Finance. Feminism’s New Frontier

As published on LinkedIn on March 8th, 2020.

Happy International Women’s Day 2020. For over 100 years, March 8th has been a designated day to call attention to Women’s Rights. For anyone who needs a refresh, this term is meant to include the “right to bodily integrity and autonomy; to be free from sexual violence; to vote; to hold public office; to enter into legal contracts; to have equal rights in family lawto work; to fair wages or equal pay; to have reproductive rights; to own propertyto education.”

In other words, Human Rights.

If you are a regular reader of my posts, you will know that my tradition every March 8th is to call attention to the research that I collect, aggregate, and share that supports ideas, strategies, policies, and practices that will help us move closer to a more gender inclusive world. This year is the biggest and boldest report list yet, and contains 650 studies, organized into 21 different categories, and spanning nearly 200 pages. Categories include agriculture, entrepreneurship, girls, leadership, investing, philanthropy, and much more. You can download that report HERE.

No alt text provided for this image

A relevant question that I’m often asked is, “Jacki, why the heck do you do this?” The three page answer can be found at the opening pages of this document in the section called, “My Story”, but allow me to summarize it for you.

Over 20 years ago, when I began my journey to mobilize all my resources, including my time, treasure, and talent, towards the advancement of women and girls, I began by seeking out research, data, and an understanding that could inform how to do this. For the first few years, while still at Goldman and focused on women’s leadership and advancement, my interest was primarily on practices that improved the hiring, retention, and promotion of women professionals. While on that journey, I started to discover broader categories of research, including one of the earliest corporate produced reports that highlighted the economic impact of empowering females. Proudly, it was actually from my own firm, Goldman Sachs, and was called Women-omics: Buy the Female Economy. This groundbreaking report was written by Kathy Matsui and her team in 1999.

It was then that I began to gather and share.

My personal path led me to depart from Goldman in 2002, and for the next decade; while I began to fund women’s organizations more actively, join non-profit boards, become more active in managing our family’s philanthropic and investment assets; the gathering, or as some call it, obsessing, continued. This journey was summarized in my 17 minute TEDxWomen Talk I gave in 2012, which can be found HERE.

I also championed and co-funded my own research report, titled Women in Fund Management: A Roadmap to Critical Mass and Why It Matters, in partnership with The National Council For Research on Women where I served on the board (much love to their Executive Director at the time, Linda Basch, who remains a friend and mentor to this day). That paper sought to unpack the question of why there are so few women in decision making roles around investment capital, and to provide a list of solutions for the industry. On the back of the great financial crisis of 2008, it was what I could do to try to have a positive impact, aligning my passions for advancing women, the financial markets and systems, and the great march towards gender equality. I do believe that that paper stands the test of time and is still very relevant today. One of the things I would like to do in my next phase, which you will hear about below, is to revive and modernize its insights, and work with the financial industry more broadly to implement them.

It was around this time that I also started to hear the term gender-lens investing, which was being pioneered by two incredible women, Joy Anderson and Jackie Vanderbrug, at the Criterion Institute.

From Criterion – Since our founding in 2002, we’ve created various tools and resources focused on transforming relationships of power in finance. We connect with social change leaders across different sectors, to bring people together to reframe and demonstrate new ways to shape our financial systems.

At the time, these concepts were revolutionary, and I loved it. I immediately connected with Joy and Jackie, provided some funding for their field building work, and championed their insights and approaches. Be sure to check out their website to find some incredible resources, including one of the first guides to gender-lens investing that they created in 2012. And of course, a shout out to Jackie’s book, written in 2016. I had started to employ a gender lens around my portfolio, as well began my own angel investing in support of women entrepreneurs, which is a practice that I continue to this day with a current portfolio of 14 direct investments and multiple funds. If you want to see some of my portfolio companies you can find them here. You can also find robust sections in the current report list on women’s entrepreneurship, the state of the funding for females, impact investing, gender-impact investing, and much more.

I have written a lot about my philanthropic journey over the years, including my role and retirement as the founding President and Co-Founder of Women Moving Millions (WMM), a global community of over 300 people who have given charitable gifts of a million dollars or more for the advancement of gender equality. For over a decade, ending in 2018, my primary work in the world was to be a champion and community builder for gender-lens philanthropy. Through it all, my grounding in research was invaluable as I traveled the world, literally, giving talks and writing about the importance of gender in one’s philanthropic giving. I could not be more proud of the role WMM has, and will continue to play, in mobilizing that kind of capital. But for me, my focus has now shifted. Of course I will continue to give, but going forward, how I will spend my time and talent will be as a champion for Gender-Impact Investing. This will no longer be my side-hustle, but rather a full time commitment!


