More Than Money
Issue #19

Women, Money, and Power

Table of Contents

“Personal Stories”

Inheriting the Good with the Bad

When my father died while I was in my twenties, I "inherited" a small nonprofit that he had founded and managed for years. The purpose of this project is to send insulin to indigent diabetics in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. For many people in these countries a bottle of insulin costs a week's salary, so the organization has provided over 80,000 vials of the medicine for free. My father visited our project sites every year. As the new president of the board, I'm making my first trip this summer. This part of my father's legacy has been a blessing.

Dealing with his financial estate has been more difficult. While my dad seemed like a good money manager, he was actually a sea of ambivalence about money. He told my step-mother and me that he had done a meticulous job setting up a living trust, but he died with only an old will buried in his very disorganized papers. He also did nothing to prepare me for the size of my inheritance. He had, in fact, repeatedly told me not to expect much of my grandparents' money. Yet, it turned out that there was more than enough to support me comfortably for the rest of my life. I've bought a great house and have recently put $65,000 into remodeling my kitchen. This is a far cry from what I expected to be able to do, having worked so long in the non-profit sector.

It's possible my father didn't even know how much he had, or perhaps he told me there wasn't much money left so I would feel the heat of necessity under my feet, work hard at school, and find a good job to support myself. I know he never felt comfortable about living off the inheritance. He once opened up and told me how living on his inheritance had dragged on him emotionally and he didn't want that for me. That's the closest thing to financial advice I ever got from him.

Now what was I supposed to do? In the absence of adequate preparation, my father's sudden death thrust me into the world of stock brokers, estate attorneys, and bank officers. Somebody forgot to tell them that sexism was dead. I was soon surrounded by older white men who would take my elbow, walk me to the elevator, ask about my wedding plans, and tell me they would take care of everything. It actually took two years and several thousands of dollars to straighten out my father's estate. During that time, I realized that I needed to get a grip on my finances.

My husband was a big help in all this. He took a shine to managing money and enjoyed learning right along side of me, but he never tried to take over. I replaced my Dad's old money manager and fired his attorney. I got on-line and learned how to track my new investments and bank accounts myself. I took classes on financial management, read books on socially responsible investing, joined a support group for wealthy women in their twenties, and started asking my new broker and accountant any stupid question I could think of.

My mom was a big feminist and I grew up believing in women's equality and competence, but this confidence never extended to money. My husband had to show me how to balance a checkbook. I look back on this now and am shocked. If and when I have kids, I'll start their financial education early, always tell them the truth, and make sure they know where to find the living trust, the safety deposit box, the combination to the fireproof-safe, and our attorney's phone number

- anonymous author

Parental Gift

My mother and father came from elite families in China. My paternal grandfather was a provincial governor before the Communist Revolution, and my maternal grandfather was the chief technical engineer for the national railroad. In my family, the Confucian values of hard work and responsibility for self, family, community, and country were handed down from generation to generation.

Up until just a few years ago, I had thought all Chinese immigrant families treated daughters as equals to sons and supported them to become financially independent. I have since met Chinese women who had to fight their families to go to college and business school and who would never receive money from their families to help start a business because such investment was reserved for sons. These women were simply expected to marry men who could support them.

Why was our family different? It turns out that after the Chinese Revolution most of our relatives had either committed suicide or been killed by the new government. For these tragic reasons my parents found themselves alone in Japan with no family pressures about how they should rear their children. Also, because my parents had lost everything as refugees and had both worked to rebuild financially, they felt one's station in life was uncertain enough that all their children should learn how to be financially successful.

And that's exactly what I did. In the 1970's, when I graduated from Stanford Business School and became a corporate executive, women held only 5 percent of those positions. I felt like a pioneer, and my husband and I enjoyed an accomplished, fast-lane, two-career, corporate life with expensive vacations as our necessary pressure-valve. Not until we adopted two children did I begin to question our lifestyle and wonder how I might leave a better world for them.

