When it comes to women, wellbeing and autonomy are critical. Be it over our healthcare decisions, our freedom of movement, or our finances, having the ability to make informed choices that meet our needs and address our challenges is foundational to full participation in the world.
Guiding women in navigating these things is what Crystal Buhler is out to do in this world. In this episode, this licensed insolvency trustee offers detailed information and insights on women, money, and debt, deepening our understanding of how sexism impacts women’s wealth and money management—and how women’s experiences with finances differ significantly from those of men. Crystal also shares her professional journey in this male-dominated field, along with her experiences as an entrepreneur and business owner, facing obstacles many of us are familiar with, given the continued sexism inherent in many professions.
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Guiding Women on Debt, Wealth and Everyday Finances with Crystal Buhler
I’m doing one of our favorite types of episodes where we get to talk to a woman who’s in a male-dominated industry about a couple of different things, her experience in that industry and sub-stories perhaps from early days in her career. We’re also going to get some expert advice on women in finance in particular. My guest is Crystal Buhler. She is a Licensed Insolvency Trustee and Founder and President of an organization called Debt Free North, based in Manitoba Canada. Welcome, Crystal.
Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.
It’s great to have you. You’ve educated me a tiny bit already. This is an area where anybody who knows me well will say I have some deficiencies. I’m imagining someone who is in your line of work starts off probably with an accounting designation and has a specialization from there. Start off by telling us a little bit about what this special designation is and what it is that you do.
Your assumption is right. A lot of Licensed Insolvency Trustees or LITs, as we call ourselves, do have an accounting designation or at the very least a Commerce degree or something like that. That’s a vast majority of trustees. The Licensed Insolvency Trustee license is given up by the Federal government. It’s specific to Canada. They are only allowed to license people who’ve completed a specific course of study. That course of study is offered by our national association. It’s not like you could go to your local university, take the right courses, and then get the license. That would be your first of many steps. I am a CPA. I do have the Charter Professional Accountant designation. After I finished that, I did the Specialized Insolvency course. It took me about eleven years of study to complete the designation.
It’s not something that people do lightly. It takes a lot more than what most people think to get through that process. What a LIT does though, we are the only professionals in Canada who can reduce or eliminate debt, or negotiate agreements that reduce or eliminate debt. The methods that we usually use are either consumer proposals, proposals for businesses or bankruptcy, if we need to, but bankruptcies are not the majority of what we do. We help both people, companies, partnerships and any entity in Canada. DebtFreeNorth.com is also known as C. Buhler & Associates. That’s our professional name.
We are mostly focused on helping individuals and small businesses, your local mom-and-pop corner store, the local hairdresser, and then the people that are impacted by that if they’re in financial trouble. When people come and meet with us, they are often faced with one of the most difficult choices. They’re in serious debt problems. They don’t know what to do. They’re scared of everything under the sun. They are scared of losing their houses, getting garnished, and all those things.
Our job is to give them the information they need to make well-informed decisions. We talk about consolidation loans. We educate them on how that product works. We talk about changing and tweaking budgeting. We’ve got a certified financial counselor on staff who walks through budgets with folks. If we need to, we can talk about consumer proposals and bankruptcies if it’s something that can’t be fixed with budgeting tweaks.
One’s brain always goes to, “It’s all about me.” For me right now, I’m thinking about how embarrassed I would be because I’m already embarrassed and I don’t have a bankruptcy situation on my hands. At the same time, I’m imagining having to divulge to someone all of that financial information. There’s so much emotion tied to if we feel like we’ve made maybe a bad decision. In addition to the financial knowledge and the legal knowledge that’s required, you’re dealing with people through a delicate topic for them.
I imagine if you’re at the end of your existence here, however long that may be, and you’re looking back and you list the ten big things in your life, there will be a lot of people for whom sitting in my office makes that list. There are marriages, divorces, children, and bankruptcies. You’re right. We have a running joke in-house here that we’re part accountants, part lawyers, part marriage counselors, and everything in between. There are a lot of emotions that go with financial trouble. There is a lot of stigma and embarrassment. One of the things we’re trying to do by talking about this is to, I won’t say get rid of that per se because I don’t know that we’ll ever get rid of it, but to educate people that no judgment here. We are here about finding options for you. That’s a good place to come at it from.
I want to talk a little bit about how you got into this field in more early days of your career. Was it your plan to go down this route? Were you thinking, “I’ll get an accounting designation because that will get me a good job?” Likewise, I didn’t realize how male-dominated this field is. I know you’re going to talk a little bit about that. Did you know that? If you did, did you expect it? Did it meet your expectations? Was it different? Tell us a little bit about that.
