Minding the Gap: Financial Inequity is Solvable - She Runs It
Thought Leadership

Minding the Gap: Financial Inequity is Solvable

By Lynn Branigan

One of the many benefits of my job is that I get to mentor women in marketing, media, and tech. In a recent group mentoring session, one of my mentees was expressing worry for her financial well-being. “This year my company gave me a 3% raise,” she told the group. “But my landlord raised my rent 8%.” She wasn’t sure how she was going to manage through that gap.


A week after that conversation I was listening to one of our Foundation Board Members – Michelle Milford-Morse, the United Nations Foundation’s Vice President for Girls and Women Strategy – recite a litany of financial facts related to women. For example, 60 percent of all college students in the US are currently women. As the head of a woman’s organization, you might think that statistic would encourage me, and it does. But it also means that women hold the lion’s share of the country’s education loan debt, a whopping $1.75 trillion. Compound this weight with the additional fact that women enter the workforce and consistently make 83 cents for every dollar a man earns.


This gap is even wider for women of color. On September 21 we recognized Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. We didn’t see Latina Equal Pay Day until December 8. To be clear, these dates signify the approximate day a Black or Latina woman must work into the new year to make what a white man earned at the end of the previous year.


This isn’t just a woman problem. In 2018 the World Economic Forum projected that empowering women to participate equally in the global economy could add $28 billion in GDP by 2025. If that ship hadn’t already sailed, Covid-19 launched it. The pandemic had a devastating effect on women’s participation in the workforce as many working women had to vacate careers to provide care at home. As of 2022, there are still nearly 2 million fewer women in the workforce than there were in 2019. And for the first time in marketing, media, and tech, our annual #Inclusive100 study indicated in 2021 that more than half of entry-level employees in our industry were men. Prior to that the entry-level workforce was generally split 50/50.


The data points are so dramatic, it’s easy to admire the problem. But where are the solutions? Here are a few ways to get started on the path to pay equity:


Women are Accountable

A good portion of the responsibility sits with women, who need to develop their financial literacy. There are organizations like Frugal Feminista, Ellevest, and GWI that focus on helping people develop financial acumen (check out this video on Financial Fearlessness to hear some great advice). Women can seek guidance and resources, but even the financially fluent confront obstacles in the workplace.


The Role of Corporate Leadership

Leaders in our industry need to embrace practices and policies that promote financial equity for women. They need to pay people fairly and sustainably, setting pay strategies that enable employees to thrive and stay ahead of inflation. They need to provide equitable career opportunities – including access and sponsorship – that lead to greater advancement opportunities for women.


Our #Inclusive100 report indicates that CEOs and CMOs who publicly declare DEI goals and hold their leaders accountable to those goals are able to achieve much more diverse and equitable organizations. Mentoring and sponsorship are wonderful tools that help women find allies and traction along their career trajectories.


As a 501c3 organization, She Runs It is doing what we can to help women achieve financial equity. To date, we have written more than $1 million in loan grant checks to rising stars in our industry who are managing the burden of loan debt. Our mentoring program is the largest in the marketing industry, with some 500 mentoring pairs active each year.


Only What Gets Measured Gets Done

I also love the work of Fair Pay Workplace, which certifies organizations through a rigorous evaluation of their pay data and practices which encompasses a tailored action plan designed to support ongoing progress. (Shout out here to Forsman & Bodenfors, represented on our Foundation Board by Michelle Prota, for being the first ad agency to receive the gender pay certification).


An author named Amii Barnard-Bahn wrote a great HBR article in 2020 that should be required reading for every executive longing to provide greater pay equity for women in the workforce. No surprise, she contends that “the best way for company leaders and boards to ensure their organization is paying employees fairly is to start with a pay equity audit.” As we like to say, only what gets measured gets done.


The most frustrating part of the gender pay gap is that it is solvable. It starts with education, accountability and measurement. A company’s investment in time, energy, and money to uncover compensation issues and correct them is a drop in the bucket compared to the impact that an added $28 billion in GDP could have on our global economy. Given that potential, financial equity for women isn’t just the right thing to pursue, it’s a business imperative. Let’s make this our collective goal for 2023.