Core to Clarifi’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) initiatives is to better understand how our clients’ identities impact their financial needs. To learn more about the Gender Wealth Gap this Women’s History Month, we spoke to Kelly Sheard, Director of the Gender Wealth Institute at Women’s Way, a Philadelphia based organization focused on advancing the rights of women and girls, and achieving gender equity for all.
Ms. Sheard defines the Gender Wealth Gap as the “disparity of access and full experience that we associate with material wealth, savings, income, and retirement funds.” She describes these resources as an umbrella in a storm, helping people weather financial uncertainty. This definition goes beyond the traditional understanding of the pay gap in which for every one dollar earned by a White man, a White woman makes 79 cents and a Black woman makes 62 cents. It includes opportunity gaps in areas like access to capital – the average business loan distributed to female applicants is half of the average for male applicants: $57,000 vs $103,000. As well as student lending disparities: women owe 2/3rds of all student debt in the US, with Women of Color having the highest overall student debt burden at an average of $10,000 more than White women.
These disparities are not the result of women making poor choices or not taking advantage of opportunities. Rather, Ms. Sheard explained, it’s the result of systemic disenfranchisement, “including laws and policies that intentionally create a system where women are at the bottom.” Further, she commended Women’s Way’s emphasis on the role of white supremacy in these issues. “Government policies, industry exclusion, and even slavery created many of the problems we see today in our financial systems, including the Racial and Gender Wealth Gaps.”
To address these issues, Women’s Way has developed a program that educates women on the drivers of the gender wealth gap, and the Change the Narrative fellowship program. This program champions women with lived experience around economic insecurity, and frames them as the experts. They provide solutions, and impact change by using their experiences and stories to help shape people’s mindsets. These women share their experience with our complex financial systems, domestic abuse, and the criminal justice system. They share how they’ve navigated these systems, what they wish they had while experiencing these problems, and what they’re trying to build for themselves and their families. Women’s Way has found this method of letting women speak for themselves to be very productive. You can find some highlighted videos from this program here.
Yet, these systemic problems require more than just what one nonprofit can do, they required systemic solutions. Ms. Sheard points to a number of policies which could be adopted at the state and national level including raising the minimum wage, enacting and enforcing worker protection laws, expanding healthcare access and cancelling student debt. As well as reinstating the Advance Child Tax Credit Program, which reduced the child poverty rate by as much 16%. Ms. Sheard is particularly interested in guaranteed income, especially how it relates to the racial wealth gap, since she views these issues as intertwined.
Ms. Sheard emphasized that these issues don’t just affect women. Women of Color provide significant incomes to their families with 87% of Black women being the primary breadwinners for their household. She said, “programs, policies, and solutions that lift up Black women will inevitably lift everyone else up around them, since so much of the labor economy has been shaped by the work of Black women. This means increased financial stability for children and families, since many women dedicate large amounts of time to unpaid care work.”
This past December, Women’s Way distributed $150,000 to ten women entrepreneurs in a pitch competition. Women’s Way held a business competition and awarded the ten finalists monetary awards through direct grants.
Lastly, Ms. Sheard pointed out, much of this work is about combatting misinformation. “People often have misconceptions about merit, hard work, dignity, entitlement, and access to basic necessities. More often than not, advice from the past does not apply in today’s world, and having policy makers see these discrepancies, and listening to the real life experiences of women is a crucial step in the right direction.”