A collage of illustrations of three hands over a hundred dollar bills.

Women & Money

How to Build a True Women’s Economy

When women succeed, the economy flourishes. But to change an ingrained system rooted in white, male privilege, it's going to take women supporting other women.

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Everybody loves a thriving economy, but what makes Wall Street happy doesn’t always translate to success for women. In the 56 years since the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, raising women up economically is still a work in progress. White women still only earn approximately 81 percent of what white men make, Black women earn only 65.3 percent of that, Hispanic women only 61.6 percent, and Native women, who are among the most economically disadvantaged of all women, only about 57 percent.

Women can’t be accused of not working hard enough, either. In 2018, women started more than 1821 businesses a day in the United States, and 4 out of every 10 businesses are women-owned, yet they’re still only getting scraps of venture capital—a meager 2.2 percent. Women also drive more than 80 percent of consumer spending and maintain between $14 trillion in assets globally. That number may be as high as $20 trillion by 2020.

Redirecting money into women’s hands isn’t just about balancing the scales of power; when women have financial equity, things improve in a number of ways: Women have more autonomy over career, reproductive health, and family planning choices, which has a greater chance at lifting women out of poverty and helping them build assets. The economy itself improves, as well. According to the International Monetary Fund, with greater gender equity comes greater prosperity for all, more demand for labor, increased funding of health care and education, and greater workforce participation, over all. Companies with diverse panels (read: not all white men) see greater innovation and revenues.  In a phrase, the better off women are, the better off the world is.

Despite their consumer power and indomitable entrepreneurial spirit, however, women are still up against the roadblocks thrown down by the predominantly white, male establishment, which has its PayPal Mafia and old boys club. Earlier this month, Forbes published a list of 100 innovators with only one woman on the list, sparking understandable outrage. Research continually shows that given a chance at power, men hoard it, while women use it to improve their lives and their communities. To build a women’s economy, many women are already addressing these roadblocks individually and collectively. The goal is to drive demonstrable change not just for women leaders, but for all women, especially women of color and women in poverty, who are the most heavily hit by economic disparities. Waiting for men to step up to the task has gotten us nowhere fast.

Women supporting women-owned businesses

A key place to start  is patronizing women-owned businesses, which requires raising awareness and increasing access, says Claudia Bakker, the Los Angeles-based founder of the women’s business app Oya. With expertise in both tech and finance, the app she developed  makes it easy to search for women-owned businesses that provide a variety of services, from retail sales to financial planning.

Bakker envisioned women using her app seamlessly in their everyday lives, with the benefit of having every transaction benefit other women. “I thought if women were connecting over coffee, they can find a woman-owned coffee place through my app and have a meeting there.”

“Men have the golf course and the cigar clubs to talk business,” she adds, “What do women have?”

In a similar vein, Anna Palmer, CEO and co-founder of the product marketing and discovery platform, Dough, says it was born from frustration working for a venture fund where women ostensibly funded other women. Female CEOs could write checks to seed an entrepreneur’s project, however, she says, “I heard a lot of women being told to come back when they had traction.” They needed the funding in order to get traction, Palmer says, so they were stuck.

With Dough, any woman can fund a fledgling business by buying the products listed there, essentially helping these women-owned businesses get that traction they need so much. Over 3,000 companies have signed up through the platform, and thousands of products are available for purchase.

“We want to convert people to what we call the wallet feminine. Rather than buying a rug from a big box store down the street, you could buy a rug from Maddy at [rug company] Boundless,” Palmer says.

A Lifestyle Shift

Jennifer LeBlanc, author of the book Changing Tides: Powerful Strategies for Women Founders, and founder of ThinkResults Marketing, realized she could begin to lift other women up by changing who she does business with.

“I thought of myself as a big feminist, but then I realized my lawyer is a man, my accountant is a man, etc. I realized I had some work to do,” LeBlanc says.

Now, all her service providers are women and she’s seeing unexpected benefits. “You’ve got to be better to be a woman and be successful. I get much better service now that I’ve switched out to folks who don’t take my business for granted.”

She’s now turning the concept behind her book, Changing Tides, into a conference of the same name in 2020, where every product and service showcased will be designed, created and or founded by a woman.

“We have to be aware that we have a choice about how we spend our dollars.” She has faith in younger women, too, whom she feels have been catalyzed by the #MeToo movement to not patronize companies that are either blatantly sexist, or which don’t hire women.

Scaling up

Bringing powerful women together is also at the heart of The TuesdayNights Impact Conference, which takes place on September 27, in Santa Monica (DAME is a media sponsor). The conference was dreamed up by Melinda Moore and Justine Lassoff, co-founders of TuesdayNights, networking events for women in the Los Angeles area.

TuesdayNights was born from the dire statistics that in most C-Suite level positions in almost every industry, less than 10 percent of them are women, says Moore.

Their goal is to create change on a large scale. “We want to unite female entrepreneurs and thought leaders with a focus on innovation and diversity with a positive world perspective,” says Lassoff.

More than 100 women will tackle issues of social change at the conference. “We’ll be asking how can we literally change the world together and create companies that are going to have a profound positive impact,” Moore says.

Scale does matter in building any economy. Oya’s Bakker believes it’s time for women to work collaboratively rather than competitively when it comes to investing their money and funding businesses.

“Let’s say there are two organizations and one is focusing on equality in the workplace and the other is promoting female entrepreneurship. I would like them to say let’s raise money together,” Bakker says. Additionally, she wants women to pool their funds to invest in companies, thus allowing them to take bigger risks than they might be able to take individually.

Bakker has even bigger plans beyond Oya to create a financial product just for women, such as a credit card that rewards women for their excellent track record in paying off debts.

Change has to be intersectional

While all of these efforts are well-meaning, they will not make enough of a difference if they don’t lift up and support women of color, says Christine Michel Carter, a writer, global marketing strategist and owner of Minority Women Marketing, LLC, in Baltimore, Maryland.

“A lot of people don’t understand the impact that women of color as entrepreneurs and employees have on our economy,” Carter says. She points to research that shows companies with good diversity on their management teams have greater innovation revenue than those that don’t.

Though women of color are underpaid and underrepresented in positions of power, they are still driving the economy forward through entrepreneurship. The number of women-owned businesses grew 114% from 1997 to 2017, but those owned by women of color grew at more than four times that rate (467%).

Additionally, Carter says that women of color often live in multi-generational households and tend to influence up. “We are influencing our children, Generations Z and Alpha. We are influencing our parents, Boomers. We’re trying to change the world that our children live in and raise them and be successful businesswomen and entrepreneurs.”A fresh example of the power of women of color to influence a company’s success is a viral tweet by a young Black woman named Bri Hall. When Popeye’s recently sold out of a popular sandwich, Bri tweeted her recommendation of immigrant owned Roaming Rooster in D.C. and the company received millions of dollars in free marketing.

“Women of color are so loyal to brands that do no harm to their community and speak in an authentic way. They can see through the BS so quickly,” Carter says.

However, companies need to do more than check a box on diversity and attempt to pander to women of color. “It’s better to not try than to try and fail,” Carter says. Instead, she reminds businesses that when they invest in diverse staff that will reflect in authentic messaging to women of color.

Carter believes that if companies don’t take diversity seriously now, eventually, women, particularly women of color, are going to start shifting their buying power to companies that support them. “When you hurt their pockets, then you’ll see that transformational change,” Carter says.

Carter has faith in these changes taking place, but she believes they’ll take time.

This is a part of our ongoing series, “Women & Money.” If you missed it, check the previous pieces in the series.

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