I teamed up with my friend Leslie, who had trained me in investment banking, and together we dreamed up the idea of creating a Women's Equity Mutual Fund. This was to be a no-load mutual fund with two goals: first, create a low-risk, solid return fund that would invite women of all backgrounds to invest and build up their assets. Second, be a force for changing women's status in the workplace. We wanted to use the clout of the combined investments to talk to company managers, vote proxy statements, and give recognition to outstanding companies who had improved their treatment of women in the workplace. This was the 1990's, and women still held only 5 percent of corporate executive positions. We set out to help change that statistic.

Well, being an entrepreneur was much riskier than being a corporate professional, and Leslie and I had many panicked, sleepless nights. We each invested over $300,000 in the project and uncounted hours of work. But five years later the Women's Equity Mutual Fund has become well-established and shows great promise in achieving our goals.

Now I am launching a new international project to help women receive loan money for very small "micro-enterprise" businesses. It's a complicated process involving lots of lawyers and creating a financial vehicle that will give investors returns above those of the money market. The Bank of America did a feasibility study and they believe that my idea might just work. I know it will.

- anonymous author

Equality in Marriage (and Divorce)

A divorce is always hard on children, but my marital break-up landed me on national television and got me featured in Fortune magazine. The public exposure was very tough on my grown kids. Yet, I felt I had to speak out when my husband offered me eight million dollars as a divorce settlement. I knew that our shared marital assets were closer to 100 million dollars.

When I was on the Oprah Winfrey Show, a lot of people in the audience couldn't believe that I wasn't satisfied with eight million dollars, or that I had launched a much publicized court battle for half of our family's net worth. Oprah played to her audience a bit and teased me by reading from my court papers that my clothes budget was $10,000 a month.

I was not your typical stay-at-home Mom. I was a top-level corporate wife, the woman behind the financially successful man. Yet, when I married my ex-husband, and promised to be his partner for richer or poorer, we only had $2,500 between us--a far cry from the assets we were able to build up together over 32 years of marriage. In the early years I supported him by working as a school teacher while he went to Harvard Business School. Later, as he rose up the corporate ladder to become a CEO, I helped him succeed by managing our domestic affairs, raising the children, and hosting his colleagues and clients at social events both at home and on our numerous business trips around the world.

I was basically the CEO of the domestic corporation. I ran the household, took care of the many social ties necessary for my husband's success so that he could go out and work very hard at what he was good at. Each place we moved, I established new community contacts through our church and local charities. In such a life, spending $10,000 a month is pretty much just making sure you have the proper work clothes. It never occurred to me that we weren't full partners, or that what I provided our family would be seen as any less valuable than his financial contribution.

The women in Oprah's audience could understand that. When I asked, "If marriage isn't a partnership between equals, then why get married?," they started nodding. It began to click in everybody's mind. This should be true whether your marital assets are several million or a few thousand dollars. When I started talking about the unfairness of divorce laws and the family court system, they knew from their own experience I was right.

The reason I've fought my husband in court, the reason I go on shows like Oprah's, and the reason I started the Institute for Equality in Marriage is to inspire all women to stick up for themselves in marriage and divorce. My ex-husband probably blames this all on the trips I've taken on the Outward Bound Program. You can develop a lot of self-esteem scaling canyon walls in Utah or rafting wild rivers--especially with a supportive group of companions who respect and value you. One of the basic tenets of Outward Bound is that you can do things you never thought were possible. It seems my marriage couldn't adapt to the more self-reliant, assertive me.

When my ex-husband ended our marriage, I was faced with the choice of just accepting his settlement offer or trusting my faith in God and myself, and finding the emotional resources to say no to being devalued. This is still so hard for women to do, yet it is essential. You've got to keep your wits about you in the face of divorce or death. You've got to gather the knowledge and support you need. I don't know how I would have responded fifteen years ago, but by two years ago I was ready to stick up for myself and for the principle of marriage as an equal partnership. As hard as the divorce has been on my daughters, I think this, ultimately, is the best gift I can give them.

- anonymous author

Babes, Bucks, and Romance

Linda Solomon is a journalist and the cofounder (with Marian Moore) of "Babes with Bucks," a series of workshops to help women with wealth explore the relationship between money and romantic love. She is interviewed here by Anne Slepian.

Anne : How did you get interested in the themes explored in your workshops?