My mom tells the story that one day I came home from college and I was all lit up because I was in the Law course and I loved the Law course. There was this tiny little paragraph that talked about insolvency. It said, “People in financial trouble can do bankruptcies and proposals. In Canada, licensed insolvency trustees do those.” I was like, “That sounds awesome.” I have no idea to this day what was awesome about that, but it was. I put it on the shelf for 4 or 5 years. One of the other running jokes around here is that after eleven years of school, the reason that I went into Accounting was because I was only going to take two years of school.There are lots of women pioneers, but there are still issues within the system. Click To Tweet
I planned to go to our local community college, and that was it. That was the end of the plan, get a job and move on with life. After the two years of college, which turned into university, which turned into Accounting, I was lucky enough to have dinner with two licensed insolvency trustees who are to this day, good friends of mine. They inspired me. What interested me was not the numbers or the law per se. It was exactly what you talked about, the emotion of people and helping people through difficult times.
It’s interesting because when you listen to a room full of trustees tell the same story, almost every one of us, corporate or personal, what drew us in was helping people, whether it’s the company restructuring and saving jobs, or people moving through and save a house. That’s what brought me into it. I was lucky enough to be able to connect with these two, and they brought me on. I started in 2004. I started the trustee training program. I did not realize quite how polarized it was.
My initial exposure to the industry was mostly in Manitoba. We have an annual conference. All the trustees from Manitoba would show up. It’s a small room of people. There were about twenty people. If I remember correctly, there were three women. I might be out by one, but there was myself, my boss, who was one of the female pioneers in the industry, specifically in Manitoba, as well as someone else who’s now a good friend of ours, who’s with the National Accounting Firm as a trustee.
There were three of us in probably twenty people. The oldest statistics I could find were from 1991. Back in 1991, 7% of trustees across the country were female, which makes 93% of them male. That needle is moving. Right now, it’s about a 30% women split. I can say though that the last graduating class of trustees was 52% female. I’m excited about this. It’s neat to see that progression even over my semi-short career.
It is good to see. We’re seeing that in a lot of different fields in education. We’re seeing that in education. Women are outpacing men in many fields in terms of their entry into previously male-dominated programs and graduating stats as well.
That’s encouraging, isn’t it? That’s good.
It is encouraging. You mentioned that you worked for a woman in the early days of your career. The words you used were, “She was a trailblazer” or something.
Pioneering, maybe. That’s something I often attribute to her. She remains a good friend of mine. I’m blessed to have long-term friends like that who understand. She also owned a boutique accounting firm or a trustee firm.
What did it mean to you to have that connection and relationship? What do you think that that meant for you in your career?
She was an extremely strong role model for all sorts of things. She had two children. I have three. She was married, and so am I. She ran her own professional firm, which is exactly what I’m striving to do. She had male and female employees. She was many different pieces for me as a new professional. The other piece of it that I find interesting is I came from a rural background. I grew up on a farm. My first job was milking cows for my uncle. It gives me great roots and I’m glad to be home. Our office is based in Brandon, which is where home is to me. She gave me my first piece of the big city.
I thought it was interesting that she negotiated her world as a feminist. That word has all sorts of implications. I definitely made it in a positive way. I can let the male open the door for me, but I’ll address to judge myself. It was a dichotomy that I had never seen growing up remotely rurally. My mom was in healthcare, which is great, but it’s a different type of experience, for sure. I watched her do all those things. I’m blessed to have had that experience.
It’s important to recognize those women who were pioneers because there’s so much space that women are breaking into that is still new, and then there are many firsts still to happen and still to come. It’s valuable to have those people as mentors and as role models. Back to the early days, anything else about those early day experiences?
When I first joined the big firms, I was encouraged. Perhaps to use the word Pollyanna, that applies to me sometimes too. I thought, “This is a profession where women are treated the same as men. Things like trustees are paid on a tariff. It does not matter what your gender identity is. We’re all paid the same way.” There’s some equality built into the system, but as I quickly found out, there are a few #MeToo type moments. I realized, “Are we in the Dark Ages here?” It was almost scary to watch and to realize what types of things would advance my career that would not align with my vision, personal goals and values.
I went in thinking “This is great.” There are lots of women pioneers. There are still issues within the system. I had a couple of experiences that come to mind. I was on a video call with a male lawyer. The words he used to describe me were vexatious and vindictive. Let me back up. Trustees aren’t always well-liked. We’re a little like a referee where we have to make sure that each side is playing by the rules. When I’m playing sports, I’m the first one to not like to hear the whistle blow. When I’m trying to move towards the goal line or shoot the basket and the whistle blows, I’m like, “Ahh,” as much as everybody else.
