If You Give a Woman a Dollar…
Money, in my experience, is a representation of the flow of energy between people. It’s how we express what we find valuable. It supports the flow of goods and services in our society. Over time, our relationship to money has shifted and changed individually and as a collective. During the course of my life and career, I have been constantly faced with the question: what is the relationship between women and money? What happens when you lend or give women money? What happens when they earn it?
One of the pieces of data many of us are aware of is, “When women work, they invest 90 percent of their income back into their families, compared with 35 percent for men.” Does this mean that women are better than men at handling money for themselves and their families? If this is true, why do men have so much more money than women in the world (perhaps because women are still only receiving $.78 or less to the dollar a man makes)? We also know that women have only recently gained access to credit in the United States (1974 for general credit, 1988 for business loans). Looking back at my own experience, I think this has played a big role in the mentality around women and money.
In so many areas of my life I’ve inherited similar feelings/ideas about the world from my mother; however, on money, we differ. Why? It could be that she grew up with more of a survival mentality in general, particularly in regards to money. I grew up with more of a sense of possibility. I always felt things would work out somehow. When it came to money, I felt I could always find a way to make enough to survive and maybe even thrive. It could be that she made sure I understood the value of money in all the elements of our lives throughout my upbringing. Our differing mentalities could also be due to the fact that during her early lifetime, she didn’t think she had access to credit (because it was just a fact of life) — but during the course of my early years, I did.
At 18, I knew I could take out a credit card. Mom shared with me the importance of paying the card back on time and not taking out too many credit cards at once as it might affect my credit score (this elusive number someone was building out there about me like a secret report card). She also shared the importance of building credit in the course of my lifetime. At first, I felt it was odd — it made no sense. Why should I borrow money if I don’t have to? The reality is that our money system itself is built on debt — money is a promissory note that you have a certain amount of resources to pay. Building good credit was showing society I could be trusted to pay what I said I was capable of paying. I had the chance to start doing it at 18. My mother didn’t have the chance to even start thinking about it until age 29. While it may not have been a conscious thought, it’s these types of societal forces that shape our ideas of who we are and what we might be capable of during the course of our lifetimes.
Generationally, women are coming into new understandings about money. Where I see the money system failing us is when we start to try and make money off of itself as a means to an end. We start seeing money as the end goal instead of the means to support our lives. Focusing on money as a center point itself is what starts to dehumanize our interactions. I didn’t grow up thinking money made someone better than anyone else. I grew up thinking money was useful. Why have we created a money system that dehumanizes our interactions in the marketplace? Perhaps because we left the men to do it all on their own.
Women have a great deal to contribute to society in every area but particularly in the arena of money. I’m not a formal scientist, but I wonder what kind of difference the biology makes. Are women biologically engrained to think long term and to think about the wellbeing of their families (I am not saying ALL women, or even only cis-gender women). What if we applied long term, wellbeing focused ways of thinking to the resources on planet earth? Women see the value of money for themselves and their families, and they’ve proven that they re-invest in what matters.
Here are some indicators based on my experience:
Money as energy
Eileen Fisher. Over the last ten years, I’ve worked closely on her philanthropic endeavors both in starting new initiatives and contributing strategic thinking. Eileen started her company with $350 in the bank, a lack of real sewing ability and a desire for clothing that would make her feel comfortable and confident in her body. It was 1984, four years before women would have real access to business loans. She tells the story about bringing her order slips into the bank to ask for a loan and the banker peering at her and asking if the order slips were real. She looked at him in disbelief thinking she hadn’t even thought of that as a possibility.
Eileen got creative and made it work. She, too, sees money as energy. When a product lands in stores, while of course she wants to know how sales go, she is really looking to feel how the customer is responding to the product. She asks, “is it solving a problem for her?” Money is an indicator of that — it is not the end goal.