Linda: Before my husband and I got married, I confessed to Marian my anxieties about creating a life with a man who was a struggling artist. I was totally in love. But, the money...how could it work if I had more than he did? Marian, who was happily married to a man with less money, winked and said, "Oh, let me get together some babes with bucks. We'll tell you ALL about it!"

That gathering changed my life. As we sat in a circle, each woman told the story of how she had worked out money issues with her partner. One woman had given her husband a chunk of cash and he turned it into a larger fortune than the one she inherited. Another woman, married for thirty years, always shared money equally with her husband. Another woman had a prenuptial with her long time live-in-partner the explicit agreements gave them both a sense of clarity and comfort. The stories went on. These women, all in long standing relationships, were some of the most fulfilled and productive people I knew. They gave me the courage to bypass my childhood conditioning and marry the man I loved.

Anne: So, you were given a different message about money and love?

Linda: Growing up, I heard plenty of comments about men I should "watch out for." My father's accountant once pulled me aside and said, "Now Linda, don't ever let a man get his hands on your money!" The most powerful message was from the pervasive and unspoken model of my parents' marriage. My father was more than an ordinary breadwinner--he built a fortune doing work he loved. My stay-at-home mother seemed like a queen, someone with all the freedom in the world.

Even watching my parents' marriage dissolve when I was in my 20's didn't rid me of this idealized image. I just couldn't get it out of my head that Daddies go off to work every morning, pounding their chest and shouting, "I'm a man!," while Mommies stay home and do volunteer work or become artists or whatever they please. My head knew better, but the belief remained that earning money was a statement of a man's love; that his commitment to me was suspect if he wasn't going to support me financially. I was nearly 40 before I could listen to my heart and marry Bhaskar.

Anne: Yet aren't there dangers for women with wealth? I have heard true horror stories of spouses who are out-of-control spenders, wild risk-takers in the stock market, or chronically immobilized about being "kept"-- a situation that may be particularly hard for men.

Linda: I hear that partners of wealthy lesbians can have self-esteem issues, too. But hey, rich or poor, man or woman, you need to assess people's character carefully before you commit to them and, even then, keep your eyes open. Lots of men who marry women with wealth go through a period of struggling with their self-worth. The question is, do they pull themselves out of it or not? This is not just an inheritors' issue; the percentage of women who earn more than their spouses has grown dramatically over the last two decades.

Personally, I had to ask myself: Do I want to be married to a human being I love, or to my money? So many of the world's problems come down to greed. And if we women with wealth look at ourselves with total honesty, sometimes that's at the heart of fears about marrying someone with less money: the wish to have more, the wish not to share what we have.

Anne: Now that you and Bhaskar have been married three-and-a-half years and have a child together, what have you learned?

Linda: I've learned to laugh at the Prince Charming fantasies that still linger in my head. When I'm feeling anxious or resentful about Bhaskar not being a big breadwinner, I know its time to address my own unrealized potentials. The more I develop my own financial competence--the ability to "Daddy myself"--the less I need to project that onto my husband.

My advice to other women sitting on the fence? Go for it, girls!

A Man Building On A Female Legacy

Since the early days of the Noyes Foundation, the women in the family have been the most influential players. The older men in my family didn't see it that way, of course. They claimed foundation investments as their fiefdom and joked over martinis about the "give-away girls" because my grandmother, mother, and great aunts were in charge of picking recipients for the student scholarship program established by my great grandfather.

These women were not content to sit around the pool choosing between applicants. They had their own ideas. The first shift came when they moved from supporting individual students to supporting historically black colleges. They then expanded into supporting projects on teenage pregnancy, sustainable agriculture, health issues, social justice, and protecting biodiversity. Today, the foundation funds in the areas of environmental justice and reproductive rights and health. As my Great Aunt Edith always said, "Never set your guidelines too strictly. Leave a little wiggle room for the promising project you hadn't thought of before."

