24. How to Destroy an Earnings Plateau (and make big dollars)

How to Destroy an Earnings Plateau (and make big dollars)

If you listen to this podcast regularly, you know it’s my mission to solve the gender earnings gap.

But you might not know about the female earnings plateau.

It’s a big reason the gender earnings gap exists.

Women of all ages can experience income stagnation. But around age 41, it kicks into high gear.

Your expertise grows. But your earnings do not. This is the female earnings plateau.

In this episode, I tackle the stats and psychology behind this plateau. I explain what causes it. Why it’s a problem. And how to reject the lie that “you can’t fix your earnings plateau on your own.”

Nothing is a problem unless it stands between you and what you want in life… And what I see are so many women who want things in life. — Kelly Hollingsworth


  • How to know if you’re in an earnings plateau
  • Earnings gaps stats that may surprise you
  • Are government and corporate laws, acts and standards the answer?
  • Guidance on why having a big “why” doesn’t matter—and why you should just pursue what you want
  • Even deeper reasons to close your personal earnings gap
  • Traditional solutions that aren’t solutions at all
  • Real solutions to bust through and become a women who makes more money



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  • Join the conversation by leaving a comment below!


Welcome to Episode 24 of how to make more money, a podcast that helps you get seriously good at the game of making serious money. I’m your host, Kelly Hollingsworth and I’m thrilled you’re here, because today we’re talking about how to destroy an earnings plateau, so you can make big dollars.

Before we dive in and talk about how to destroy an earnings plateau, let’s talk about how to know if you are in one. If you are a female human over the age of about 41, chances are good that you are in an earnings plateau. How do we know this? Because of a measured phenomenon called the Female Earnings Plateau. What is this Female Earnings Plateau?

According to a study by PayScale, a compensation research firm, a Female Earnings Plateau is the tendency for women’s earnings to peak at age 41. Men’s earnings keep climbing and don’t tend to level off until age 53. That is a full 12 years of earnings growth that men enjoy that women aren’t experiencing. The Female Earnings Plateau is a big contributor to the gender earnings gap.

As you may have heard, my goal is to end the gender earnings gap in the US in my lifetime. And here I would like to clarify; it’s not that I don’t care about the gender earnings gap in other countries. I’ve set my sights on the US because I live here, which means this is a country I understand; I understand the culture, I understand the laws, I understand what’s going on here and I feel consequently that this is a topic I can speak to and solve.

But please know this; everything that we talk about in this show is applicable to making money in other countries as well. So if you’re outside the US and listening to this show, I don’t want you to feel excluded. You are welcome here and everything we talk about should help you make more money too and this is important because the Female Earnings Plateau is not just an issue outside the US.

For example, according to an article published in The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, the gender earnings gap is at its most extreme at ages 50 and above. The Guardian reports that in our 20s, the gender earnings gap is 13%. In our 30s, the gap is 16%. In our 40s, the gap is 25%. In our 50s it peaks at 28%; women 50 and above make 28% less than men. In certain sectors it’s even worse. For example, in fund management, my old stomping grounds, the earnings gap is reported at 31%. Why is this happening?

The problem like all gender earnings gap problems generally is written off as a byproduct of circumstances beyond our control. For example, one article cited an opportunity gap, women are ‘forced’ to interrupt their careers to raise and have children. Women don’t get promoted on boards and executive positions due to among other things; biases within organizations, cultural biases, etcetera. To combat the opportunity gap, some countries are initiating diversity quotas. It’s the idea of you must promote and pay women more or else. But then, in many cases where this is the strategy, there’s often backlash.

For example, the 31% gap for women in fund management that I mentioned earlier is now attributed to diversity fatigue. As in you forced us to hire women, it didn’t work out, we don’t want to do it anymore, stop talking to us about diversity because it’s getting on our nerves and we’re tired of it.

The article that discussed diversity fatigue suggested that the solution is to treat diversity, “Just like any other business issue featured on every strategy day agenda, in every performance review, every hiring, promotion, and reward decision, every risk and culture assessment.” Is this the solution? It can feel like it is. It is certainly trotted out as the solution every time this problem of the gender earnings gap comes up.