However, when I was on the video call, I was sitting with a junior male in his early twenty-something. He was mortified. I could see his face and my face in the video. I was still stone-faced. I was expecting it, but his eyes got so huge. He was mortified that I had been called that, especially when I was doing my job. Even worse, that same individual then used those descriptors or those adjectives in his submission to the court. It’s on the record. Those words are a little more telling of where he’s at on the career spectrum, as opposed to where I’m at. Part of it is you have to let that roll off, and part of it is you address it when it needs to be, and I did.
It’s interesting because that same file which we continue, these files aren’t quick things, I’ve now assigned to one of the males in-house here running with that one. No disparaging adjectives have been used. He and I are somewhat known for being notoriously similar, as far as maybe a little blunt, maybe a little this, maybe a little that. It’s funny how he gets away with it and I most definitely would not, so we go with it.
Moving forward to more present day. Now you’re a founder. You run a business. What has that been like?
That has been challenging. As I was growing up, my grandfather was a serial entrepreneur. He had business after business as I was growing up. To me, it had a bad connotation. Not that he ever did poorly in business. My dad is a mechanic. My mom was a nurse. They got their jobs at twenty years old and they stayed in them until they retired. I grew up with that. Thinking one could jump from job to job and start businesses willy-nilly was not professional to me.
I’m starting to learn that entrepreneur does include the word professional. I may have to rebrand myself as such. I’m learning more that entrepreneur applies because we’re doing things like networking and trying to figure out social media. I did not have Instagram until I started the business. My kids still tease me about that. Crossing my fingers on the Google algorithms, hoping that we’ve got it figured out and it doesn’t change tomorrow. Picking office furniture, all the way down to working on client files, reconciling bank accounts, filing affidavits, those kinds of things, and then advocating for my industry, not only as a woman but as a professional.
I’m learning to accept that brand and that entrepreneur does encompass all that other stuff. That has been a challenge. I don’t think I was cognizant of this, being in the financial industry, I have found it’s much more difficult for women to finance a business, whether I’m selling t-shirts or I’m an accountant or whatever. I did not realize that was a bias in the system until it was my turn. There is a bias in the system.Build memories for your kids and accomplish common goals. Click To Tweet
To address the bias, special programs that they’ve designed. I am now more aware of them. Maybe they’ve always existed, but if you go to any of the big 4 or 5 banks and you say, “I’m a female entrepreneur,” they generally have a program for that. Even if you don’t quite fit the box, because trustees are notorious for never fitting the box, they are able to tweak their programs to understand. I find that interesting. I wish I had more stats on when that became popular in things.
In these last few weeks, we’ve had two male professionals that I can think of that take note of our business and go, “You’re not just a little place on the corner.” We practice across the three Prairie Provinces in Canada, which is the bulk of the center of Canada, as well as the three Northern Territory. We cover a lot of the geography and we help a lot of people remotely. It’s neat when a professional that would have never looked at us a few years ago takes note and knocks on our door. That has been pretty cool.
Our firm’s a little different. Our firm is me, a professional female and three males, one of which is my husband. They’ve all had lengthy careers before coming here. Two of them are with financial institutions, credit unions, banks and lending. They understand the other side of what we do. My husband’s background was in IT and accounting. He generally keeps me going where I need to be. He makes my computer work, which makes me happy, generally. He transitioned in our relationship to he is doing a lot of the things at home. We together have three children. That’s a challenge. We’ve had to juggle that. We were married just after high school. What we negotiated then is not what it looks like now. I appreciate that we’re on the same page about that.
It does take a certain approach to parenting and partnering with your spouse or your partner in any career. If two people in a household raising children or having other care responsibilities, which many people do, are going to be successful and not just work to live, but also maybe have some joy in your life, it does take a real renegotiating along the way and thinking about how you want to approach that as a couple.
I have two sons. It’s similar to you. This is something that I’m cognizant about. Because I have boys, in particular, it’s even more important to me how we negotiate things that have to be done in the house, for example, all of that domestic and caregiving work and the mental load of that. It’s important to me that they understand how and why mom and dad make those decisions because being the mom isn’t the default person to do everything. There’s so much that most of us take for granted because we just do. That’s life. We have these biases that are there with the way we were raised and everything around us.
That’s interesting. Talking about accepting help, we invite people. We are supported by an awesome community. People refer to them as their village. I’ve got a great village. I’m lucky enough to live close to both my mom and my mother-in-law who help us out in lots of ways. Communities around female founders and female entrepreneurs do their best to recognize that that world is never the same two days in a row.
We live in close proximity with my mother-in-law. She’ll see me come home at 5:00 one night and 10:00 the other night, and never question. She just supports. She just assumes, “You guys have been busy at work. How can I help you?” “I need to pack a lunch for a kid tomorrow.” “I’ve got that for you.” I appreciate that if I let something fall off my radar like if I forgot to bring the casserole or I forgot to do this, it’s not personal and they know that. They’ve been amazing.
