As a member of Citigroup’s [C] internal advisory board, Linda Descano had heard from a myriad number of female executives who said that they wanted to talk about money, but felt they couldn’t for one reason or another.

Either the women didn’t have the time, felt they didn’t know enough about finance, or their financial advisor talked to their spouse and excluded them.

One sentiment that came up repeatedly was: How can I sit in front of an advisor and talk about money if I know nothing?

After speaking to women from all walks of life, Descano realized that women are interested in finances, but the financial industry either doesn’t treat them with respect or doesn’t recognize the role the women played as financial decision makers.

Thus Women & Co., a financial community for women backed by Citigroup, was born 10 years ago. Since then, the firm's mission has remained the same: to help women build confidence and an open dialogue around financial responsibility and knowledge.

“Women & Co. was our way of saying we hear you and let’s start a dialogue,” Descano, the firm's president, said in an interview Monday. “We share what we hear with our businesses so we can provide more education, products, and services that are relevant.”

Prior to Women & Co., the financial industry didn’t talk to women about money in a way that mattered to them, Descano said. Financial advisors, in general, weren’t talking about philanthropy, especially when it came to giving to causes that support women and girls. Instead, many advisors stuck to talking about investing or estate planning, she said. And they still do. Women & Co, on the other hand, thinks about all five aspects of money: spending, saving, earning, borrowing, and giving.

“In the industry in general advisors are still not comfortable or don’t have the tools to bring philanthropy into any conversation with a household,” Descano said. “We give women the tools to help them be a more strategic long-term investor and be a more thoughtful role model.”

Women need advisors that understand that their financial lives are different than men’s, analysts said. Women live longer so their nest egg has to stretch for a longer period of time. They also more likely will need long term care support as they age. Women also take more time out of the workforce to take care of children or family members, which translates into smaller pensions or retirement accounts.

There is also an average earnings gap with women earning 70 cents for every dollar a man earns. Less income tends to lead to less savings.

For all these reasons, planning early and continuously is important. Descano said 90% of women become responsible for their finances at some point in their lives so being comfortable with finances and investing is important.

Another important factor is that as the number of women in the workforce grows, women have leapt into the role of chief financial officer in their households, a job that includes talking about money with their families and being responsible for their family's financial planning and investing.

Last month, Women & Co. released its second annual survey, Women and Affluence 2010: The Era of Financial Responsibility. The survey revealed that women are using their growing financial knowledge to start an open dialogue about money and financial responsibility. The results show that 91% of women are talking about finances with family members – and outside the family as well.

Over two-thirds of women believe that the recession made talking about money much more socially acceptable, according to the survey, which was conducted with over 1,000 affluent women between the ages of 40 and 70 with household investable assets of $100,000 or more.

And women’s knowledge and financial leverage continues to grow. In the 2008 survey, 75% of women said they were knowledgeable about finances and investing. In 2010 that number jumped to 82%. Sixty six percent of women in 2010 consider themselves the chief financial officers of their household, up from 63% in 2008.

But just because women are now taking on more financial responsibility in their households doesn’t mean they are confident about their investment abilities. A recent survey by MassMutual found that although women are just as optimistic as men about the stock market, women are much less confident about their investment decisions. This lack of confidence may lead women to shortchange themselves in the long run by investing less in their retirement savings.

At MassMutual, the average savings rate for men is 5.76% and for women it's 5.35%, said Elaine Sarsynski, an executive vice president in MassMutual's retirement services division and chairman and chief executive officer of MassMutual International LLC. Average account balances for women are about 63% of those of men, she said.

While women and men’s financial goals, like saving enough for retirement and being able to take care of their  families, tend to be the same, how women and men get there are very different, Descano said.

Women tend to prefer help from a financial advisor in making financial decisions and like to discuss their options with a community of like-minded women. Another reason an online and offline community like Women & Co., with its variety of educational symposia and events to help women keep on learning, is so important.

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