At a time when wealthy women were not supposed to work, these women set up an office for the foundation, hired support staff, and began inviting a diverse group of knowledgeable social activists to join the board. From their own experience, they recognized the need to include excluded voices, so they worked hard to involve low income people and people of color on the board to provide a perspective that they couldn't. Ultimately, they also broke down the Berlin Wall that has long separated the foundation's investments from its giving mission. They turned to investment managers who respected women's financial intelligence and shared the goal of harnessing the power of our investments to support our social mission.

As a boy, I learned to respect the work of the "give-away girls" and wanted to become one of them. I remember my mom going off to New York for foundation board meetings when I was little. The foundation seemed like a fascinating, mysterious place where important things happened. When I was thirteen I started to think that I might like to become involved someday. That summer my mother took me on a cross-country trip to California and I accompanied her on some site visits along the way.

I particularly remember our stop in Kansas at a sustainable agriculture center where the foundation had just given a grant. The Director walked us around the grounds talking about the dangers of pesticides and the Institute's work to change how food is grown in this country. I was hooked. Now, as the current board chair of the foundation, I work hard to build on the legacy that these two generations of women created, and I turn to them often for advice and counsel.

- anonymous author

Being Out--Way Out!

Of course there are costs to being outspoken as a woman with wealth. Public criticism is the least of it--I've learned to live with that. The hardest is when my family feels hurt. The day the Boston Globe did a huge spread about me as the new head of Harvard's Women and Public Policy program with a story which included a half-page photo of my smiling face and naming my assets at $400 million, my son was taunted at school. "Your mother, she's so rich!" He and I talked about ways to respond besides in anger or shame. He laughed when I suggested yelling back, "It's true... and she makes the BEST oatmeal!"

I'm not going to hold back just to protect him. He'll figure out how to come to terms with it, if not this time or next time, then fifty times from now, and I'll be there to help him. I remind myself that children around the world have burdens that never touch my children. I tell my son, "Everyone's got hard things to deal with; this is yours."

The other day I was on a panel at Radcliffe with some other wealthy women, and an audience member asked, "Do you think people suck up to you for your money?" The other panelists demurred, "No...I would never stand for that... people accept me as I am..." I said, "Are you kidding? Anyone in fundraising has a whole file on each of us! Our interests and activities are listed in their computer, and they just had a strategy meeting about how to get in with us. Do you think they'll ever say, `Frankly, Miss, that color suit doesn't flatter you.'"

So what can you do? Listen to what they want money for, and decide yes or no. Know your funding priorities, so you aren't thrown into confusion. Whenever someone is nice to me, a little voice in the back of my mind wonders, "Do they like me, or want something from me?" But I've raised money. The reality is, relationships aren't black and white; you can't divide actions into neat categories. People can want my money and connections AND like me for myself.

Coming to these attitudes and accepting wealth has been a long painful process for me. In my 20's, I immersed myself in issues of social justice by studying liberation and feminist theology in seminary. I was drawn to St. Francis, the son of a wealthy merchant who turned to absolute poverty. How, then, could I admit my wealth to myself?

It was a huge task, one I could never have done without my sister. At one point, she said, "Let's bring a number of women with wealth to the ranch, and really talk." That gathering was a turning point.

In time, after much soul-searching, I decided not to take St. Francis' path. I decided that instead of saying, "I wash my hands of this wicked money," I would try to gain as much control as I could over what I had. While still cautious about the seductive comforts of wealth and the human propensity for self-delusion and rationalization, I decided to befriend money and use it, much as I use my smile, my voice, my intelligence, and any other helpful attribute I have. Helen and I started the Hunt Alternative Fund and I began raising funds for the Colorado Women's Foundation. I've been channeling money towards good things ever since.

One of the things money brings is notice. If I speak highly of an organization while being interviewed, the publicity may be as good as $25,000 for that group. You can only have that leverage if you're willing to take on a public persona. As ambassador to Austria, I was able to help broker Bosnian peace negotiations. I could never do that by hiding.

I know many women who can spend $1200 on a suit, but can't yet give that much to an organization they care about. You see, the suit is still within the acceptable role for women, to be a decoration. What holds women with wealth back may not be specific fears, but rather identity incongruities. If you're a man, being wealthy makes you more of man. But for a women? We're taught women and power don't fit. That's why we need to hear more about women using wealth wisely, so we have models that challenge us to take our money and parlay it into power.

