CHICAGO – We’ve all heard the basics. Women tend to outlive their spouses, earn less than men and take longer breaks from work. While progress is being made, the nest egg women build doesn’t last long enough for many of them.

“The gender income gap translates directly into the retirement gap,” said Mark Miller, an author and Morningstar retirement columnist, during a panel titled Retirement Success for Women. “Women are dealing with fewer resources over a longer period of time,” he said.

On top of the already less-than-ideal retirement landscape, many women simply aren’t sure where to start, said M. Cindy Hounsell, president of Washington-based nonprofit organization Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement.

(Left to right) M. Cindy Hounsell, Mark Miller, Laura Lutton speak at the Morningstar conference in Chicago.

“People start talking about ETFs when [some women] don’t even know what a mutual fund is,” Hounsell said. “Knowledge is key…but too many women don’t know the basics.”

Here are two big ways advisers can help:

1. HELP BOOST CONFIDENCE AND KNOWLEDGE

According to a report by BNY Mellon, 70% of widows leave their financial adviser after their spouse dies, implying a disconnect in the way advisers work with their women clients.

“There’s a cultural and behavioral set of issues here,” Miller said. Often women don’t feel respected by their advisers, or feel as though they’ve been left out of the conversation completely, he added. “The whole family should be involved with their planner.”

Both Hounsell and Miller agree that both spouses should attend meetings with their adviser. “Generally, women don’t see themselves as experts when it comes to investing,” Hounsell added – while men do.

That said, it may not be easy: Advisers may need to be more proactive than they expect when it comes to making sure both spouses are fully included. When an audience member said his female clients simply never came to meetings despite being invited, another audience member responded with a solution: “Hire a woman.”

During meetings, advisers should encourage conversation, and do their best to make sure both spouses understand nuances and details. That may require a different approach with female clients.

“Men tend to view investing as a game, and women are much more goal oriented,” Miller said.

Boosting confidence starts with helping women get the tools they need to understand their investments, Hounsell said.

Beyond using client meetings to teach some financial literacy, she suggests helping women become aware of what retirement resources are available within their communities. “There are so many resources people are unaware of,” said Hounsell.

2. START WITH SOCIAL SECURITY – AND WATCH THE SPACE

A huge way for advisers to jump on helping female clients plan for retirement is by paying attention to Social Security. Married couples should apply a joint optimization strategy when they are planning on taking Social Security benefits.

“As a general rule, it makes sense for the higher earner…to delay [taking Social Security] somewhat,” Miller said.

An audience member challenged Miller’s emphasis on Social Security strategies, claiming that women need to rely on their own savings rather than “money saved for us by the government.”

Miller asserted that Social Security isn’t saved for people, but by people, and remains an important resource.

“A huge percentage of the population has nothing saved for retirement,” he added. “There will be discussions in Washington on how to bridge the solvency gap and expand Social Security benefits.” His take: Watch this space.

A POSITIVE TAKEAWAY

While the odds may seem stacked against them, the retirement landscape for women is improving. In response to an audience member asking if there was hope regarding the income gap now that more women are getting bachelors degrees than men, Miller was optimistic.

“Glimmers of hope do exist,” Miller said. “Women are working longer. The gender gap in retirement plan coverage has been eliminated…and Social Security claiming agents are rising for women.”

Maddy Perkins

Maddy Perkins

Maddy Perkins is the Assistant Managing Editor for Financial Planning, Bank Investment Consultant and On Wall Street.