Through COVID, we’ve had a lot of extra support. That’s important for female founders. If they don’t have support or if you don’t have a village, because I recognize not everyone has that support, you have to make it for yourself, whether that’s maybe allowing yourself some leeway. It doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal every night. Something in a box from takeout is okay. The perfectly clean house is always the stereotype. I can clean the house and do all the things, but sanitary is one thing and perfectly clean is another. Adjust expectations or employ people to help you. If you have the means and you can, consider doing that for yourself. That’s self-care.
What would you recommend for a woman who’s entering your field? We can talk about men too because men’s behavior and mindset are critically important to making change, but let’s start with women. Given all your experiences, both in the industry that you’re in and also now as an entrepreneur and business owner, what advice would you have for women?
I have an answer that’s good for both. For women founders in general, maybe not trustees, but those who are going into financial industries, don’t make assumptions. I know I’ve done that in my career. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t assume, “I can’t this” or “They won’t that,” or those types of things. Don’t assume, just ask. Say, “How about that? Do you think we could make this happen?” Your practice or your career may not end up looking like you thought but if you didn’t ask, you’ll never know. It might be better than you imagined. I never thought I would be running a business where if I decide I’m done for the day and my kid needs me more than I need to be here, I’m out. That’s a pretty big privilege. We’ve asked a lot of questions to get here.
I would say that for the women, don’t assume. For both, I thought of a neat thing. I ride horses. We talked about that briefly before. I’m lucky enough to have three of them in my backyard. We have a few acres that they keep mowed for us. I have one particular horse. He’s a thoroughbred, which means he’s a little more high-strung than the others. He hates to stand still. If you try to make him stand still, he’ll run sideways, buck or do whatever he can to not stand still. That same horse, if you let him move but you direct it like you tell him to walk this way, align or go in a circle or trot down that wall, he’s happy as a puppy dog.
He’s a beautiful horse to ride. He’s phenomenal. He has taught me that letting him move brings out his best and ultimately mine. He’s taught me to be a better rider. I’ve had to keep my nerves calm when he’s going down the wall faster than I wanted. I have progressed to doing things with him that I never thought I would do. I took riding lessons with my daughter. I was on this horse and she was on our other one, the old faithful guy.
As far as a life lesson, keep moving and embrace change. I would say to any young professionals, embrace change and don’t fight it. In our industry, we’re trying to figure out what the post-COVID world is going to look like. During COVID, we’ve been able to meet with people by video. The regulators who assign the rules are trying to decide, do we have to go back to sitting across the table from them? Do we continue with only virtual or is a hybrid option acceptable? There are those in our industry that said, “I wouldn’t be a trustee if I knew I was only ever going to sit in front of a computer screen.” I understand that. I get it but I’ve enjoyed meeting with clients virtually. For me, it has solved an issue that I couldn’t have solved myself.
I mentioned #MeToo before. In that world where we’re concerned about being alone with people in closed rooms for everyone’s sake, video meetings have offered all of us a level of protection and safety. There’s nothing that would ever hurt me more than allegations either made by my staff or my staff being hurt by a client. It has solved a problem for me. Before we go, “No, we don’t want to change. That’s bad,” think about the horse and sit and let him go at his own speed for a little bit. That’s what I thought.
That’s a nice way to look at it. There’s a lot of resistance in businesses. Still. I’m hearing this desire to dictate what back to work will look like. There does need to be a loosening of that grip because there’s a lot of resistance to it.
It will be interesting to see what our regulators come up with. They have been receptive to our feedback. That point among others was one of the points that we put forward.
Let’s shift the gears a little bit to talk about what you’ve noticed. We did an episode with Kristine Beese.
She’s a fantastic, wonderful and brilliant woman. She’s the Founder of Untangle Money. She and I talked about women and finances, the wealth gap and the pink tax. She opened my eyes to all kinds of interesting information that I didn’t know the extent of. You’ve got similar experiences because you’re also talking to men and women about their finances. You’ve noticed some differences in the way that men and women manage their finances and certainly the way they approach debt. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Before I go there, I want to say that I listened to podcasts a lot in the car. My daughter was riding along with me. We would go grocery shopping once a week. It’s mom and her out thing. She was listening to that particular episode. As you were talking through pink tax, what that means, what it is, and how prevalent it is, she paused the podcast. She doesn’t normally listen to them but she paused it. She looked at me with this look on her face. She said, “Is that a thing?” I said, “Yeah, that’s what they’re talking about.” We finished listening to the podcast. That’s the conversations we’ve had since then, and with the younger one too. I do have two daughters. They’ve both picked up on that.Embrace change. Don't fight it. Click To Tweet
Back to your question about differences in debt and differences in managing money, probably the biggest thing I’ve seen lately comes even from the last few days and was an observation that my husband made. He commented that older women never anticipated having to make some of these money decisions or comprehending things like investments. These were decisions that they never thought would be in their wheelhouse. In fact, I took a call from a senior who was reaching out looking for some budgeting resources and such for a friend of hers because the friend has completely lost. She does not know how to put together a family budget. The friend is over 70. It’s something that we see.