The idea is that if women aren’t making the same money as men, the solution must be to achieve diversity by mandating a request for diversity into the employment environment;


By making it a part of performance reviews, hiring, promotion, and compensation decisions, and putting it into risk and culture assessment. In other words, if gender diversity and pay parity don’t exist, we must have a procedural problem as far as business is conducted. From there, we conclude that if it’s a procedural problem that’s causing the gender earnings gap, we will correct it within our procedures for how we conduct business. Does this work? I’m going to leave that up to the politicians and the corporate committees to decide.

In the meantime, let’s talk about you making some money because from what I can tell, there is one way to quickly solve this problem, and it’s when you take control of it. The gender earnings gap is not a big, monolithic thing. It is an aggregation of every single woman who under earns. It is an aggregation of the experience of every single woman who under earns. So the way we solve this problem is one woman at a time.

When every single woman stops under earning, we will no longer have a gender earnings gap and this means you making more money; that’s step one. When you begin making more money, we will have solved your personal earnings gap. Your personal earnings gap is the gap between what you’re currently making and what you could be making. When you close your personal earnings gap, you will be making as much or more as any other human who does what you do and you will be making a boatload more money than you’re making right now.

That’s what happens when you solve your personal earnings gap and when every woman has solved her own personal earnings gap, the gender earnings gap will disappear. It is simply an aggregation of the personal earnings gaps of every woman. And when every woman is making a boatload more money when she’s making the money that she could be making, the problem goes away. So I’m not going to say I necessarily bothered by governments or corporate committees wanting to get involved and work towards solving this problem; towards closing the gender earnings gap. If their efforts are positive or neutral, rock on, I say. I have no issue with this problem being attacked from all sides.

But here’s the thing. Often, when a third party such as a government or a committee takes on the task of solving a big problem, it can create the impression that this is not a problem we can solve on our own. So let’s take a second and discuss the effect that the government or a corporate committee’s pursuit of pay parity may be having on you. To see the effect, I’d like you to think about a similar situation in the investment world.

I used to be a fraud examiner and what I would hear over and over and over again, after someone had been bilked of their life savings in a really shady investment was well, something didn’t feel right about it. But this was a regulated investment. The government was monitoring what this company was doing. So I figured that I was protected. In essence, what they are saying is the government was looking out for me so I don’t have to worry about it.

What this example shows is that when the government steps in, and starts working on something that can send a dangerous and very low profit message to the beneficiaries of the government’s effort. The message is often construed as stand back, don’t worry about this one bit, we are on the case.

So notice the danger here; when the government goes to work on something, or some corporate committee goes to work on something, it can send a message that someone else is taking care of a problem on your behalf. In the case of gender pay parity, if the government and corporate committees with all of their coercive power are on the case, do we need to do anything else? Often it feels like we don’t need to do anything. They are taking care of things.

The other thing that can happen when powerful third parties get involved in solving a problem on your behalf, if they are on the case and taking care of things but not really solving the problem, that can send a message that this is a problem that you can’t solve yourself. And last, their ongoing involvement in this issue without a solution also can send a message that it’s hopeless. If the government and corporate committees with all of their coercive power can’t get it done, what chance do we have on our own?


With these kinds of questions lurking in our heads, it can feel like we can’t solve this problem on our own, then what happens? Then we aren’t doing anything to solve the problem for ourselves and we’re not making money. We’re waiting around for someone else to fix this for us. Obviously, that’s not going to work.

So today, let’s talk about exactly how to destroy an earnings plateau, with no help from the government or a corporate committee or anyone else, and how to do so without delay especially if you are in your 40s or 50s and you’re a female human, you need to know how to do this without delay, because these are the critical years. Now is the time to earn. Earning now represents the difference between the life you really want and the life you are willing to settle for it, because you didn’t make the money you wanted and needed to make, to do the things in life that you want and need to do.

What are these things that you want and need to do? They’re different for all of us, but they’re not super different. What do we all want to do? We all want to leave a legacy for our children if we have them. I don’t have children. My goal is to leave a legacy for shelter dogs who are suffering. My husband and I both love dogs. On our first date between dinner and a movie, we finished dinner and before the movie started, he drove to his house and parked in the driveway, and I waited in the car while he went around to the backyard to throw a Frisbee for his dog for a few minutes. Did I have to wait in the car? No, I was wearing these ridiculous shoes with stiletto heels and I didn’t want to walk in the grass in them.

