It’s okay for women to create personal wealth, understand financial management, start and grow businesses, run successful social enterprises, enjoy financial security and go beyond simply taking care of their livelihoods in order to build intergenerational legacies. None of this should be considered outside of our reach. And yet, even in the United States, for many women, and particularly for Black women, the impediments put in the way of achieving any of these goals often seem insurmountable.
The barriers can be quite daunting – structural bottlenecks, behavioral blind spots, and internal demons make it seem almost impossible for women around the world to build and create wealth on an equitable basis. Tackling these external and self-imposed challenges is an important part of my life’s work – and one of the reasons I chose to be a Steering Committee member for Invest for Better.
I regard it as an ethical imperative to solve the problems of sexist discrimination and structural disparities that plague financial markets, and I’m focused on breaking down barriers and bringing about positive change. I’m fortunate enough to walk this journey with allies, mentors, and mentees. Together we are designing strategies, tools, and techniques that will result in breakthroughs.
Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is not naïve. We recognize that there are different positionings, intentions, and mindsets of women across age, class, race, sexual orientation, gender identification, and national origin – thus, treating women as a non-homogeneous group is very important to our work. This is hard work and while we may make mistakes, we try to fix them and to continue moving forward with a learning mindset. As far as we are concerned, this is work that must be done, and we carry on mindful of the words of Maya Angelou: “All great achievements require time.”
In undertaking this work, we imagine success as a state in which women are enabled, have access to financial and other forms of capital, and have the wherewithal to use their assets to create useful goods and services that in turn increase human wellbeing and solve societal problems. We believe that if women succeed in this way, all of humanity will be enriched, and we will have more abundant, rewarding, and connected lives.
The situation we face is quite dire. Statistics tell a tale of women encountering legal, structural, and behavioral barriers in terms of access to capital, even in the United States. It is important to analyze what has led to this set of difficult circumstances so that we can plot a way forward and achieve the future desired state and the virtuous cycle that will emanate.
Women bear an unequal responsibility for domestic management roles, including cooking, cleaning, washing, child rearing, elder care, and many other important household tasks. These rigid role definitions and traditional divisions of labor and their effects on time means that women spend most of their non-economic production time on these activities. This leaves little time and energy to devote to financial management, retirement planning, saving, and investment for themselves and their families. Even as business owners, women are likely to rely on others for financial modelling and planning. Finance is an area where few dare to tread.
In many countries around the world, this patriarchal division of roles and responsibilities is hard coded and enshrined in law. Even in the United States, it was only in the 1960s when women were allowed to have bank accounts and undertake financial transactions like borrowing money without the accompanying approval of a man.
Women not only face disadvantages in their personal lives but also in the labor market where they are subject to widespread pay inequity in which men are paid more to do the same jobs. As business owners, particularly in countries where ecosystems to encourage and nourish entrepreneurship and innovation are not well developed, women are denied opportunities to fulfill their potential. In the United States, women business owners can access financial capital and support, but there is great disparity in the outcomes for Black, Latinx, and indigenous women.
In the finance and investment world, like so many other professions, women are greatly underrepresented at senior decision-making levels. And where there has been some progress in the United States, it has been predominantly for the benefit of white women.
These are systemic problems insofar as they arise because of the mindsets, mental models, values, and ways of being that shape institutions, which in turn, produce rules, practices, and organizations that interact at multiple and interconnected levels to produce dire outcomes for women. If we are to achieve success, we must tackle the systems – economic, legal, institutional – that produce these destructive outcomes. All of the levels are interlinked; complex factors influence and shape national and local institutions and then, working through cultural and social pathways of transmission, institutions exert influence extending into the personal and private spheres. There are psychic and emotional issues that must also be addressed if there is to be healing.
Invest for Better (IFB) is an initiative that builds up women by engaging them in their personal spaces, equipping them with the resources to encourage and enable values-aligned investing. It has the potential to be an important disruptor by providing models that challenge and confront stereotypes. The IFB community creates new social pathways by providing a space for women to spend time and energy learning about investment and experiencing themselves as investors – in Invest for Better Circles. The format allows women to exchange knowledge about finance and investment in safe spaces and without judgement. The pace of learning is self-organized and flexible, and the Circles are designed as open systems where there is ongoing interaction with experts from many different communities.
The 2020 effort to build a broader network of IFB Circles around the world has actually been helped by the disruption caused by COVID-19, as the all-virtual offering has greatly increased the racial and geographic diversity of the community. My contribution to IFB as a member of the Steering Committee is in keeping with my commitment to practicing innovation as a process of widening the pool from which we seek solutions. And I certainly look forward to learning from and supporting women as we venture into forbidden and foreboding terrains to create exciting and healthy futures.
Dr. Gillian Marcelle