Partner and family life as a challenge for women on their way to become a CFA Charterholder

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When I look back at my studies, female students were always in majority compared to their male colleagues. What is the reason why women are a minority among CFA charterholders and candidates? Are they less willing to study further, less committed to their careers or what are the biggest obstacles for women to become a CFA charterholder?

Chart 1. Gender Breakdown – Members, CFA Society Czech Republic, August 2016
Source: CFA Institute

CFA program is extremely demanding for both, women and men. However from my experience the biggest challenge for women is connected with the timing of the exam. Most of candidates usually enroll in the CFA Program in the second half of their 20s. At this age,  it is very difficult for women to sacrifice their personal and social life, even if they are highly committed to their careers. From this perspective, the best start would be to take studies together with your spouse. You could benefit from  studying in tandem, support and real understanding from your partner. What is more, your partner could not get the feeling you do not have enough time for him as you would spend the time preparing  for the exam together, and also he would not have much more spare time available. Unfortunately, life does not always go this way.
Chart 2. Candidate Average Age, CFA Society Czech Republic, March 2016
Source: CFA Institute

So the second best option for both genders, allowing enough time for learning, is to be settled in a long-term relationship. You have the time available, you have to somehow sacrifice your social life mainly during the last weeks before the exam, but your personal life is not affected radically and your partner may even welcome the change. You just spend the evenings and weekends at home studying, you are not outgoing any more, you do not invite your friends or family members for dinners, and you do not have any demands on him – so  he can freely enjoy his free time watching football or meeting with his old mates. The only danger here is that he can get used to this attitude during the three years of your preparation for the exams.
Up to this point, the difference between both genders were not that significant – both male and female candidates need support and tolerance of their partner as they devote the precious free time they could spend with their partner to education. Although women still tend to be generally more supportive and understanding in regards to the careers of their partners, including their enhancement through further studies, this has been changing a lot and nowadays more and more men adopt the same attitude of trust and encouragement.
Chart 3. Gender Breakdown - All Exam Levels, CFA Society Czech Republic, March 2016
Source: CFA Institute

Unfortunately, it takes at least three years to successfully complete the CFA program and commonly even longer and this long period might bring one big challenge to the study plan of women – pregnancy. Now, when your study plan includes this random variable, you cannot easily plan anything.  You don’t know if you will be fit enough to study and sit for the exam, you just focus on yourself and the baby.  When the child comes – you find yourself totally changed – with different priorities and with extremely limited amount of time available for revisions. You just throw away all the time management books, because you have just given birth to your new time manager. You have to be there for your child all the time, when the child gets ill one week before your exam, you just drop the books and you are there for her/him – you are the mother.   
So why would you continue with your studies now? It’s easy – because it was your dream and you have already devoted so much time and effort to it that you would regret if you had to quit. And even though becoming mother might somehow slow down your career, it is just a very short period of your working life. But how to manage it? Where you can find time and energy? It is time to turn to your partner. He is here to help you. He is the father, not only the breadwinner, so let him find his role. Ask for help, do not try to be a perfect mother who will cope everything on her own and get the regular time for studying – time for yourself – and you will get this so very important feeling of support and understanding from your life partner together with a boosted self-confidence.

By Lenka Bolečková, CFA Program Candidate, Level III


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