That was a long time ago. I can’t even imagine wearing stilettos these days, but I was wearing them back then. So I didn’t go in the backyard that day to meet the dog. But I was thinking I could marry this man. Any man who loves his dog enough to go play a little Frisbee between dinner and a movie is a guy I could definitely marry. And now we are married and one of the things that pains us the most is when a family pet is relinquished to a shelter for whatever reason and the pet suffers greatly from that.

So my mission with my money is to ease suffering for shelter animals. That’s a legacy that I want to leave as a result of having lived on the planet during my lifetime. There are so many good things to do with money. It doesn’t all have to be for other people, though. My husband and I, for example, we spend money on things that we enjoy. We live in a very inexpensive house right now, but it’s on a pretty expensive piece of property because we love to go for a boat ride and swimming every afternoon in the summer. And we just know ourselves.

We know that if we couldn’t stroll down to our dock and get in the boat and go, we probably wouldn’t go every afternoon. We are not people who are very tolerant of hassles. So if we had our boat on a trailer in our driveway, and we had to haul it down to the boat launch and put it in the water, and then park the truck before we could go for our boat ride, we probably wouldn’t go. So we live on a relatively expensive piece of property so we can take a hassle free boat ride whenever we want.

We love that in the summer and we also love this property in the winter because we can see so many animals eagles, deer, moose, my husband grew up in Montana, and he loves to watch the wildlife on the water all winter long.

So here’s the thing; the reasons to bust through an earnings plateau aren’t necessarily because you want to live an extravagant lifestyle. If that’s something you want to do more power to you go for it. That’s not what I want to do with money. The reason it was important for me to make money, among other reasons, is because I just wanted to be able to do the things in life that held meaning for me, and taking care of shelter dogs and living on waterfront property, those are two huge things for me.

I remember when I was a little girl, my grandmother subscribed to the National Enquirer, and there were always ads about abused or starving animals and I was just heartbroken about that every time I saw it. And that was a sign to me that this is one of the reasons I’m here on this earth.


I’m supposed to alleviate that suffering and money is obviously a big resource in helping get that done and money also helps you enjoy some things in your own life that really make life pleasurable and fun for you too. It’s not all about helping other people with your money. It’s not all about helping yourself with your money. There’s a nice balance to using money effectively and feeling good about it. It’s fun to be able to take your girlfriends on a weekend trip to New York City to watch a Broadway shows, if we ever get some Broadway shows back, I will look forward to being able to do that again.

So what I’m hoping you glean from this little tangent on why we should make money is that we all have our reasons for why we want to make more money. All of them are valid. I mentioned in the last episode that every business problem can be solved with a lesson from the movie Legally Blonde, and I wasn’t kidding. The fact that you want something however frivolous it may seem, is a sign that you should head towards it.

Consider Elle Woods who is the protagonist in the movie Legally Blonde, this character is played by Reese Witherspoon. If you haven’t seen the movie, in the beginning, her boyfriend Warner breaks up with her because his family expects him to become a senator. And to do that, he needs to marry a Jackie, not a Maryland and Elle Woods upon hearing this is devastated. When her boyfriend invites her out to dinner she has the expectation that he’s going to propose and instead he breaks up with her.

So she decides that she’s going to follow him all the way to Harvard Law School, because she is seriously in love with him. And if becoming a serious law student is what it takes to get him to propose that’s what she’s going to do. Is this a silly thing for her to want to get this guy back and go to law school doing so? Everyone in her life thinks so, everyone in her life tells her it’s not going to happen. Her guidance counselor tells her no one is going to be impressed that you aced history of polka dots. You’re not getting into Harvard. What are your backup schools?

She says, “I don’t need backups. I’m going to Harvard.” Her father tells her law school is for boring, ugly, serious people and you button are none of those things. And she says, “It’s perfectly respectable place Daddy.” Her mother says, “You were second runner up in the Miss Hawaiian Tropic blah, blah, blah, bikini competition. Why would you want to give all that up?” She doesn’t listen to any of this. She expends some serious brain effort getting a top score on the LSAT. She hires a famous Hollywood producer to direct her video admissions essay and she gets accepted to Harvard Law School.

