#FreeBritney, Financial Abuse, and Power-To

A black and white cartoon by Liza Donnelly

As published on June 25th for the SheInvests newsletter on LinkedIn.

SheInvests Newsletter #11

On Wednesday, Britney Spears spoke in court about her desire to end the conservatorship that has governed her life for the past 13 years. Her statement was made in public, with a full transcript available to read online. And if you decide to read it, I hope you are as horrified as I am about the extent to which this woman has been exploited and robbed of her agency. Robbed of her life. Actually, you should read it, and I hate “should-ing”​ people. But everyone should read it. Ms. Spears’​ story really matters, and I stand with her in affirming her right, her human right, to have control over her life. I am writing this in support of her, and also to bring light to the issue of financial abuse.

So yes, this is a story about Ms. Spears, but it is so much bigger than just one woman. It is a story about extreme financial abuse, and this form of mistreatment is common and rampant. I know it is because women talk to me about it all the time, but in wider conversation, it is extremely under-discussed. This is also a story that invites every single one of us to think about our relationship to our money, and how we may, or may not, have agency over it. Money is a tool, a tool of power, so ultimately, this is a story about power. Who has it, and who does not.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve owned my money, and it’s my wish, my dream for all of this to end without being tested again.”​  – Britney Spears

I have long advocated that we all should aspire to have a healthy relationship with our financial resources. Meaning we should all have the knowledge, agency, and healthy accountability to oneself, and as appropriate, to others. By others, I mean those in a committed relationship who have a responsibility to make financial decisions WITH their partner. This is particularly important for women, as we are raised, thanks to the power of the patriarchy and other forces, to NOT prioritize our financial well-being. In fact, we are pushed and pulled towards very unhealthy and vulnerable places as it relates to our financial resources. We are bombarded with messages that encourage us to just find a man to take care of us, and to trust “experts”​ to take care of our money for us. And this doesn’t even begin to address the fact that it actually costs more to be a woman, and generally speaking, women on average earn less than men. According to The Center for American Progress, a woman who earns 82 cents on the dollar, the average wage gap, will have $400,000 less over a 40 year career.

This idea, that a man is a financial plan, is so prevalent in our culture, but it is also very dangerous. Leslie Bennetts wrote about this so powerfully in her bestselling book The Feminine Mistake, and it remains on my “must-read”​ list​ despite being published nearly 15 years ago. In Leslie’s words, “the Feminine Mistake was originally inspired by my exasperation at the public glorification of stay-at-home motherhood and the failure of the media and other analysts to warn women about the risks of sacrificing their financial independence.”​ The mistake she is referring to is choosing financial dependency. Yes, some do choose to give up their independence, but that is not the full story. When society, culture, media, parents, partners, and advisors TEACH US as females to not be in a relationship with our financial power, it should come as no surprise when that does not manifest. Women are therefore groomed to abdicate their financial power. Even worse, when we see such blatant abuse of financial power, as in the case of Ms. Spears, we are quick to look for reasons why it is justified. That practice is disgusting and wrong, and there is no way this would be happening to a man with a similar profile. For example, Justin Bieber went through some challenging times in 2014, but the end result was not a decade of financial and emotional oversight. And what about Elon Musk? People go through things, have meltdowns, it is what it means to be human.

I previously ranted about the power of the patriarchy and patriarchal financial systems, and this is why I feel so strongly that finance and money constitute the new frontier of feminism. Little in this world will really change as it relates to advancing gender equity until women who collectively have a whole lot of money, a whole lot of financial power, and power more generally, figure out how to own it and use it. And to be clear, it is more about power than it is about money. Money is a tool for power. It is a tool that can be wielded for good, yes, but we are all also very aware of the depths to which it can be used destructively. One of the worst ways it can be used is when control over money is used to take away another’s agency. Financial abuse is abuse, and that is why it is almost always present with other forms of domestic abuse.

Financial abuse involves controlling a victim’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain financial resources. Those who are victimized financially may be prevented from working.

They also may have their own money restricted or stolen by the abuser. And rarely do they have complete access to money and other resources. When they do have money, they often have to account for every penny they spend.

Overall, the forms of financial abuse vary from situation to situation. Sometimes an abuser may use subtle tactics like manipulation while other abusers may be more overt, demanding, and intimidating.

In the end, the goal is always the same—to gain power and control in a relationship (click over to this article to understand more about what financial abuse is).

While less commonly understood than other forms of abuse, financial abuse is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a victim trapped in an abusive relationship. Research shows that victims are often too worried about their ability to solely provide financially for themselves and their children to end the relationship. Furthermore, financial insecurity is one of the top reasons women return to abusive partners. I guarantee that you know people, you may even be that person, who experiences financial abuse. The cost to our society of all forms of abuse is massive, billions, and is powerfully illustrated here. As I mentioned, many women have shared their stories with me, and the commonalities between them will be the subject of yet another article, as will be the advice I both give and garner from experts in the field.

As it relates to Ms. Spears, she is fighting for the right to control her finances, and, more generally, control over her life. Again, if you read the transcript and assume it is true, which I do, then every part of her life seems to be under the control of someone else, including her rights over her own body. Her right to choose to have a child. It also appears that she has been forced to work against her will. If, and this is a big “if”​,​ she once needed the courts to intervene, that was 13 years ago. Given everything that she has accomplished in those 13 years, it is clear that whatever legal measures may or may not have once been needed are no longer necessary.