Philanthropic capital will never be enough to solve the world’s problems, especially when fighting against traditional investment capital that continues to fund businesses that create and perpetuate the problems that non-profits and governments exist to solve. Financial tools and products have been created and used, bought and sold, without enough accountability for outcomes and impact. In a world increasingly defined by inequality more generally, and income and asset inequality specifically, we simply have to do better. Our very lives depend on it. 

No alt text provided for this image

Therefore, as I release this latest and final version of my BEST REPORTS, which were produced by educational institutions, foundations, think tanks, governmental organizations, and/or corporations that are primarily focused on women and girls and in honor of International Women’s Day, I once again invite you to dig in! It is incalculable how many resources from brilliant and caring people went into each and every included report.

Value it. Use it. Share it. Hold yourself and others accountable for it. 

And… partner with me to see all our financial resources as tools to express our values to help create the world we want to live in. For me that will always mean seeking justice and equity for half of the worlds population that has been left behind, left out, marginalized. The what and the how will change and evolve, but the vision remains the same. A gender inclusive, gender balanced, gender valuing world will be a better world for everyone. Promise.

Here’s to International Women’s Day 2020.

#IWD2020 #financialfeminism #genderequality #genderequity

*A shout out to my dear friend Ruth Ann Harnisch as it relates to the title of this piece. She was the first one to frame finance for me in this way. Thank you.

** And an additional shout out to my friends and family who have supported my journey to use my time, treasure, and talents to make a difference in this world. You know who you are, and I love you!

How to Leapfrog to Entrepreneurial Success

Photo credit Tanya Malott

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on September 4th, 2018.

I met the amazing Nathalie Molina Niño a couple of years ago when a mutual friend made an introduction, and we immediately bonded over our shared passion for supporting women entrepreneurs. This passion led Nathalie to found BRAVA Investments in 2016, a company that invests in start-ups that disproportionately benefit women. Their goal is not to create the next billionaire woman, but rather, BRAVA aims to put more wealth into the pockets of as many women as possible, and to this end, Nathalie has a pragmatic, no-nonsense insistence on results. In fact, BRAVA goes so far as to define the kind of investing they do as “outcomes over optics” rather than impact, which can mean so many things to different people. For Nathalie, it is all about real, measurable results.

Needless to say, Nathalie and I hit it off immediately, and I recently became a member of the leadership council at the Athena Center for Leadership studies at Barnard College, of which she is also a member. Nathalie also co-founded Entrepreneurs@Athena in 2012 with the express purpose of supporting the next generation of women entrepreneurs. When my daughter Allie was going through the college application process last year, this program was one that really stood out for her as a true differentiator for Barnard. There are countless studies that show that the deck is stacked against women entrepreneurs from the outset, so I’m happy to support any initiative that is working to level the playing field. Which bring us to last week, when Nathalie released her first book for women entrepreneurs, and one which I was eagerly awaiting.

LEAPFROG: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs is the result of Nathalie’s over 20 years of experience working with start-ups. In fact, Nathalie launched her first tech start-up when she was just 20 years old, and in the years since she has grown multiple companies into $100M+ operations. Along the way she’s picked up numerous hacks for entrepreneurs to get ahead, which is exactly what LEAPFROG is all about. This book is packed with wisdom from her 20 years in startups, as well as interviews with nearly 50 amazing entrepreneurs who share real, pragmatic hacks for growing businesses that they themselves used on their own paths to success. After reading LEAPFROG, I had some questions for Nathalie, which she graciously took the time to answer. If you are as inspired as I was after reading her answers below, be sure to pick up your own copy and leapfrog away! As an active angle investor with over ten portfolio companies, you can be sure I will be sharing this book with all of their founders.

Jacki Zehner: You are quick to dispel the notion that leapfrog hacks aren’t cheating, but rather advantages that everyone can and should use when the system is already stacked against them. Why do you think people have such a negative reaction to the idea of taking ethical shortcuts when (as you point out) successful entrepreneurs do it all the time?

Nathalie Molina Niño: Women and men of color have good reason to worry about not doing things exactly by the book. We have a history of being intentionally locked out for any variation from the norm and let’s be honest, some of that idiocy is still happening, just look at this example from recent headlines in Japan. As a result, we put pressure on ourselves (and our kids) to be perfect and follow the rules. We worry about being singled out as the “affirmative action” candidate, of people thinking we’re only in the room because of our race or gender and not on merit. Those fears are not unfounded. But the way we win is to get beyond that and understand that what got us here isn’t going to help us where we’re going next. Anyone who has achieved success did it by taking some short cut, even if they don’t realize it. Being born in the right neighborhood is a shortcut when you consider what your prospects are, statistically speaking, when compared to someone born in the south side of Chicago. Luck is a shortcut too. As underrepresented communities, we – more than anyone else – need to use every shortcut we can possibly learn about because we have ground to make up. The World Economic Forum says that it will take 170 years to get to gender parity at the rate we’re going. That’s unacceptable, I’m sure everyone will agree. So, however uncomfortable it might make us, we owe it to the next generation to find every hack we can for winning at business, faster, cheaper, and more efficiently than anyone who came before us!