I do acknowledge that my experience might be slightly skewed in this, but when I pick up the phone and the person on the other end of the phone is calling me because of a marital situation, whether that’s male, female or whatever your household looks like when they’re calling me about a household’s financial situation, it’s typically the female that’s on the phone. There’s a lot of emotional weight to debt and to figuring it out. She may or may not be the primary breadwinner, but somehow it falls to the mom or the wife or whatever to solve that problem. I am more cognizant of it as we go now. Again, I do admit my statistics on that may be skewed.
I am a female trustee. Clearly, on our website, I’m a female trustee. Therefore, if they feel that the connection point might be, “I would rather call a female than a male,” that does happen in our industry. It’s a lot of emotional weight for some. They often call. They gather all the facts, “Here’s what the trustee said our options are.” They’ll take that information back, relay it to the spouse, and a decision is made, whatever that may be. I thought that was interesting.
We’re also seeing over time, let’s say from 2012 to 2020, the division between males and females who have to file insolvency whether that’s a proposal or a bankruptcy. It used to be much more skewed to males. That is now coming close to a 50/50 split. It was 48% and 52% or something like that in about 2018. We’re seeing equality there, but I’m not sure it’s the one that we wanted. I’m sure it’s one anybody wants, regardless of gender. That’s interesting.
There have been some statistics. These aren’t mine. I acknowledge that there’s someone else in our industry who compiles statistics that women file insolvency on less debt than males. The question that was raised was, “Why would that be?” For example, the statistics show women file insolvency when their debt total is roughly $43,000 versus males’ totals of debt, which is approximately $52,000. What’s the difference for the $9,000 differential?
The founders of the study think that women are more likely to have other risk factors, things like being a single parent, being divorced, separated or widowed, or being a low-income senior. Statistically, women fall into those buckets more often. Therefore, that’s why their filing rates are higher. Also, that would mean that their debt takes up a larger portion of their after-tax income. We’re talking about that wealth gap. That does not do pretty things to the wealth gap when we say that.
In our experience, women facing debt troubles, especially after a separation or divorce weren’t on utility accounts. When you’ve got a 40-year-old, 50-year-old woman who has never had a power account in her name phones up the local utility provider, they’ll say, “You’re not here. I’m sorry. We need a security deposit from you to open your account.” That seems counterintuitive, especially if the household income for the previous twenty years had been paying that. Because it’s under his name, it didn’t build her credit history, and therefore, these providers don’t recognize her. There’s that as an issue.
We see women caregivers, not only for children. I’m in the sandwich generation. We care for our parents and spouses who have illnesses and injuries, as well as for our children. That contributes to that wealth gap that we talked about. It’s only exaggerated when you layer in debt. That’s what our experience has been. It’s interesting.
What words of advice do you have for women with regard to finances, money, and perhaps debt as well?
I can think of three main ones. The first one that I encourage males and females, but we’re talking about women now, is to educate yourself. Know that there are books, webinars, and podcasts that are available for free. If you’re in financial trouble, you don’t need to be paying for these things. There are lots of free resources out there that are good resources. You can consider a financial mentor as well. Educate yourself through what they’ve done, good or bad. Maybe they made some poor choices and they’ll tell you about them. Maybe they’ve made some good choices and they’ll share that with you. The first one I would say is education.
The second one is being assertive. If you don’t think your partner is making a wise financial decision, you have to have a mechanism to bring that up for discussion. We had talked previously that we don’t always have the best financial modeling as we were growing up. Even as parents, we try to do the best we can, but it’s not something that you always talk about. If that’s the case where you have a situation and you’re not comfortable or you don’t know how to bring it up, look for a counselor. Consider using your employee assistance plan if you have benefits. Connect with a counselor, even a not-for-profit. Have money talks where there’s no fighting, no shaming, and no blaming. That’s your goal. It’s to solve the problem.
The last one is watching the life stages. Understand that each time you change stages or you bounce back and forth between them, that has a financial impact. As part of every file, we have to ask the reasons for their financial difficulty. We’ve seen everything under the sun, but the one that gets me is when people say having children or taking parental leave or taking maternity leave. I hate to put that on documents. I would never want the children to see that. I would never want the children to feel the burden that, “Mom and dad had to file bankruptcy because of me.”