Then she and her pampered Chihuahua- Bruiser get into her BMW convertible, and they drive from California to Cambridge. The lesson from this movie is just pursue what you want simply because you want it no matter what anyone else says. The very first assignment when you get into gateway to seven is to watch the movie Legally Blonde and the reason I have my clients do this are many, but one of them is because you do not need a big why to do big things.

Elle went to Harvard to get her boyfriend back is that a great reason to go to Harvard Law School? It doesn’t matter. The fact is wanting that and allowing herself to pursue it unapologetically got her on the road towards her growth and towards making a real contribution. And in the end, she didn’t get Warner the reason she wanted to go, didn’t come to fruition.

She got something better than Warner, she got everything. She got the better boyfriend, the respect of her colleagues and professors, deep friendships with people from all walks of life, not just her sorority sisters in Belaire anymore. Everyone was respecting her. Everyone was friends with her. She got her education, she got the amazing job offer and she successfully defended an innocent woman in a murder trial that only she could have won. All of this happened because she wanted something that on the surface seemed kind of frivolous, kind of unnecessary. So this part is key; allowing yourself to want something just because you want it and allowing yourself to pursue something just because you feel like it, and for no other reason is reason enough.


When you do this, you don’t just wind up with that one frivolous thing that set you off on your hero’s journey, you wind up with something better, a better life, more friends, more connections, the respect of your colleagues, helping people no one else can help, making money. When you allow yourself to pursue things you want for seemingly shallow reasons, it doesn’t matter because you get all of the depth and meaning that’s inherent in the journey, even if the reason that gets you going doesn’t seem super important.

Here’s an example. This is so frivolous sounding. I like big diamonds; I’m not really into jewelry, or clothes or accessories, except maybe for a good handbag here or there. But I do love a big diamond for the sole reason that they make my butt look smaller and it amuses me to watch them sparkle. So one of the reasons I wanted to make money is simply because I wanted to own a big, huge diamond, I didn’t want a lot of them, I just wanted one and it amuses me greatly to have it. And the desire for it set me on the path to my life’s mission to achieving my life’s mission.

So what I want you to glean from this is that the little seeds of seemingly frivolous desire that are planted in us are there, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of them, we should honor them because they get us moving towards our big contribution to humanity. You have these desires, pay attention to them and honor them. Don’t discount them as if they’re silly, because they are the fuel that get you going on your life’s work.

So now let’s talk about you. Let’s bring this around to you. The listener, who I spoke with, in the last episode, recently asked a question inside the women making money Facebook group. If you listen to the last episode, you know that we discussed that sometimes her brain likes to go off on a tangent and think that certain things are a problem, when they are probably not a problem at all, and what she picked up from that discussion is that nothing is really a problem unless you make it a problem.

So after that episode, she asked a question inside of the women making money Facebook group and basically what she said was, “If nothing is a problem, why is it your mission to solve the gender earnings gap in the US in your lifetime? If that’s not a problem why are you solving it?” And I said, “Nothing is a problem unless it stands between you and what you want in life. If it’s standing between you and something you want, then it’s a problem.” And what I see are so many women who want things in life, you want a big diamond, why do you want it, who cares? Maybe you’re like me, and you want one to make your butt look smaller, you want something frivolous in your life just because it would amuse you. Or you want something big; you want to create something meaningful in your life that would ease suffering. You want to leave a legacy for your family; whatever your reason, for wanting to make money, we know you want it because you’re listening to this show. We know you want it because you’re human, we know you want it because if money rained down from the sky, and a giant cloud of cash confetti, you would giggle with glee, and you would be delighted to pick it up and put it in your pocket.

So the fact that you want it is clear, but here’s why you should pursue it. We are hardwired for growth and the desire for money is the thing that propels us on our journey towards growth. We are hardwired to want to contribute and the desire for money is the fuel that propels us on our journey towards making a contribution. So that’s why you should know about how to make more money. It’s not just about your security, although money is definitely security. It’s also just fun. It’s amusing, its growth and its contribution.

But a funny thing happens to women around age 41. A plateau in all of these areas and we can look at this in one or two ways. We can look at this as a problem inflicted on us by villains outside of us. Third parties who are destroying our lives just because they can, the evil villain who’s evil for seemingly no reason just to keep us down; this is a low profit way to look at this problem. Why, because if the problem is outside of you, the solution is as well.