A conservatorship is a legal structure that is supposed to protect and support an individual who cannot take care of themselves. It is supposed to put the best interests of the at-risk individual first, but there is a big difference between supporting someone and controlling someone (click here for an article about the conservatorship). Let me say that again. There is a WORLD of difference between supporting someone, caring for someone, and controlling someone. What Ms. Spears describes, the life she describes is one of control, not care. What is so insane is that she has continued to work, be the provider, while also being the one confined.

“​There should be… I shouldn’t be on a conservatorship. If I can work and provide money and work for myself. It makes no sense. The laws need to change.”​ – Britney Spears

A photo of Britany Spears, smiling into the camera, holding a MTV Award

Therefore, today I am asking you, the reader, no matter what your sex or gender may be, to think about your relationship to financial resources. Is that relationship healthy? Do you have the knowledge you want and need? Are you the decision-maker around what you invest, spend, and give? Do you have agency, or in other words, independent decision-making authority? And if not, who do you report to, and does that person report to you in the same way? Is there someone who makes the “final”​ decision as it relates to money? Why them? Remember, money and power tend to go hand-in-hand.

Now, ladies, I am talking to you specifically. Do you give away your financial power? Do you invite, or allow, others to guide your financial decision-making? If so, why? There may be some good reasons, and there may be some that are not good or beyond your control. I am not judging, I am asking. Truly. While few relationships are governed by legal conservatorships, countless relationships are functioning as if they are. Again, the definition:

A conservatorship is a court-approved arrangement where a person or organization is appointed by a judge to take care of the finances and well-being of an adult whom a judge has deemed to be unable to manage his or her life.

How many inappropriate, demeaning, controlling, invisible conservatorships are happening in the relationships between capable adults right this second? In the same way that women are taught and groomed to give up their financial power, men are taught, groomed, and raised to embrace it. To take it. To use it. Most romantic relationships are initially formed with love and respect, so why not express our love and respect in our financial relationship as well?

We can all aspire to be in a healthy relationship with our financial resources, but it will take deep introspection regarding our interactions with money. It remains somewhat of a mystery to me why most of us would rather do almost anything else than work on our financial literacy, despite the fact that having enough money is essential to our well-being. Essential. It is my mission to understand the reasons, barriers, and challenges women face around financial engagement, and to work to eliminate them. We can all use money as a tool for good, and as a resource to serve ourselves and our families lovingly. As my friend Gloria Feldt says, “​power-to not power-over“​.

And for you Ms. Spears, I wish you well. I hope you get what you are asking for and are surrounded by people who love you and want to see you flourish in every way possible. I hope that the people who have decision-making authority over your life put your best interests first, as they are supposed to. I hope they listen to you and trust you. You are not only incredibly talented, but you have worked so hard to earn financial resources that should be of service to you, the loved ones of your choosing, and the goals and dreams you have for your life and the change you want to see in the world. As you so perfectly said, “I deserve to have a life.“​ Indeed you do. So does everyone.

#FreeBritney – Take to social in support

“​If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”​

Lilla Watson

A photo of the staff of ShePlace holding a #FreeBritany sign

A photo of two male allies holding a #FreeBritany sign

The first photo is of us gals in the ShePlace Office at Kiln. Park City. The second photo is of Ryan Fanny and Brian Rodio who occupy the office next door and were our photographers. They have been putting up with a lot of loud Britney Spears music these past few days.

Thanks once again to the incredible Liza Donnelly for her original drawing for this SheInvests Newsletter.


Please share additional resources in the comment section. Thank you.

WTF? Invest in Women and BIPOC Founders, now.

A cartoon of a man sitting a top a huge mountain of Cheerios, while two women look at their three little Cheerios. One woman is looking at the man with the thought bubble "WTF?"
Original Cartoon by Liza Donnelly

As published on LinkedIn on June 15th, 2021.

Welcome to SheInvests Newsletter #10.

WTF? In our family it means, what the fudge? That said, the other meaning is appropriate too. Really appropriate. The above drawing, courtesy of my ongoing collaboration with the incredible Liza Donnelly, shows the percentage of venture capital dollars, represented by Cheerios, going to male founders versus female founders. I wrote about these numbers and what it means in great detail in SheInvests #3, the now infamous Cheerios piece. This month, I asked Liza to draw what I talked about in that piece, and with your help, we want to make this image ubiquitous. The image above represents the gross inequity of capital flowing to women, especially women of color, and it is time that we fully acknowledge the far-ranging effects of biased capital, and more importantly, do something about it.

The ‘something’ I am specifically championing is to invest in early-stage private equity funds started by women and BIPOC* founders. And if you are reading this and are thinking, “This article is not for me because I don’t have enough money to invest in funds”, I urge you to keep reading. Funds are successful because the companies they invest in are successful, and that happens when we purchase or advocate for the purchase of the products and services of the funded companies. This means we all have a role to play in democratizing access to capital. We all have the power, through our investing, spending, giving, and advocacy, to shift the financial and economic outcomes for ourselves and for others. In fact, that is what we are doing all day, every day, without even knowing it.

If you already read the Cheerios article, thank you. But if you haven’t, let me briefly catch you up. That newsletter was inspired by the latest data that showed that the most women founders have ever received in a given year was just 2.8% of all venture capital dollars. For Black and Latina founders, that percentage was 0.2%. Put another way, male founders received 97.2% of venture capital dollars. It has been argued that women are less likely to start the types of businesses that attract VC capital, blah blah blah… But even if that is partially true, it is not 97.2% true. Furthermore, as an active angel investor myself, as well as an active early-stage fund investor, I know that the deal flow is robust from women and BIPOC founders. It just is.