I have found having children to be an amazing experience. Everyone has different experiences if they’re able to do so. Often, society tells us that as women, we can have it all. We can have our children, our family, and our career. In my experience, it’s not the case. You can have all the things. You just can’t have them at the same time. If taking some time out of a career to be home with children, whether that’s for 2 months or 12 months or 5 years or whatever, let that choice impact your future. Let it adjust what your future looks like. Don’t try and fill that hole or differential with credit. Don’t finance the life that you would have had if you chose to be at work. It brings me to tears when thinking that somebody’s reason for being in financial trouble might be choosing your family.
Now I’m feeling maybe it isn’t so appropriate, but there have been times where I’ve joked with my husband like, “It’s like the kids don’t understand that they’re the reason we’re poor.”
My husband and I do say, “You’re the reason we can’t have nice things yet.”
All the life we would have lived if we had free daycare. That’s interesting.
As much as we joke about it and it is funny, the point is well taken. We’ve made a choice. We were having this family. Let it impact your future. Let them have a little bit of kraft dinner and some hand-me-down clothes because it didn’t kill anybody in our generation.
They can wear hand-me-down clothes, but make sure there’s a pocket for their iPhone. Anything else you wanted to say about that?
That would be my advice to women who are embarking either on managing finances for the first time. Maybe they’re young or maybe they recently separated or led different life situations. Males as well to support the women in your world.
I want to reinforce something you said a little earlier. You were talking about it more in terms of your approach with potential clients about no judgment. It’s important that we have no judgment of ourselves. That doesn’t mean in action. That doesn’t mean not being fully awake and aware of the situation that we are in or the reality of our circumstances and facing that head-on. Without judgment is such a critically important thing.If you don't think your partner's making a wise financial decision, you have to have a mechanism to bring that up for discussion. Click To Tweet
I’ll speak to this from my own experience and with regard to money specifically. I probably am stereotypically female in some of this regard, but I have other strengths. I’ve mentioned before that numbers in general are not one of them. My husband and I certainly fell into a pattern of certain jobs and how they were divvied up. It’s not like I was not doing my fair share, but I didn’t have my eyes on the finances as much. I had other important jobs that I was doing. I don’t want to take on any guilt or shame about that. That’s the thing. There’s often this seemingly invisible work that women do. There’s so much that is difficult to quantify.
We do see that in our files. If somebody chooses to file bankruptcy, one of the tasks that they must do in order for the file to close is to provide us with a statement every month that shows money in and money out. Put it real simple. I don’t like to call it a budget because nobody likes to budget. It’s our record of what happened. Often, we have discussions with the couple, “Logistically, how is this going to happen?” Especially when they have young children in the home or if they’re working opposite shifts, days and nights. He works remotely. She’s at home with the kids. “Tell me how this is going to happen.” They sit there and they look at each other with a stunned look. He thought she was going to do it. She’s like, “I don’t know how I’m going to do it.” She knows she’s going to, and this is so stereotypical.
We have that conversation right up front. One of the suggestions that I make is not encouraging them to incur debt or spend money. I would say to the two of them, “Who’s going to physically do it?” Let’s say that she sticks up her hand. “What do you need so that you have an hour every month to get this thing done? If it doesn’t get done, your bankruptcy is not going to close.” Often it’s, “I need an extra hour at the end of a week. I don’t know where I’m going to get that.”
That again is stereotypical. I turn to the male and say, “There’s a park down the street from your house. Let’s say that on the last Saturday of every month, you commit from 6:00 PM until 7:00 PM to take your children to that park. If it’s pouring rain, they will wear rain jackets.” You have to carve it out. This is the marriage counselor piece and it works. There they’ve had their first non-confrontational, non-judgmental, no blaming, no shaming, no yelling money conversation. We like to model that for them.
What I found as I was educating myself a bit more about this is I had to insert myself and say, “I want to sit with you. Let’s sit together as we do these things because I need to learn how to do them.” It’s not intuitive for me. My husband is the nicest person in the whole world. I’m not being me. He always skipped steps and makes assumptions and I’m like, “Back this up. Talk to me like I’m in grade five. I need the remedial class at this.” That’s on me too to say, “Okay, I’m going to insert myself. I’m going to sit. We’re going to do these things together. I’m going to take on more. I’m going to learn it.” I am secretly worried that one day he’s going to croak and I’m going to be stuck with all this stuff. I’m going to be one of those 70-year-old women that you talked about.
That’s a conversation we have with our seniors and everybody’s age and up. We say, “If you don’t have little kids running around at your feet, then make your wife a tea, make your husband a coffee and sit together and do these things. I don’t care if you have to allocate $5 in your budget to go do it at Timmy’s, but you got to get this stuff done and you’re going to do it together and have that conversation.” I equate that with I am not mechanically inclined, but everyone around me is, my staff, my husband, my dad and everybody. Watching me trying to change oil or change a tire gets painful, but I get it done eventually.