This is what the government and corporate committees often think, or maybe they don’t think it but they communicate it when they are hammering on third parties to fix the gender earnings gap. They are thinking or appearing to think that the problem is outside of our hands, they have to coerce other people to fix this problem for us. Is that going to work? I’m going to leave that up for them to decide. There’s no harm in attacking this problem from all angles, if that’s what they want to do, as long as we don’t take their efforts to mean that this is a problem that we can’t solve on our own.

We can totally solve this problem on our own; you do not have to have an earnings plateau starting at age 41. My friends who are self-made multimillionaires routinely say that in your late 40s, and 50s, that’s where you really start making bank. Why? Because that’s when you know the most, you’ve acquired the education and the expertise and the knowledge and the industry acumen. You actually know what the heck you’re doing. You’re a subject matter expert in whatever it is you’ve been doing for your entire life.

So what happens at around the age of 41 is that there is a fork in the road, a handful of women will go on at this fork in the road, they will veer towards the money and they will become self-made multi-millionaires because they decide that they’re going to take their expertise, and capitalize on it and they have the skills to do so.

What happens to everyone else? They get tired, they get tired of feeling unrecognized and unheard and unappreciated. And when this happens, their considerable expertise goes unrecognized, and therefore uncompensated. This is the problem, my friends, you want to make more money, but your expertise is unrecognized and uncompensated.

So here’s what I want you to glean from today’s episode. The gender earnings gap isn’t caused by factors outside of you. Rather, it is caused by an army of female subject matter experts, you, your friends who aren’t making money, basically every woman you know, who has been groomed to believe that if you’re not making money, the solution to the problem is for someone else to fix it. And to make matters worse, while we are waiting for someone else to fix it, what are we doing? We’re getting more expertise; we’re getting more degrees, acquiring more credentials, doing ‘skills assessment’ and investing in more training for substantive skills.

We’ve been groomed to believe that this is the solution to making more money. If you’re not making money with the substantive knowledge and expertise that you currently have, the solution is to go get more substantive knowledge and expertise and this makes the problem even worse. If you are an unrecognized, unappreciated, unheard, and uncompensated subject matter expert, acquiring more expertise does not solve that problem. What does? Acquiring the skills you need to get recognized as the expert you are, to get clients who want to avail themselves of your expertise, and to get paid for providing the expertise to the marketplace in beneficial ways.

In short, the way you bust through an earnings plateau is you get recognized, you get clients and you get paid. And this is the big problem that I help women solve. None of us are immune from the problem of unrecognized, uncompensated expertise. As women it is so easy for expertise to go unrecognized. I will never forget a moment when this happened to me. I had been working in the hedge fund industry for over two decades.

I was an accountant, a lawyer, a coach, I had managed my own hedge fund, and I had raised hundreds of millions of dollars for hedge funds. I had structured offerings that attracted hundreds of millions of dollars into hedge funds. I was a key member of teams that brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in a single transaction. I was the chairperson of my firm’s Working Group on hedge fund, and I was the only woman on that board. I was the only woman in the firm, and I was the chairperson of the hedge fund group. I knew what I was doing. And then one day on a business trip in Chicago, I went out to lunch with someone that I had spoken to casually over the years.


But we had never met; we knew each other through a common client. And at that lunch, after we’d been chatting for a while, I was floored when she said to me, “Wow, you really know a lot about this, I thought you were Harvey’s secretary.” That’s when I knew that my expertise was going unrecognized, to people outside my circle, and to people who I had been in contact with for many years. What did I do to fix this problem? Everything that I teach inside of gateway to seven.

So what is happening inside this program? What am I doing to help women get recognized and compensated for their subject matter expertise? That’s what we’re going to talk about in the next few episodes, because that process of getting recognized, getting clients and getting paid is how we saw the gender earnings gap. It’s how we bust through the Female Earnings Plateau that any of us are experiencing and I can’t wait to share that with you. Because what’s happening inside of gateway to seven is the most powerful work that I’ve ever done in my life.

So please join me for upcoming episodes, we are going to talk about what’s going on inside of the program. So you can hear about what’s happening in there. So you can get on the road to solving your own personal earnings gap and bust through your own earnings plateau. Please join me for those. I can’t wait to share them with you and thank you so much for being here today.