity, although they are certainly capable of making as much progress here as they have elsewhere.

From many career-focused women we hear a need for financial planning that is educational, consultative, and holistic. They want broad access to guidance—on any screen, in person, or over the phone, so they can more easily find the time to make this a priority. It’s really about creating a personalized experience that helps them become more confident as investors. That’s why we have launched a business initiative at Fidelity that focuses exclusively on the needs of women throughout their various life stages, such as guidance on how much to save in a workplace retirement plan; analysis that helps them afford their first home and plan for children’s college education; help with understanding the financial demands of child care and elder care; and what to do when faced with unexpected life changes.

Our ultimate goal is to help women build confidence in making sound choices to achieve their long-term financial goals. Women work very hard to make progress in so many ways. Yet only when they have the ability to control their own financial futures will they realize the full extent of their true power.

This story is from the October 6, 2014 issue of Fortune.