Poverty → Abundance
Bringing women together means challenging some of the basic assumptions like the one that says we’re all mean girls trying to tear each other down. It forces us to shift the mentality from poverty thinking: there’s only one slice of the pie and I’m tearing her hair out to get it — to abundant thinking: there’s enough for everyone. It’s not easy to shift that mentality and often, as mentioned above, it’s something that is ingrained since we were young, therefore incredibly difficult to de-mechanize in our minds/ways of being. The mindset can also be affected by generational traumas (like systemic racism — here is a great article on abundance and being a black woman leader by Gwendolyn VanSant). It’s also difficult to do when we are faced with stats like: Female founders earned only 2.2% of VC funding in 2018 (Fortune).
It’s time we uplift ourselves and each other and get creative for wealth and wellbeing. Over the last few years I’ve been working with Eileen to bring women together to shift the narrative from feeling demoralized and downtrodden to feeling uplifted, supported, empowered and inspired in all areas of our lives. In the last two years, we have also been specifically focused on gathering female (and women identifying, non-binary and gender non-conforming) CEOs of purpose driven companies, largely in partnership with BLab, the non-profit that certifies for BCorp, to address how we shift the flow of capital in the business world. When we move from a scarcity or poverty mentality to one of abundance, we start moving our money towards our values.
Values Based Investing
It’s time to align our money with our values. If money is energy, and we believe we have enough to meet our needs, how do we really shift the flow of capital? I’ve seen (and worked with) many different organizations making a difference but I’ll highlight two with which I will have a chance to play more this September.
- Women’s Funding Network (WFN). The CEO is the inspirational all-star, Cynthia Nimmo. It is the largest philanthropic network devoted to women and girls. In 2017, their members and partners invested $400 million to advance women and girls in the world. Their history starts back in 1984 too — it’s when they first started talking about the importance of creating an organization of women’s funds. WFN realizes, in order to shift the flow of capital we need to shift the cultural perception and paradigm of thought around funding women and the issues they face. The network looks at where women are at the forefront of feeling the effects of global crises like climate change and have therefore a unique vantage point of being able to design solutions to address their own needs and that of their communities. They trust the member organizations to know the issues being faced in their own communities. Instead of offering a top down approach to funding, WFN holds an open container for sharing learnings and best practices. WFN is breaking down silos to shift the narrative, re-shaping philanthropy and looking at what it will mean to get Women Funded. I will be joining them at the 2019 Conference sharing about Gender Equity in the Global Workforce.
- Women and Money: What Will It Take? Over the last few years, through my work with the Eileen Fisher Foundation, I’ve partnered with Marianne Schnall, author of numerous books and articles, founder of Feminist.com and What Will It Take movements. What Will It Take has become a platform for a variety of conversations with incredible women talking about exactly what it will take to bridge divides across politics, pay, business, leadership and representation. Together, we are asking, what will it take to shift a lens of investing to include women on a more equitable scale. Kristin Null, founder and CEO of Nia Impact Capital, whom I will be speaking alongside at the Women and Money conference in September poignantly shares, “It is time to align our assets with our goals for gender equity. Each one of our dollars has an impact in the world, from our banking decisions to our bond and public equity holdings. Let us continue to put our feminism into our finances to ensure that our money is having the impact we are hoping to see in the world.” [Green Money]
There are so many amazing initiatives in the areas of women and finance. From gender lens investing, improving financial literacy for women at all levels, shifting capital to fund women’s initiatives, crowdfunding new women owned businesses. From planting the seeds for women’s businesses to grow and giving them the wings to take their initiatives to scale, it’s happening, slowly but surely.
Recently, I wrote an article about Ecosystem Leadership — looking at how we move from ‘ego’ to ‘eco’ with the Presencing Institute (another partner also looking at Values Based Banking in their Just Money MOOC). Part of the movement we need is to shift from a singular focus or one track view, to a more holistic one. It means shifting ownership from one person at the top to a collective (Eileen Fisher is also an example of this — with the company employees operating as owners through an Employee Stock Option Plan, ESOP) and bringing more voices into the room. Doing so allows for more ideas, more possibilities, and more conscious avenues forward. Women are those voices. They are coming to the fore to help balance our world. We are doing it in business, philanthropy, leadership and more. We are no longer just looking for a seat at the table, we are changing how the game is played.