A photo of a pile of Cheerios on a counter. Three Cheerios are separated for women, a small pile of crumbs is separated for WOC, and the rest are for men.

This is all incredibly important, because when businesses receive an influx of capital, they generally hire people, often including equity as part of the compensation. This grows the wealth of not only the founders, but those they hire as well. And given that Black and brown founders are more likely to hire Black and brown employees, that wealth is passed on. It is the wealth effect that has served white men forever. But to change the output, you need to change the input. Of course, this is the point in the paragraph where something in me wants to type – yes there are wonderful white men who get money and instinctively care about diversifying their employee base and their board, but the numbers also say that most do not. In this world we live in, we give way too much credit for good intentions, especially as it relates to diversity and inclusion. That’s why I am advocating for following the money trail to better understand commitment to values, not just words.

Another highlight from my Cheerios piece that is worth pulling in here are the numbers related to who makes the decisions regarding where those VC dollars go:

  • 5.6% of all VC firms in the US are women-led, and only 2.1% of VC firms are founded by a woman of color.
  • 4.9% of all VC partners in the US are women, and only 2.4% of all VC partners are Founding female partners.
  • 73% of all women-led VC firms were founded in the last 5 years (since 2015).
  • 23% of women-led firms are currently raising their first fund, and 44% are deploying Fund I.
  • 90% of all women-led funds are considered emerging managers.

Why does this matter SO SO SO much? Because people who share demographics in common, including gender, race, ethnicity, etc., are more likely to invest in people who share those same demographics. If we want to broaden who gets the capital, we simply have to broaden who makes the decisions about where that capital goes. For example, do you watch Shark Tank? I do, a lot, and I both love it and absolutely hate it for a lot of reasons that could probably fill a whole other newsletter. But what I specifically want to note is how often the Sharks opt-in, or opt-out, because the businesses are “not in their wheelhouse”, or because they “cannot relate to the business as a ___”. I admit I do not know the actual statistics from the show, but I can guarantee the women sharks are way more likely to fund the women-founded businesses, and vice versa. Additionally, I’m willing to bet that the Black sharks are more likely to fund the Black founders, etc. If someone has data on this, please share. But regardless, if you assume that human nature is human nature, then in order to change who gets the money, you need to change who is allocating it.

This has been my work (with help!) for the past several months; to identify early-stage funds founded by managers (General Partners / GPs) who are women and people of color, with an emphasis on identifying Black women GPs. I believe that as an investor, and a white woman with capital who wants to align my money with a gender and racial impact lens, funding these Black and brown women is the single, most impactful interventions/investments I can make. Let me explain further, building on the above, after giving you a few more statistics.

In this recent (and fantastic!) article by Stephanie Cohn Rupp of Veris Wealth Partners, she cites these statistics as it relates to the financial health of Black American families:

  • Research from the Federal Reserve Bank at St. Louis showed that between 1992 and 2016 college-educated white Americans saw their wealth increase by 96% while college-educated Black Americans saw their wealth fall by 10%.
  • The Brookings Institute found that the net worth of a typical white family in the United States is 10 times greater than the average net worth of a Black family.
  • Only 44% of Black households own their homes compared to 73.7% of white families.

We all need to care about this. Recognizing that people of a certain demographic, in this case, Black Americans, are systematically financially disadvantaged should not immediately result in the “and what about”s? Yes, we also need to care about improving the well-being of all financially disadvantaged people, but we can also focus on one demographic in terms of interventions and solutions. I simply do not believe in a zero-sum game and neither should you. However, just take a moment to notice how often, especially in today’s media, we are being sold this belief. Don’t believe it. If we want to improve the stats above and close the gap by bringing the wellbeing of all Black Americans up, one powerful strategy is to invest in Black Fund Managers, who in turn invest in Black founders, who in turn hire Black employees, which improves the economic well being of Black families, Black communities, and so on.

In-game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which an advantage that is won by one of two sides is lost by the other. If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero.

Sidebar: I have this habit of seeding future articles in current ones, so let me plant this seed. Philanthropy and charitable dollars, even when combined with progressive policies, will never be enough to bring low-income, low wealth people into a place where they have the conditions to flourish. We all know this, and yet we continue to act like it will. We place too much hope in philanthropy, and I believe wealthy white women do this the most. We do it by focussing the vast majority of our time and money on charitable versus non-charitable activities. I certainly did this for years, which is why now, I am shifting so much attention to aligning my investment capital with my values. It is also why I wrote this piece about Melinda French Gates, Laurene Powell Jobs, and MacKenzie Scott. As I stated at the end of that newsletter, if and when women of the world align their VAST financial and investment resources with the goal of advancing gender and racial equity, things would change so fast our heads would spin. 