One day when you’re on the side of the road and none of those people is around, it will be good that you’ve had the practice, even though it might take you a little longer. Crystal, I cannot thank you enough for having this conversation with me and for sharing some about your experience and the advice that you have.
Thank you very much for having me here. I sincerely appreciate it. It has been great to talk with you. I appreciate that.
Thank you, Crystal.
lisa, we were talking about this episode and you were saying how you found yourself getting agitated at some things. I thought we would start with what was triggering you as you listened to this. We talked about this from a number of different angles. We’ve talked about women in the wealth gap before, which is a serious and concerning issue. In terms of our conversation with Crystal, we heard a lot about her career, but also what she’s noticing about her work as she works with women. What was it that struck you?
Before I go there, and I will go there quite quickly, I want to thank you for engaging with Crystal and this important ongoing conversation that you and I have with each other and with our guests about opportunities for all of us to thrive in the workplace to use our skills and passion. In this case, when Crystal talked about her interest to work in insolvency, which would never be top of mind for me, similar to you. I know how to pay my bills and am involved in complex structures around money.
You’ve interviewed other guests in traditionally male-dominated fields. First of all, I want to say to her that I commend her and every woman or a person from an underrepresented identity who’s forging the way for the rest of us. You often talk about many firsts are yet to come. I consider Crystal to be in the category of women who are creating first for the rest of us. I’m going to start there.
To answer your question about my reactivity, my initial sentiment was anger and frustration. Here’s where I’m coming from on this: it seems so obvious to me that in addition to all the domestic labour women do, the childcare and the emotional labour, there’s already a heavy burden on many women in our society around those pieces. The stats back me up. I’m not making anything up here. To then go out into the world and to pick a profession that you’re passionate about and that you want to make a difference, you want to do great work to encounter the kinds of things that Crystal encountered.
One example she gave was about the lawyer who called her vexatious and vindictive, who would never use that language with a male. There are many other things that women face from comments about their bodies in the workplace or the appropriateness of their clothes or not. People feel it’s appropriate to ask them if they’re pregnant or if someone has gained weight. That has happened to me. I can assure our audience that I have not had any children, so being touched inappropriately.
There’s so much that women experience. Where my anger and some despondency came from was that please make it go away. That’s where I started. It was so wide-ranging what the two of you covered. I felt I had something to say about everything, but I know we’re going to narrow this down to a couple of key points. What about you? What stands out for you in this?
First of all, I want to acknowledge what you’re saying because we’re emotional beings. That’s the human experience. There might be a wide range of emotions that could come with being a woman in the world of work, or being someone from a marginalized group. Anger, frustration, apathy, sadness, I’ve experienced the whole range. You and I are in the thick of this work. We’re exposed to it a lot more. We’re reading it. We’re aware. We’re talking to people. That’s a normal reaction. What is that telling us? I see now emotions as data information. We want to think about processing that in a way that’s going to be healthy for us so that we don’t get stuck in it and take it on too much.
The other thing I always try to say especially in the past few years and has become my motto is we can’t let it rob us of joy and moving forward in a meaningful way. We feel like this is what’s happening. We’re awake. We’re aware, but now we’re going to figure out how we want to respond. The thing that I most want to share is I was touched by the story that Crystal shared about how she came to learn about what bankruptcy and insolvency work was all about, and how it had come up as almost a footnote in a textbook or something. It sparked something with her. It sparked this curiosity and interest. She even went home and said, “This is what I want to do.”
I thought that was so fascinating. I’m always so interested in what sparks people, what ignites that interest, and then where they go with that. I’ve seen this happen many times where maybe a person deviates a little bit from that for a while. That’s all part of the learning that then propels us forward, but then maybe comes back to it in some way. In the work that I do, first of all, I feel privileged to hear the stories of people’s careers. I love hearing about those spark moments.
What I want from an individual point of view is that anger or an emotional reaction is information and data. Those sparks, feelings and moments are important data to pay attention to. Uncovering and following, what that means, what could that lead to, and letting that be some momentum to drive you forward is important.
The other aspect of that is for organizations and leaders, you want people working for your organization that have those sparks, interests and drivers. Hiring people based on their talent, potential, and areas of curiosity and interest is important. I’m almost thinking that we need to go back to a more old-fashioned model in a way of hiring people based on those things and training them and developing them. Hiring people whose values match is also important. I could talk at length about that as well, but that’s what was important to me.
I know Crystal was being quite conservative in the stories that she shared because I do know that she had other stories that she could have shared about #MeToo and so forth. What we heard was a small snippet of some of the things. We don’t want those kinds of things to get in the way of people bringing their talent into the workplace. That’s the thing that gets my gut.Watch the life stages and understand that each time you change stages or you bounce back and forth between them, that has a financial impact. Click To Tweet
I’m grateful to many people who are putting this into the spotlight. For our audience who weren’t aware of this, the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, ran a series called The Power Gap at the start of 2021. The articles are all accessible. They’ve created something called The Women’s Collective. At first, I was disheartened and discouraged when I kept reading headlines about ageism and sexism. This is not just women at high levels in their careers, executives or mid-career, but even at the lower paid roles that our society depends on. These incredibly discriminatory gaps in pay are a problem.
