/ 12.23.22 /

Finding Hope in Community, Collaboration, and the Power of the Collective

“Optimism for me isn’t a passive expectation that things will get better; it’s a conviction that we can make things better — that whatever suffering we see, no matter how bad it is, we can help people if we don’t lose hope and we don’t look away.”
– Melinda French Gates

I’ll be honest; as this year comes to a close, it’s been harder than usual for me to stay optimistic. Seeing that less than 1.9% of philanthropic dollars go to supporting women and girls, the same exact number as five years ago, was a real blow. How have we not moved the needle on this?

But after giving myself a beat to feel my discouragement, and to process it, I always choose hope. Because that’s what hope is: a choice; and the alternative — accepting the status quo — is unacceptable. I want to get really specific here…

  1. It’s unacceptable that less than 2% of our philanthropic dollars go to half of the world’s population. It is unacceptable, given this country’s incredible wealth, that those controlling charitable dollars somehow consistently do not prioritize combatting the inequality and violence that the female population endures.
  2. It’s unacceptable that even before the pandemic pushed scores of women from the workforce (often to take on unpaid caregiving work at home), working women earned a median income of less than $11/hour. “But women make up half the workforce!,” people say to me, when I describe our mission at Working for Women; maybe they think I’m just being negative? Allow me to clarify: Yes, around half the workforce is women, but thanks to the pay gap and other systemic injustices, that does not mean women earn half of the country’s income. It does not mean that a woman is paid equally for the same job as a man, or that she has the same opportunities to enter or advance in lucrative fields like tech.
  3. It is unacceptable that those of us all too aware of these figures I’m citing spend so much time preaching to the choir. We don’t mean to; I don’t mean to. But if we really want to create change, we must find a way to make more people care about this. We can’t just keep attending meetings together and liking each other’s social media posts.

Here’s the good news: if the business community steps up, we can completely change the story, in ways that are good for women, good for our economy and society, and, yes, good for the bottom line.

But it means taking action. It means not watching from the sidelines. Your small check today is worth so much more than the bigger check you want to write down the line. One thousand checks for $100 each are worth just as much as one check for $100,000.

There are so many amazing nonprofit organizations with smart, creative, strategic programs in place to grow women’s financial independence — that fight for equal pay, that help women with interview prep and job placement, that teach financial literacy, that remove barriers that keep mothers in particular from advancing at work. But they need our money, and they need our skilled workers to contribute their talents pro bono, in order to increase their capacity to reach more women in our communities.

At Working for Women, we have a model that channels human and financial resources from businesses to vetted nonprofit organizations. And we have amazing business partners and professionals who have joined us. . We need the whole business community, from professionals to sole proprietors to those companies with thousands of employees, to take action. To write the check for $100 or $1000 and more, to allow your staff to dedicate a certain number of hours every month to helping these nonprofits that are working for women.

Nonprofits like Women Employed, who with support from our community this year was able to launch a new division focused on creating inclusive workplaces for all women and an entrepreneurial hub targeted to women of color building businesses. Thanks to volunteers from ZS, we have delivered negotiation workshops to over 250 women and counting across three different nonprofits partners. In addition to dollars and people, we provided these amazing nonprofit organizations with that most powerful amplifier: community. Our partner organizations have been working independently in each of their markets and through W4W, we are now connecting them across the US, learning from each other while sharing challenges and successes. These are the organizations that are doing daily the hard and heart work of elevating women in their communities.

When I need to reconnect with hope, this is where I look: To community, collaboration, and the power of the collective. (Yes, I realize that’s a lot of c’s!) May these values and models guide us in the year ahead.

We must not lose hope; and we must not look away. Instead it is time for us to each take action together!

Beth Bengtson

Founder & CEO, Working for Women