Cartoon drawings of Melinda French Gates, Laurene Powell Jobs, and MacKenzie Scott
Original Drawing by Liza Donnelly for SheInvests

But back to the stats and my theory of change for investing in Black and brown women GPs. This is, after all, the SheINVESTS newsletter. So let’s also take a minute to look at this from an investment perspective. When it comes to my own personal investment philosophy, in addition to always thinking about the good my money can do (I am, after all, an impact-driven investor), I also put my investment dollars to work in opportunities that I believe can generate substantial returns. Not because I’m necessarily determined to add to my wealth with these investments (although if that’s one of your goals, that’s awesome too!), but for the following reasons:

  1. Impact will be created at scale when solutions work at scale. Which means that an impact-focused company, like HelloAlice, one of my investments that also happens to be tackling racial disparities in business, will be most effective when it is most successful. And the byproduct of successful businesses (for investors) is a nice return. And, P.S. HelloAlice, whose cofounder Carolyn Rodz is Latina, just raised $21 million in a Series B!
  2. Those nice returns allow me to amplify my impact. When my investments are successful, that increases the amount of capital I can wield for good, whether it’s through philanthropy or more impact investments.

So with that investment philosophy in mind, let’s get back to the topic at hand – investing in Black women. As Gayle Jennings O’Byrne, one of the fund managers I’ve recently invested in (more about Gayle and the WOCstar fund below!) often says, investing in women of color provides “the biggest arbitrage opportunity in venture investing.” Not only do companies led by diverse teams outperform when it comes to higher returns (30% higher by some estimates, in fact), but they are also best positioned to capitalize on changing trends and the growing purchasing power of both women and communities of color. The spending power of multicultural communities is already $3.9T, and is growing rapidly as multicultural populations shift toward the majority. Not to mention the fact that women control 85% of consumer spending. Investors who fail to recognize the importance of these trends are not only missing out on a massive economic opportunity, but an impact one as well.

Furthermore, investing in black women is good business for everyone. A recent reportby Goldman Sachs found that closing the earnings gap for Black women could create up to 1.7 million jobs and raise the annual GDP by $450B. Not to mention all of the other associated benefits that come from economic equity more broadly, including clean energy, better health outcomes, better access to education. Goldman felt so strongly that they created their One Million Black Women Initiative “which will commit $10 billion in direct investment capital and $100 million in philanthropic support to address the dual disproportionate gender and racial biases that Black women have faced for generations which have only been exacerbated by the pandemic”. The bottom line is that investing in Black women represents a massive opportunity to generate BOTH impact and alpha.

As I’ve mentioned in recent newsletters, over the past few months I have been working with Rose Maizner to find and vet funds led by women and women of color. So far, we have made investments in two outstanding funds: the WOCstar Fund led by Gayle and Pialy Aditya, and The 22 Fund led by Tracy Gray. We decided to invest in these funds for a myriad of reasons and one of the challenges we are trying to solve is how to share due diligence efforts to make investing in funds easier. One thing we know for sure, these two women are amazing.

A close of headshot photo of Gayle Jennings O'ByrneWith an impressive background as a tech investor, entrepreneur, and former finance executive, Gayle (pictured to the right) has more than 20 years of experience investing in and supporting the women of color tech ecosystem. During her 17 year tenure with JPMorgan, she had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the space via co-investment, as well as build up an impressive bench of skills that have served her well as an investor, including deep experience with mergers and acquisitions, due diligence, valuation, and contract negotiations.

Close up photo of Tracy GrayAnd then there’s Tracy (pictured to the left), who is an actual rocket scientist, an impact and cleantech/environmental justice investor, and a long-time champion of investing in overlooked and underestimated teams and technologies. She’s also an expert in international business and economic development policy, and, as a Senior Advisor to the Mayor, she helped to lead the City of Los Angeles’s economic recovery efforts post-Recession by creating a widely respected and replicated plan rooted in supporting manufacturing and export-oriented local businesses.

In short, Tracy and Gayle bring decades of experience to the table, and have crafted thoughtful, meaningful investment theses that reflect their unique domain expertise. They both have countless skills t

hat they have developed over the years, all of which are critical to helping founders to not just successfully scale, but to create as much impact and value as possible along the way. And, in addition to the fact that they are both incredibly qualified and experienced fund managers, they have also been leading voices in the effort to challenge and redesign the systems that have perpetuated such staggering inequality when it comes to the allocation of capital, whether it’s helping us to understand the complicity of foundations in widening the wealth gap, or underscoring the importance of investing in Black investors. As Tracy was recently told by a potential institutional investor, she hasn’t spent the past few years just fundraising. She’s spent them educating. Educating investors about the opportunity. About what is really risk and what is actually just bias or assumption. About understanding the difference between impact-washing and lip service and actually championing–and funding–the women who are paving the way towards a more equitable investment landscape.

This Thursday, June 17th, I will be hosting a LinkedIn Live with Tracy and Gayle, where we will be talking about this theory of change and the importance of investing with an intersectional gender lens. We will be discussing how catalyzing capital toward diverse fund managers creates immense social and economic impact, as well as how these opportunities have been shown to generate outstanding financial returns, often outperforming others in their asset class. I hope you will join us at 12PM ET on Thursday, as I know it will be an incredible and illuminating conversation. AND, it will be my very FIRST LinkedIn Live event! If you click through here, you can push the ‘REMIND ME’ button and you will receive a notification when the event goes live.

A promotional poster for the event featuring headshots of Jacki, Gayle, and Tracy

In the past several years, there has been an unprecedented reckoning around gender and racial justice in the United States and the world at large. And yet, even with companies and individuals paying tremendous amounts of lip service to these movements, when it comes to the world of finance, very little has changed, or in some cases, has gotten worse. But that can change, especially when it comes to investment dollars.

