Faced with evidence that few women participate in the New York City Deferred Compensation Plan, Georgette Gestely, the plan's top executive and Innovator Award winner, borrowed a page from book clubs to encourage greater interest and contributions.
Officials at the $15 billion plan have started holding women-only sessions in which participants could discuss not only retirement issues but also issues such as health care, financial planning and assorted work-life topics.
“When we looked at the statistics, we found that women represent about 25% of the (participants), even though women represent 60% of New York City employees,” said Beth Kushner, deputy director of administration for the plan. (Ms. Gestely, director of the New York City Employee Benefits Program in the Office of Labor Relations, wasn't available for an interview.)
For a variety of reasons, Ms. Kushner said women are uneasy about making investment decisions. “We want them to feel comfortable,” she said. “Getting started is the most difficult step,”
The book-club strategy was Ms. Gestely's idea, and several people on her staff joined in developing and implementing what is called the Women's Roundtable, which started in May.
It meets twice a week — one afternoon session and one evening session — at the plan headquarters. It is open to 10 to 15 people per session, and the goal is to encourage women to share their experiences. (The limit on attendance is to encourage more in-depth discussion.)
These meetings are part of a larger program on women and financial security that also started in May. The program includes a promotional video focusing on financial and other problems faced by women and identifying resources; an “e-mercial” providing interactive education on financial planning issues; and a registration portal for women to sign up for the round table.
“I believe this plan has hit the nail on the head in identifying a significant segment of their population which benefits from a unique approach to communications and engagement,” said one Innovator Awards judge. “The plan made an effort to accurately reflect distinct issues with which their participants would likely identify.”
Another judge added: “It's well documented that a lot of women end up without adequate savings for various reasons. I also liked that they used a holistic approach and talked about debt, Social Security and insurance.”
Ms. Kushner said the women and financial security program and the round table are part of the deferred compensation plan's efforts at targeted marketing. For example, the plan sends letters to participants who are within five years of retirement about their options, and it sends letters to new hires offering financial education information.
Ms. Kushner said the women's round table will be assessed on how many people attend and how participants evaluate the meetings. More meetings will be added if there is greater demand.