/ 01.22.19 /

Why I Created Working for Women: conversation with Founder Beth Bengtson

There’s never been a better time to invest in women, says Beth Bengtson, who spent much of her career making the case for business as a force for good.

Consider this: In 2015, one in eight women and nearly one in five children lived in poverty, with over half living in women-led families. According to National Women’s Law Center, more than one in three female-headed families with children were poor in 2016 (versus 17.3 percent of male-headed households). What’s more, poverty rates were higher for women who headed families if they were black (38.8 percent) or Latina (40.8 percent).

To make matters worse, many of those women lack support networks to whom they could turn. “What kind of role models are we creating?” asks Bengtson, adding that it’s so much harder to get out of poverty and break those cycles without that support.

Keep in mind that only 1 percent of philanthropic giving goes toward the advancement of women and girls and less than 2.5 percent of all venture capital goes to women, even less to women of color.

That statistic is all the more glaring considering the many studies that demonstrate that investing in women and girls is one of the smartest investments you can make. According to research by Credit Suisse, the greater the number of senior women in management roles, the better the corporate performance and stock market valuations.

Bottom line: Supporting women, giving them an equal voice and equal opportunity is simply good business. It’s only by investing in women today – to help them out of poverty and disenfranchisement – that we can empower the leaders of tomorrow.

That’s where Working for Women comes in. The nonprofit boasts a dual mission of helping women advance in the workplace and enabling businesses to be a greater force for good.  Every member makes a pledge, 100 percent of which goes into a fund that supports projects helping women in the workforce.

Of course, giving back is smart business too, with an increasing number of employees searching for jobs that make a positive impact. As Blackrock CEO Larry Fink stated in his 2017 annual letter: “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”

W4W launched in December in the Greater New York area. It expects to build its impact region-by-region and hopes to tackle global reach in the future. Those steps will certainly come easier thanks to its first corporate partner: professional services firm ZS. The company will offer financial support along with pro-bono consulting and advisor services to help the nonprofit grow.

“It’s a very exciting way to kick off,” exclaims Bengtson of the partnership and what it signifies. Not only is ZS well-aligned with W4W’s mission, the company runs their own internal initiative to support women. Looking forward, Bengtson is hopeful they’ll find many other like-minded partners. “A lot of companies are trying to figure out how to support women internally which lends itself beautifully and naturally to us.”

Along the way, if W4W can incentivize the business community to take a bigger leap towards social good, even better. As Bengtson explains, “We’re trying to spark a movement.”