More Than Money
Issue #19

Women, Money, and Power

Table of Contents

“Organizing Women With Wealth: An Interview With Tracy Gary”

Tracy Gary has devoted most of her energies for the past twenty-five years to helping women with wealth gain not only personal control over their finances, but also the confidence and com pete nce needed to become influential social change agents. An inheritor who has given the bulk of her wealth away, Tracy is a founder of Resourceful Women, an organization that has provided financial education to thousands. She also founded the Women Donors' Network, a national philanthropic network of close to 90 women with wealth; and the Women's Funding Network, a network of over 100 community foundations across the country which fund projects that support women and girls. She is also the co-author, with Melissa Kohner, of a new workbook called Inspired Philanthropy: Creating a Giving Plan , (Chardon Press, 1998). Steve Chase caught up with Tracy recently during a brief lull between her speaking engagements.

Steve: In an interview several years ago you said, "I feel hopeful for the future as I see more and more women using their money to make a difference in the world." How far have we come in the last twenty-five years?

Tracy: When I inherited money in the early 1970s, I didn't know any other women who were wealthy and shared my values. The only places to meet other wealthy women were the Junior League or the country club, neither of which were for me. Such isolation is a big problem. It is hard to be powerful about managing and using wealth well in a vacuum. Isolation just supports the status quo and leaves us trapped in shame, fear, and denial.

While many women still feel alone and in chaos about their financial lives, the resources available today are astonishing. Not only are there well-established groups like Resourceful Women and the Women's Funding Network, there are now national networks of socially-responsible women investors and entrepreneurs. There are support groups, conferences, newsletters, books, and speakers on the unique challenges and opportunities facing women with wealth. The number of women working as financial advisors has skyrocketed, and many men in the field have become increasingly sensitive to the needs of women.

At the heart of this unprecedented infrastructure, however, is still the relationships women can have with each other when they talk about their dreams, explore the inner and outer blocks to effective financial management, and learn skills and set personal and political goals together. That is what changes lives. I've known hundreds of women who have transformed their lives in just this way over the last twenty-five years. Many, many women who once felt overwhelmed and out of control about their money and are now earning, investing, spending, and giving in conscious, calm, and effective ways. Many have gone on to become organizers, leaders, and mentors for other women.

Steve: Even with all these new resources, you've commented that many women with wealth seem to have hit a plateau in their growth. What do you mean?

Tracy: Over the last few decades we have found each other and learned to use our voices, but we still are not using our voices fully in the boardroom, at our foundations, at shareholder meetings, and in our relationships. As women, we are so used to manifesting other peoples dreams that once we have gotten some financial control over our assets, and hired a financial advisor we trust, we often become distracted. We lose sight of what we could do if we dreamed big dreams and worked hard to make them happen.

Many of us are afraid of power. We know what "power-over" looks like and we know we don't want that, but we still don't have a full enough picture of what power-from-within or power-with-others looks like. Without such a vision, we still balk at taking full charge of our lives. Developing expertise and strategic focus about our money and energy is time-consuming. As women, our time is often spread too thin trying to respond to external demands.

Despite these difficulties, I know that more and more women want to make a difference. When I used to speak at a local women's fund, perhaps 50 people showed up. Today, I speak to hundreds of women at a time. Over ninety percent tell me that they want to get into socially responsible investing, or give more to causes they care about, or start businesses that would treat workers and the Earth with respect. Women know what is needed. They know that fancier cars, bigger houses, and extra vacation homes aren't what the world most needs, or even what they need. However, they often fall short of who they truly want to be. There is a big gap between words and deeds here, but it is not hypocrisy. It is the result of lingering confusion, hopelessness, and isolation.

Steve: What would you say to readers who want to move beyond this plateau and achieve their full power?

Tracy: First, I urge you to learn where you stand in the wealth pyramid and get to know people personally who are at the base of the pyramid. When several wealthy women I know went to the UN Conference on Women in Beijing, they got to see the world in a new way. What they read about world events in newspapers now had faces attached, faces of inspiring women organizing for change under very difficult conditions. Such contacts can give you a visceral urgency.

Second, if you really want to move in your life, pull together a circle of close women friends with whom you can give and receive encouragement and challenge, and to whom you can be accountable. I've learned so much from other women with wealth who are using their financial muscle as business owners, professionals, volunteers, investors, and philanthropists.

Third, make a date with yourself and find out what you most want to give to the world. I think it is essential for women to find some private time in the midst of their busy lives. I've taken an annual retreat by myself for over fifteen years now, and it has worked magic in my life. During these three to five days alone, I revise my personal mission statement, reflect on the past year, and start thinking about my goals for the coming year. Mostly, though, I meditate, give thanks, and leave room for intuitive messages I can't receive while I'm in activity overdrive!

Finally, make sure you get the help you need. If I am known for only one thing after I die, I want it to be for encouraging wealthy women with big dreams to hire personal assistants. Your dreams are your business; don't be afraid to hire a staff to help you meet your goals. You can provide good jobs at decent wages and move your dreams closer to fruition. Such a move is scary for some women. Is it fair to be a boss? Is it right not to do everything myself? Is my dream worth the investment? Can I trust the people I hire with my personal information? In my experience, all these concerns can be worked out and you can dramatically increase what you accomplish.

If someone had told me twenty-five years ago how influential I could be in the world, I would not have believed them. Yet, there is a world of big visions and inner freedom awaiting us all.

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