- anonymous author

Mission Impossible?

I've always had a deep sense of mission. I grew up listening to my father talk about business at the dining room table. He loved running his manufacturing firm and was a deeply happy man. My mother was an active community leader and volunteer and she loved and talked about her work too. Growing up, I picked up the desire to blend the worlds of business and service into a single path - my path.

Some of the choices I have made seemed crazy to my loved ones at the time. Against the wishes of my parents, I quit the graduate program at Harvard in 1965 and moved into the predominately black Boston neighborhood of Roxbury. There, as the only white person on staff, I helped start a black-owned weekly newspaper that is still publishing today. Later in the early 1970s, I tried and failed to start a national working women's magazine. Such experiences have made me pretty fearless. I've risked and won, and risked and lost. In either case, I've grown.

When I finally realized that my women's magazine had collapsed, and all the time and money I had invested in it were lost, I crawled into bed and threw the covers over myself for three days. When I got up, a job fell into my lap helping some friends start Shore Bank, the nation's first community development bank, where I later became vice-president. Lesson one, we always rise from the ashes. I look back on this failure now in an even deeper way.

I remember sitting one night five years later combing my daughter's hair, and just cherishing being a mother. If my magazine project had been successful, I would have been too busy to have children. I never would have known this quiet joy, or even known what I was missing! Thus I learned that higher forces are at work. We don't even know the meaning of what we are experiencing. Here what I thought was my greatest failure led directly to my greatest joy.

Somehow I missed most of the conditioning that immobilizes women with money. Yet, after I joined Chicago's Harris Bank, the problem became very real to me. Sixty-five percent of our trust customers were women, and most of them felt disempowered by the money in their lives. Some felt so out of control that they worried they would end up as bag ladies. In an effort to address these fears, I called twelve of Chicago's wealthiest women and worked with them to create a ten-week financial management course that the bank could offer its female clients. It was only publicized by the founders' word of mouth, but eventually 1,000 women went through the program.

I was worried that some of the husbands would object. In the 1980's, wealthy women were still not encouraged to manage their own funds, and some of the women in our classes were married to some of the titans of business in Chicago. Yet the time must have been right because the program flourished.

This work got me interested in the power of networks where people can get to know each other, help each other grow, and inspire change. More and more, I used my spare time to launch business networks committed to ethical investing and women's economic empowerment. Besides being on the founding board of the Social Venture Network, I also founded three networks of leading business women, including the Committee of 200, two hundred of America's top women business owners. There was tension, of course, between the time requirements of my work at the bank and the time I needed to nurture these networks.

Having worked since I was 14, I decided in 1990 that I needed some time off and I took a month's vacation in Hawaii, at my mother's place, to just shut up and listen to the ocean waves and my own intuition. I didn't do anything but sleep, swim, walk, and eat my mother's good cooking. My mother and I barely talked and I stayed away from the phone. Without any agenda, I reflected on my life and felt a prompting to take my work up a notch, to really answer my personal calling.

I kept imagining my unborn grandchildren asking me what did I do in the struggle for sustainability? I did not want to answer lamely than that I didn't know how bad it was. I do know. We live in a runaway global economy that is wiping out the capacity of the Earth to sustain us and its many other creatures. We need to take the risks of working for change right now, particularly those of us with wealth. Our potential to be wise stewards is profound. We are among the people on this planet who have the strongest capacity to help create a globally-accountable economy. The question is, will we do it?

The next question for me was what is my unique niche? What is my best contribution to this effort in light of my personal skills, contacts, and history? Over the next six months, the answer became clearer. I am great at organizing peer networks and associations of business people who have the power to make considerable change around the world. I decided to leave Harris Bank and start my own business which organizes the Business Leadership Network to help leaders use business to solve social problems.

My company first launched the Investors' Circle for Social Venture Capital, and is now launching networks for the poorest business leaders in the world--in eastern Nigeria--and for the richest business leaders in the world--for the State of the World Forum. The company also helped the Rudolph Steiner Foundation create a network for their major donors to encourage more "venture philanthropy." This truly is my path.

- anonymous author


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