JZ: You return over and over again to the importance of storytelling throughout the book. Why do you think this is such an overlooked aspect of entrepreneurship?

NMM: I don’t think it is, I just think we call it different things and make it all seem magical and unattainable, which serves no one but those already in power and circles of high influence. We call it charm, we say someone is a natural born salesperson, we say a leader is charismatic. When the truth is that the thing that these people all have are just storytelling skills. I think de-mystifying that is important because it’s not magic; it’s a skill that you can develop and a muscle that simply needs to be exercised and often. Making something teachable into something magical only serves to alienate, and it’s time to put an end to that tired, old entrepreneurship culture. Storytelling is one of the most important skills in business and what’s great is that it’s eminently learnable.

JZ: One thing that I love about this book is that even though the hacks are organized consecutively for the process of starting and growing a business, you don’t offer a detailed step by step guide on how to start a successful business. Was this a conscious decision on your part to encourage readers to think outside the book and recognize that there is no one size fits all business model? What would you say to readers looking for easy answers and who might be frustrated with this approach?

NMM: Yes! It’s also the reason the book is launching as a paperback first. I wanted the book to be as hardworking and scrappy as your typical woman entrepreneur. Not fancy, not lofty, but practical and easy to jump into from the front, middle, or end. The kind of book you don’t think twice about scribbling in the margins of, the sort of book you’ll roll up and throw in your diaper bag without a care in the world. I end the book with a quote from poet and writer Yrsa Daley-Ward, “My destiny is louder than my comfort,” which is probably my best answer to anyone who finds the structure a little unorthodox. Starting and growing your own business will never be linear, the way most business books are written. If anything, I wrote the book because after 20 years at it, it was clear to me that most business books don’t reflect the messy, flexible, and far more artful ways that real businesses are built. I wanted to be sure LEAPFROG provided the tools to pave your own path, and the confidence to know that your way is just as good as any!

JZ: So many of these hacks seem counterintuitive at first glance, but once explained they’re so ingenious and you have to wonder why they are not the current status quo. Where are all these misconceptions in business coming from? Are they simply holdovers from an older system that no longer apply? Or is something else at play?

NMM: Yes, definitely something else is at play! I think hacks like these are the reality for most women entrepreneurs, because we’ve had to learn to be ingenious with limited resources. The problem is our stories aren’t being told, and our strategies for surviving against all odds have been relegated to the margins rather than celebrated and normalized. The legendary Marie Wilson, the founder of the White House Project, Take Your Daughters To Work Day, and the longtime head of the MS Foundation founded by Gloria Steinem, who developed some of the very early programs to seed and support women entrepreneurs in the US, said this after reading LEAPFROG, “It feels so familiar to me and the choices I made. It reminded me of the people who didn’t understand the leaps you could make, those who predicted failure and the times when I doubted myself, and much more. I’m grateful for a book that authorizes those decisions, even in retrospect.” I could have written a book of hacks based entirely on my own experience, and it would have positioned me as exceptional and as a thought leader. But I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew that there was wisdom and scrappy entrepreneurial genius all around me, and that’s why LEAPFROG is primarily packed with the stories of entrepreneurs I love and ideas that might seem unorthodox at first. But I hope they take hold and help redefine the tired old dominant startup narratives that rarely reflect women’s experiences.

JZ: I love your emphasis on social entrepreneurship, because as you discuss, any business can have social impact on their community or the world at large. With all of your experience in this area, why do you think women are uniquely suited for social entrepreneurship?

NMM: Frankly I don’t necessarily think they are! I think women are uniquely suited for any kind of business, and the data backs that. But I think that the times we live in demand of us a higher calling, one that uses business as a vehicle for social change and economic justice. So for me, it’s more of a higher calling, a hope and deep wish for us to join forces and use business to solve the intractable problems of our generation. I also think that to galvanize and mobilize anyone, you have to inspire them with something bigger than a pay check. People don’t work for money, people work for things they believe in. And starting and growing a company is hard work. So my hope is that the more we equate growing our businesses with growing our impact on the world, the more brilliant entrepreneurial women will step up and answer my call to play big!

JZ: The lessons from this book can benefit anyone looking to start a business anywhere in the world, but a lot of the specific resources and examples you give are based in the US market. Do you have any plans to expand LEAPFROG into a more international movement?

NMM: Actually the book was purchased by a publisher in mainland China, which is home to the highest number of self-made women billionaires in the world! I’m beyond excited and as someone who has spent her life taking businesses global, I’m hoping it’s the first of many international markets that will join the LEAPFROG revolution!