So I invite you to take another look at the image at the top of this article. That image should offend you. Well, actually, it should enrage you, but instead of getting angry, let’s just fix this. Because let’s be absolutely clear. We can fix this. Right now. Folks, this is not a zero-sum game world we are living in. I do not believe that, and neither should you.


This article could be so much longer if I more fully referenced all the people and resources I want to, but below are some links to go deeper.

  • Tracy wrote a fantastic article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, that outlines clear action steps for how to support diverse fund managers.
  • GenderSmart recently published a terrific guide, full of tools and resources, for investors looking to support first-time and diverse fund managers. This is a tool you can use, and also give to your investment advisor!
  • The Gender Smart community in partnership with Wharton created Project Sage which tracks Venture Capital, Private Equity, and Private Debt with a Gender Lens. This document contains lists of funds in all these categories!!! Truly a spectacular resource for anyone looking to invest.
  • My racial equity piece (SheInvests #2) has dozens of resources related to investing with a racial lens. I pulled most of them from the GenderSmart community. Thank you!
  • A great article by Stephanie Cohn Rupp of Veris Wealth Partners titled “There is a Strong Business Case for Racial Equity, But Investors Must Look Beyond the Data”
  • As always, my 650 top reports list to support Gender Lens Investing, Giving, and Action. There is not only SO MUCH data embedded in all of these studies but so many strategies as well.
  • Just released research stating that “the U.S. economy lost out on more than $507 billion in economic productivity as the attainment gap between Black and white women has widened since 1960, according to new analysis from S&P Global (NYSE: SPGI)”.

Please feel free to post other resources in the comment section.

*BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

If you have been forwarded this newsletter please subscribe, and also follow my new company, ShePlace by clicking here.

Melinda+Laurene+MacKenzie + We Are The Women We Have Been Waiting For

Original Drawing by Liza Donnelly for SheInvests

As published as SheInvests #9 for LinkedIn.

Since 2008, I have written about women, money, and changing the world. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Melinda French Gates is someone I have followed, written about, and in fact, met! In 2018, while serving as Board Chair of Women Moving Millions(WMM), an organization I co-founded, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation hosted our member day in advance of WMM’s annual summit. It was at this event, prior to her onstage interview, that I had the opportunity to meet her and personally thank her for being such a visible and relentless champion for the advancement of women and girls. Needless to say, I was stunned, like many others it would seem, to learn last week of her divorce from her husband of 27 years.

It needs to be said upfront that I have absolutely nothing to say about their divorce. That is their private business. But I am curious about what the post-divorce Melinda French Gates will do in her public life. Specifically, what she will do with her money. With the inevitable divvying up of assets that accompanies any divorce, she will become one of the richest women in the world due to the estimated $146B of the Gates’ wealth that is to be divided up. So questions I have include, how will she continue to use her wealth, her voice, and her platform for good? She has long been called the most powerful woman in philanthropy, but might she soon be called the most powerful woman in investing as well? Furthermore, who are the other mega billionaire women who already are, or might become, the most powerful women in investing? This is, after all, the SheInvests Newsletter.

I don’t generally spend time speculating about people’s private lives, but I do spend time reading about people’s public lives. Specifically, I have been tracking the public lives of not only Melinda French Gates, but also Laurene Powell Jobs, and more recently, MacKenzie Scott as well. And this fantastic article written by Kara Swisher in the fall of 2020, provocatively titled “Move aside Mr. Trump: These women have more money and better ideas”, got me thinking about these three women together. The article was prompted by a Twitter attack directed at Ms. Powell Jobs, but the article was actually about what these women are doing with their wealth. And it ended with this: “So, my advice to Trump on facing powerful women like these? Tweet all you like, but you might want to get out of the way.” Get out of the way indeed.

When it comes to women and wealth, you could say that I have always been fascinated by rich and powerful woman. I did, after all, grow up watching Dallas and Dynasty. I also grew up watching the TV show Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter. Women, money, super powers. You get the idea. Although I studied finance in college, it was not until I landed at Goldman Sachs in 1988 that I was actually surrounded by real life rich and powerful people. And, big surprise, they were almost all men; men who became rich and powerful by mastering the world of finance. I was determined to become one of them, and I did. I made partner in 1996, the youngest woman and first female trader to do so, but even so, something always felt, well, off.

It was not until 2009, when I attended the celebration event for the Women Moving Millions Campaign, that I was once again surrounded by so many rich and powerful people. And this time, they were all women. Over 100 women, each having committed a million dollars or more to women and girls causes and organizations. Although it felt strange, uncomfortable in a “how in the heck did a girl from small town Canada end up here?” kind of uncomfortable, it also felt good, powerful, historic. And so began my leadership role with WMM and my journey into the worlds of so many ultra-high-net-worth women.

Every time a new member joined WMM, they had to fill out a form about themselves and their giving. And I loved reading their profiles, because I loved getting to know them. Of course, each woman came with her own story of how she got the money she had to give, but what was important was what she was doing with it, and their stories were amazing and continuously inspired me to do more. That is the power that comes with community. Over the years, I started paying attention to and collecting the lists of millionaire and billionaire women, hoping that someday, some of them, many of them, all of them, would join WMM as well. Despite meeting both Ms. French Gates and Ms. Powell Jobs, they were not members during my tenure, but together with Ms. Scott, they have most certainly given not only millions, but billions of dollars to organizations that primarily serve women and girls. And I thank them all.