A couple of things talking about the pandemic, childcare and domestic work typically fell to women in the home. Children were at home, having to manage schooling, and women were leaving the employment sphere, talk about what they call the shecession in a recession. It was primarily because of women having to literally pay the price for what was happening during the pandemic in terms of the falling economic factors.
Meanwhile, the wealthy getting wealthier. We know that most wealth is concentrated in name to many of the men on this planet. Also, women are often in precarious work, where you don’t know your hours. You often don’t know what time your shift is going to start. You’re having to manage your daycare and all of that. You’re trying to make your day work. Forget about even saving money.
Crystal was talking about some of the stories of her clients who are people trying to do the best for themselves, their families, and their parents. I’m putting women in a big category that women face when we are trying to not only get up and get our days going but find some joy in it. I’m grateful for the conversation that you had with her. It was enlightening for me. You started off the conversation interestingly.
This was an important point too. When you talk about money or having money problems that there’s a shame, fear and stigma. Part of women talking about money helps us vacate or expunge some of those feelings because we are not alone. Many of us have been in situations in which we’ve had difficulties in having enough money in our lives for the basics. I was eye-opened to everything that you and Crystal talked about.
The one other thing that you reminded me of that was interesting is how Crystal said how if it’s a male and female couple, it’s the woman who makes the call. She didn’t link this but to me, it’s linking in my brain anyway. It’s consistent with what we see in terms of men being less likely to ask for help about anything. They’re less likely to get medical help or mental help. I’m not making this up. It’s well documented in the stats. It seems that this is also falling into that category of even though it may be common that men are more likely to be managing the household finances or have more control and line of sight to that, when it comes to the point where we need to ask for help or make that decision, it often falls to the woman to make the call.
It’s falling into some of that more difficult emotional labor. Part of women changing in our society, becoming more financially independent, having careers, and participating in the economy have to go hand in hand with men also changing. We’re asking women to change. That leaves a vacuum or at least a void. Men are also being stretched to learn some of the more emotional languages, to be able to sit in those moments, and to be able to have difficult conversations. I don’t blame them. They weren’t necessarily raised or taught to do that. We’re all falling into systems that we’re born into. We have to find ways to work together around this and be able to have an open dialogue and not get defensive. There’s a lot of defensiveness around these types of conversations.
I would just add to that, and this is important when people are talking about real things and solving real issues, but to never lose track of the fact that we are in systems that have been unjust to women, older people, marginalized communities and people of color. For as many conversations as we have that are important to have in our primary relationships, we also need to look at the systems that are created around us, in which we’re not built for people who were essentially not White and male and able-bodied.
I’m heartened by the fact that these conversations are coming up broader in society. In almost every conversation I have these days, “There’s more work to do,” is something that somebody says. As disheartened as I am, I’m also hopeful because more and more voices are coming to the fore to change the way that we live, change the way that we work, and challenge some ideas that are not serving anyone, men included. We are moving incrementally. We’re centimetering or maybe millimetering. Sometimes there’s some step back, but I do think that the arc of where we are going is advancing us. We need to keep pushing in the way that Crystal has forged her place in the world, and the way that we support everyone to find their place doing work that they love.
We encourage people to use their voices and share their stories. If there’s anyone out there who has a story to share or would like to get in touch with us in any way, please visit our website. It’s WorkRevolutionPodcast.com. Get in touch with us and ask us questions about what’s going on in the workplace too because we love to tackle those. That’s it for now.
- Debt Free North
- Kristine Beese – Women’$ Worth episode
About Crystal Buhler
Originally from Brandon, Manitoba, Crystal Buhler graduated with a Diploma in Business Administration from Assiniboine Community College, followed by a Bachelor of Accounting Science from University of Calgary. A year later, after receiving her designation as a Certified General Accountant (now Chartered Professional Accountant), Crystal entered the Insolvency industry, and in 2011, became a Chartered Insolvency and Restructuring Professional (CIRP) and Licensed Insolvency Trustee (LIT).
With over 10 years experience in insolvency, working with both a national firm and a boutique insolvency firm, Crystal started C. Buhler & Associates Ltd., a Professional Licensed Insolvency Trustee firm in 2018. Operating under the name Debtfreenorth.com, Crystal and her team have expanded to 5 offices, serving all 3 Prairie Provinces, and all 3 northern Territories, from their home base of Brandon, Manitoba, with a focus on helping those who live and work in Canada’s remote and rural communities.