JZ: I don’t know how it would be possible, but if there was someone out there who has read LEAPFROG and is still on the fence about becoming an entrepreneur, do you have one last piece of advice or motivation to help them take that final leap?

NMM: Yes, to them I’d say, you’ve already got what it takes, no jump needed. What’s next now is just to see it inside yourself, own that hidden entrepreneurial powerhouse that’s ready to come out. Whether it’s a small side hustle providing a little extra income or a full time venture, this is a muscle you can grow over time, on your schedule, in your own way. The important thing is just to start, and be impatient, because there’s a whole generation of brilliant little girls watching and waiting for us to pave the way for them!

Big thanks to Nathalie and feel free to share your hacks below.

Gender Equality in Finance? Nope. But Times Are Changing.

BloombergOriginally published on LinkedIn influencers on June 17th, 2016.

It’s been three years since I had the honour of being invited to join the LinkedIn publishing platform as an Influencer, and since then I have written nearly 80 articles on a wide range of topics, including finance, philanthropy, the film industry, and job advice. If you have been a loyal reader of mine, you know that I have written about all of these topics through the perspective of a gender lens, and more specifically shining a light on women. My purpose in life is to help our world become more gender balanced, and that work will continue until we achieve gender parity across all industries and issue areas. Ambitious, yes, but it is my passion in life and I truly love my work.

Another passion of mine is the financial services industry, and I love it when these two passions, finance and women, converge. Like many industries, women’s representation in the top levels of the world’s largest and leading financial firms leaves much to be desired, and in November of 2014, I used one of LinkedIn’s monthly topics to imagine where my life would have taken me had I not left Goldman Sachs in 2002. I let my imagination run wild, and envisioned a world where I helped to create the world’s leading financial services firm for women. I then laid out seven ways a firm could actually achieve this, and I detailed the many ways that this could become a reality as opposed to my rainbow coloured fantasy. To my surprise and delight, this article became my most read post, a position it still holds to this day by a wide margin, and I’d like to think that people working within the financial industry read my post and took its message to heart. But did it work?

Technically, no, because 18 months later, we seem no closer to having a great woman lead a global financial firm, achieving 30% female representation on corporate boards and 50% representation in senior positions, or increasing the amount of hedge fund assets under management by women to double digits at the very least. But a lot has changed in that time, namely the awareness of the issue and the growing number of tools designed specifically to address it. From the Bank of Montreal’s Women in Leadership Fund to Barclay’s Women in Leadership Index, financial firms appear to finally be taking to heart the mountain of research that proves that investing in gender equality is not just the morally right thing to do, but is in fact a good business decision for both the company and its customers.

One of the most recent of these tools to be unveiled is the new Bloomberg Financial Services Gender-Equality Index (BFGEI), which launched last month. The BFGEI operates as a measurement tool to determine how well companies treat their female employees, the policies in place to encourage a diverse set of people to succeed, and how well their products serve their female customers. This index encourages companies to be transparent with their data and workplace policies, and assigns a score based on their commitment to gender equality, with a 60 point score being the threshold to secure a positive rating on this issue. At the time of its May 3rd launch, 26 firms worldwide have achieved this rating, including JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Bank of Montreal, HSBC, and Credit Suisse, although it should be noted that participation in this index was voluntary, and therefore a firm’s exclusion on the list at this point should not be meant to imply they have not passed the rating. That said, if they choose not to be involved in this process, one has to wonder why?

In fact, given the fact that this index is at present a voluntary measure, its effectiveness in promoting change has been questioned, but not by me. All I see from this development is that companies are finally waking up to the idea that investors want more from their financial firms than simply profits. Impact investing, the practice of investing in a manner that promotes social good, is not just the investment fad of the week. It is a growing movement that will only grow bigger with each passing year. Investors are voting for social change with their investing dollars, and more and more they have the tools to make informed decisions about where to invest their money.

I have always advocated that our money, whether it is invested, donated, or used to buy a tank of gas; our money is one of the greatest untapped potential for enacting social change, but without the tools to know which companies are deserving of our dollars, it will remain just that. Untapped potential. But not anymore. The Buy Up Index helps shoppers reward companies that make gender equality a priority in their operations, and just this week research group Ledbetter launched a Gender Equality Index and interactive tool. With this tool you can see a company’s gender ratio on its board and leadership team. A winner is Kering Group (Gucci) with 64% women on its board and 36% on their leadership team. A loser? Coty, which has no women on its board or leadership teams. None. Additionally organizations such the Global Fund for Women and the Women’s Funding Network help donors direct their giving dollars to nonprofit organizations that directly advance women and girls. Now, tools such as the BFGEI are helping investors to do the same. With all of these amazing resources at our disposal, I’m confident that the only direction we’re heading is forward, with true gender equality not far ahead on the horizon.

Are there companies that you support because they are aligned with your values? TWEET to #shopyourvalues