So who are these three women? What do we know through what they have told us of how they are using their vast financial resources for good? Furthermore, where do they sit on the scale of visibility around what they do? Are they choosing to be a public figure, and if so, what are they saying about what is important to them? And finally, are they explicitly identifying as champions for women and girls and champions for gender equity? SheInvests would love to know.

Let’s start with Ms. French Gates. A graduate of Duke University, French Gates worked for Microsoft for nearly a decade, eventually leaving in 1996. In 2000, she co-founded The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband, now the world’s largest private charitable organization with about $37 billion in assets. She currently serves as the Foundation’s co-chair, and in 2019, she released her first book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. For years, she has been an outspoken and public advocate of gender equity, and to date has amassed a Twitter following of 2.5 million. She writes regularly on platforms like this one, LinkedIn, and has been interviewed more times than I can count. She has also pushed the conversation about the wellbeing of women and girls in to spaces primarily inhabited by rich and powerful male leaders, which I would put on a list of her major accomplishments. In Gloria Steinem’s famous words, “when humans are ranked instead of linked everyone loses”, so let’s just agree that it is fair to say that few women have done more to advance gender equity in the philanthropic context than Melinda French Gates. Yes it is about the money, but she also fully leaned into her leadership, which includes using her voice and her influence to champion for what she believes to be true. It all matters.

What is also public record is that in 2015, she founded Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company that uses both philanthropic and investment capital to advance social progress in the U.S. According to their website, Pivotal Ventures takes two approaches to investing: 1) Seeding innovation by investing in early stage companies and funds, and 2) Advancing the field by building capacity and collaboration amongst leaders, stakeholders, and ecosystems. Also of note is the fact that Pivotal’s website states that this is a company founded by Melinda French Gates, not Melinda Gates. As far as I can tell, it was never just Melinda Gates. Finally, according to the publicly available information that I could find, Pivotal has so far invested in four companies, four funds, and made contributions to a handful of nonprofits. This is almost certainly not the full scope of their investment activities, but it is all that I could squeeze out of the Internet, as I am not, after all, an investigative journalist. More personally, Pivotal has come up many times in funding conversations with both start-ups and female founded funds that I have talked to in terms of potential funders, and I am pretty sure we are co-invested in at least one company.When I jumped over to check their profile on LinkedIn, it shows 94 employees, which also indicates a lot more activity.

Also, very notably, in October 2019, Ms. French Gates created a $1B pledge to expand women and girls’ power and influence in the United States, most of which will be allocated through Pivotal. As part of this pledge, she has already launched the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, a $40M donation that will go towards three yet-to-be-announced nonprofit organizations that are advancing equity. Interesting, this initiative is also supported by MacKenzie Scott and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies (#sisteringup). Ms. French Gates has also founded the GET Cities Initiative, which is focusing on accelerating the representation and leadership of women in tech through the development of “inclusive tech hubs” across the U.S., starting with Chicago and D.C. If I were the praying type, and I am, my hope is that Salt Lake City might one day be added to the list. If it happens, I am all in! Pivotal is leading both of these initiatives, and will be responsible for deploying all associated grants and investments.

Melinda French Gates has long been a powerful advocate for equity, and with this pledge, she has made it abundantly clear that she means to continue to use her considerable wealth not just to marginally improve the existing landscape for women and girls, but to change that landscape completely. Now that’s a goal I can get behind! However, it is interesting to note that, at least to date, the capital she has put towards this remarkable vision has seemingly been largely deployed through philanthropic grants. It remains to be seen how much of the balance of her pledge will end up as investments versus grants, but my hope is that it will be a lot, and that it will be made public. What I know for sure is that potential investors always ask “who else has committed?” and thus to know that Pivotal is on the cap table is huge. So huge.

Now, on to Laurene Powell Jobs. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton, and Stanford, Powell Jobs previously worked at both Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs, as well as founded the health food company Terravera in the early 90s. In 1997, she founded College Track, a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving low-income students the opportunity to attend post-secondary education.

In 2004, Powell Jobs founded the Emerson Collective, named after writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, a for-profit corporation focused on education, immigration reform, the environment, media and journalism, and health. I love the last few lines of her letter on their corporate website:

Our basic belief, as Emerson taught, is that we are doubly obligated: we must rely on ourselves and we must rely on each other. By helping individuals to achieve their dreams, we unleash the full force of the world’s most powerful resource: human potential.”

Powell Jobs explicitly states that she deploys both charitable and non-charitable capital, similar to Pivotal. Emerson’s website lists many incredible organizations, both for and non-profit, as well as numerous initiatives, many of which I have supported. Albeit at a significantly lower level. My guess is that there is a heck of a lot more going on behind the scenes at Emerson, judging by the fact that the About Us page features at least 150 staff members by my quick count. There are also a handful of other investments by Powell Jobs/Emerson that are publicly known, including a minority stake in the parent company for the MBA’s Washington Wizards and the NHL’s Washington Capitals, as well as a stake in several media outlets, including a majority stake of the Atlantic Magazine, which I happen to adore. Emerson is quickly becoming a force in media investing in particular, which seems to be what agitated Trump and lead to his nasty tweet.

Since I always see things through a gender-lens, it is noteworthy for me that unlike Ms. French Gates, who has been extremely vocal and articulate about the need to focus on gender equity, Ms. Powell Jobs has not been. That said, Emerson does fund in the areas of equity and justice, which of course is likely inclusive of gender related inequalities, but this focus is not explicit. Many articles talk about her tireless efforts to champion social justice organizations and leaders, and again, I thank her!

