A few months ago we stumbled upon a Wall Street Journal article on a study which found that companies with at least 3 women on the board for at least 4-5 years outperformed their counterparts by nearly 5%, had 84% better return on their sales, 60% better return on invested capital and 46% better return on equity. As a group, this began several discussions on the advantages of working with and promoting the financial literacy of women. We decided that if this is the result of investing in women in the corporate world, how much better would our community be if we invested in the success of women from all backgrounds, and offered ourselves a resource throughout many of the life changes that women face?
This thought sparked several hours of discussion and research into how to best articulate our message, as well as exactly what we wanted to accomplish through this message. We decided the quickest way to get started in the right direction was to ask women in our community how they felt about a financial literacy campaign. We sent invitations not only to prominent, female business leaders in our community, but also women from all walks of life, such as retired teachers, stay at home mothers, young women just graduating from college, women who never went to college, real-estate professionals etc. We created this focus group because we wanted to see what concerns women of all ages and backgrounds had about this topic and how we could help serve them. In this meeting all of the women seemed to focus in on two main points: women want to have financial literacy and they don’t want to feel intimidated seeking it out. For years the financial industry has been run by men, and men and women do not always speak the same language, causing much stress for the women we talked to, and we very quickly realized that in order to move our message forward we needed to present our ideas through a woman’s perspective.
We took the information we gathered and went back to brainstorming, this time to apply what we had learned. What we first had to quantify was, what exactly are we trying to achieve? We started thinking about those companies that had at least 3 women on the board or in positions of leadership. Why did those companies in general take the step to have such a radical idea in such a male driven corporate society? We decided that it came down to the cultural structure of the company as a whole, those companies were not only willing to see things from another perspective, they were willing to actively promote and nurture an environment for women in leadership. In short, they had a culture for creating women leaders.
We thought long and hard about how we could create a culture in our community that would help and foster the types of resources that women need in order to help cultivate this idea. We realized that financial literacy was only part of the answer. We believe that adversity in the face of life’s challenges, regardless of what those individual challenges might be, create the conditions and the learning opportunities to create both positive outcomes and strong leaders. The problem is, as we learned from our focus groups, that women want a safe place they can come to without feeling intimidated.
What we are proposing is such a place with a structure which will grow the culture of the community and promote women in leadership. We are building our idea around mentorship, and having women from all backgrounds help mentor and enhance the community culture. We want a network of mentors that can help and be a resource to women going through any of the countless life experiences which could either break them or change them forever. Our goal is to provide a place for women to come without fear or intimidation to get the advice they need whether it be financial, legal, tax, health, grief or just general support. We envision several different layers in this approach. First, we would like to have female members from all walks of life that are willing to not only mentor, but to also be involved in the process of furthering our message through speaking engagements, presentations, and sharing stories about how they have helped. Most importantly, we need ambassadors. Ambassadors are the life blood of the process and most important to its success and the transformation of the culture. This is a large responsibility, but at the same time requires the smallest commitment. All we ask from the ambassadors is their willingness to be a part of the organization and to keep their eyes, ears and hearts open for the opportunity for us to help. If you are an ambassador and you hear of a woman going through a divorce, encourage that woman to come to us. If you hear of a woman who has lost her significant other and they don’t know what they are going to do financially, encourage that woman to come to us. If you hear of a woman who has inherited or received a large windfall of money and doesn’t know how to make it last the rest of her life, encourage her to come to us. If you hear of a woman who is now responsible to care for her parents and doesn’t know where to start, encourage her to come to us. If you hear of a woman with a great business idea and does not know the first thing about starting the business, encourage her to come to us. We not only have the resources to help women become leaders, we are the resource. That is what this organization is about. We believe that through all of our strengths and talents we can cultivate a culture in our community that will not only produce women leaders but more importantly, just like those companies that we mentioned earlier, the overall success of our community family as a whole.