Powell Jobs’ estimated net worth is around $20B, according to Google, and she is also on Twitter with a following of about 76.5 thousand. She regular tweets and retweets with a focus on climate change, social justice, her sports teams, and more.

Finally, MacKenzie Scott, novelist, and the most recent entry in the category of women mega-donors. It is estimated that her current net worth is over $60B, having risen from $38B at the time of her divorce due to Amazon’s rising stock as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, making her the third wealthiest woman in the world. Scott made headlines in 2020 for quickly dispersing billions of dollars, almost $6 billion, to over 500 non-profit organizations, and she apparently did so without the endless process and red tape that is so often associated with major gift giving. That absolutely deserves a woo hoo times about one hundred!! Furthermore, in December 2020 alone, she gave surprise gifts totaling $410 million to historically black colleges and universities. Surprise gifts! Read this article about the impact, it might make you cry. It certainly made me cry.

In self published Medium posts in July and December of 2020, Scott goes into some detail about the issue areas she has funded and how much in each. Furthermore, she lists the organizations that received grants. Hundreds of them. A quick scan makes it incredibly clear that she is aligning the grants to the core belief that “there’s no question in my mind that anyone’s personal wealth is the product of a collective effort, and of social structures which present opportunities to some people, and obstacles to countless others.” Are you kidding me right now Ms. Scott? Heck the heck yes! She goes on to say that “economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty.” Funding with an explicit gender lens? Check.

It has been estimated that about $1B of her most recent gifts, or about 17% of the grant dollars, were earmarked specifically for women and girls, but as I have learned, while numbers like this are important, they really don’t tell the full story. Of all her listed categories, racial equity and economic mobility are the biggest recipients, but so is gender equity explicitly, which says to me that she is using an intersectional racial/gender lens. From her own words, it is clear that she sees how race, class, and gender create “overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” As for staff to help her do all of this? None that I could find but they answer has to be yes. I am not even sure she is doing it through a family foundation. It’s not surprising that it is being said that “Scott has the potential to join a small handful of funders who’ve reshaped the philanthropic landscape in the past half-century.” Again, linked and not ranked, but awesome. Simply amazing. On to what do we know about her interest in investing some of those billions with the same set of values?

I was unable to find any information about Scott’s non-charitable financial activities. I can only hope that if and when she does turn her attention to the good she might do with her investment capital, she brings the same brand of revolutionary thinking that she’s brought to her philanthropy. Oh the difference she could make, and make quickly! Project Sage, a project within the Wharton Social Impact Initiative and led by a global leader in gender-smart investing, Suzanne Biegel, has already done much the leg work in identifying strategies and funds. All that is needed is the capital. And if you care about investing for racial inclusion, they have done that work too, which I highlighted in SheInvests Newsletter #2.

As for her public profile, Ms. Scott has amassed a following of over 147.5K on Twitter, despite following no one and sending a grand total of three tweets. Clearly people are interested in her activities, myself included, and it is interesting to see how she is controlling her own narrative. Instead of participating in a lot of interviews, she’s writing about herself through Medium when she has something to share, amassing 12,000 followers on that platform along the way. My guess is that number is going to explode over time. She also publicly joined the Giving Pledge, declaring that, “In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me, I have a disproportionate amount of money to share. My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care. But I won’t wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty.” Again, heck yes! I am sure everyone reading this will join me in saying we anxiously await more from you Ms. Scott. In your own words.

French Gates, Powell Jobs, and Scott are only three American women billionaires. As of 2020, there were 614 billionaires in the United States, and 13.5% of them are women. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these women are also white, with precious few billionaire women of color. It is worth noting that in 2021, Whitney Wolfe Herd made headlines when she became the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire at the age of 31. I look forward to writing about Ms. Wolfe Herd, particularly because she is absolutely embracing investing as something that she not only does, but wants to support other women in doing. In fact, I attended a very special gathering, pre-pandemic, where she brought together investors, fund managers, successful entrepreneurs, and emerging ones for a weekend of getting to know each other, and it was incredible. It was there that I met Natalie Egan (she/her) the founder of Translator Inc., and subsequently invested $100,000 in her company. Translator Inc. produces diversity, equity and inclusion software, and Natalie is a remarkable leader, and an openly transgender CEO who proudly shares her story While I have long shared my due diligence on start-ups with friends leading some to co-invest, this event was that at a whole other level and it inspired me beyond words. It is on my “to do” list with my new venture ShePlace to have a similar type of event, bringing together women who want to start early stage investing, with investment experts and entrepreneurs. Stay tuned, and sign-up for our newsletter to be kept in the information flow. You might say ShePlace is my version of what French Gates is doing with Pivotal and what Powell Jobs is doing at Emerson Collective. And we are just getting started. (#sisteringup)

In time, I would love to dig in and profile so many more of these ultra high net worth women. If I had the chance, I would love to ask them these questions – Tell me about yourself? What is your earliest money memory? What do you think the role of money is in the world? What is your biggest hope for what your money can do? What is your biggest fear around money? Are you an active investor? If so, tell me about it. If no, tell me about why not. Do you self-identify as a champion for and funder of the advancement of women and girls? Why or why not? And so many more. The more we talk about women and money together, the better. And these are not questions only for the ultra wealthy. They are questions we can ask ourselves, our family members, our friends. Hmm… the Jacki Zehner SheInvests Podcast? Maybe.

In the decade I spent building and leading Women Moving Millions, I was on a crusade to encourage high net worth women to not only give with a gender-lens, but to use their voice and their influence as well. When Ms. French Gates said, and said, and said, and said, that “the data is unequivocal: no matter where in the world you are born, your life will be harder if you are a girl”, she legitimized, endorsed, and supported all of us who were saying it as well. (if you are looking for that data, click here for my top reports) So again, I thank her, and thank her, and thank her. And while I can hope that all philanthropists, and yes especially women philanthropists, employ a gender lens (there is a whole section of my 650 best reports that explains the why and how of this), what I see as my role is to make visible, to share, to educate, to inspire and not to judge. If we want women to be more visible and transparent in what they are doing with their resources, it is up to us to create a safe and welcoming place for them to do so. In other words, I got your back!

Today, I am bringing all my knowledge and my passion to crusading about gender-lens investing, and I am looking for all the women and men out there who are on this journey too. I consciously made this shift because I believe wholeheartedly that we will greatly accelerate progress towards a more gender-balanced, just, and equitable world fo all when this happens at scale. Philanthropic capital is important and necessary, but it will never be enough. Investment capital, lots of it, generously and intentionally deployed, just might be, especially when combined with passionate, informed, and relentless leadership. We also need education and community. More on my “to do” list.

I have quoted this statistic many times in the past. According to the latest Global Gender Gap report from the World Economic Forum, at the current rate of progress we are still 135.6 years away from true gender equity. And if you are thinking that things are pretty good here in the United States of America, think again. The US ranks 53rd out of 153 countries. I went searching for a similar statistic as it relates to a global, or even national, racial gap report, and you will likely not be surprised when I say that I could not find one. What I did find was a new report by McKinsey and Company to add to my 650+ report listthat calls for new approaches to reduce race based inequities. Amazing and very much needed. As a woman, a white woman, what is true and authentic for me is to continue to primarily focus on gender and to champion for resources for all women+ and girls, I will also do more, so much more, to recognize and fund with a racial-equity lens and an intersectional lens. I have much to learn, that is on me, and I also appreciate all the understanding and help I am getting on this journey as well.

So to Ms. French Gates, Ms. Powell Jobs, Ms. Scott, Ms. Wolfe Herd, and all the other women billionaires, millionaires, and really everyone with investment capital to put to work, please consider this an invitation, an ask, a plea, to step into your power as investors as well as donors, and make it visible! You have the opportunity to do what no group of women in the history of the world has ever done – use your collective billions to not only fund non-profits that are working on reducing inequities and inequalities of all kinds, but to invest in people who do not have social structures working for them, and in fact are often working against them. People with hopes and dreams and great business ideas that, if successful, will address the persistent wealth gap that is at the root of economic fragility. And, if you are in the position of not having to make the maximization of financial return your number one priority in your investments, then don’t. There are now so many investment products that are being designed for impact, and not just financial return. As an example, take a look at C-Note, a company founded by Catherine Berman that helps institutions invest in under-served companies at scale. Point is, we can all make up your own rules. As investors we may be told by professionals that it should be all about making the most money on your money, but that does not make it true for you. It is not true for me. I want to be able to look in the mirror and know that my financial resources are aligned with my personal values. What we know for sure is that investment capital has the potential to create an economic wave of job and wealth creation, as well as result in new products and services that actually meet the needs of those most underrepresented and underserved. Investment Capital remains an underused tool for social change and it does not have to be.

I created SheInvests as a call to action. As a woman with money who wants to use her money, and specifically her investment capital, to make a difference, I recognized that if I struggle to do this, then likely others do as well. If I want for ideas, for opportunities, for community, for accountability, then it’s likely that others are in the same boat. I have a long way to go before I am the investor I want to be in the world, but I am on that journey and I am inviting you to be on it with me. As a former partner and managing director at Goldman Sachs, I know a lot about finance, and I know that the tools and institutions of finance is not working for most people. But I also believe that it can. Money is a tool, a resource, that can be put to use around our values and around what we want to be true in the world. And while few have billions to invest, and in fact some people reading this might not have any investment capital due to accumulated debt, I still hope that this newsletter might serve some purpose for everyone. I plan on writing about ideas, about companies, about funds, about people, and about opportunities that check the boxes of aspirational, inspirational, and down right practical, and I welcome your suggestions.

In closing, I collect quotes. I have a word doc with hundreds of them, and one of my favorites is this one.

If there ever comes a time when the women of the world come together purely and simply for the benefit of mankind, it will be a force such as the world has never known.

Okay. It’s good, but what makes it interesting is that it was a man who said it. Matthew Arnold, who lived in the 1800s and “was an English poet, sage writer, and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools”, wrote this for some reason I can’t find. Clearly he was way ahead of his time. Since he is long gone, I hope he won’t mind if I do a little sistering up with his beautiful quote.

If there ever comes a time when the women of the world come together and use their money with great intention for the benefit of humankind, it will be a force such as the world has never known. We are those women and that time is now.

Jacki Hoffman Zehner

The drawings and cartoons in this article have been created by Liza Donnelly for SheInvests and ShePlace. The one above first appeared in my previous SheInvests newsletter. In that article I write about sistering up. In short, it means when women come together to make each other stronger.