We have found that the damaging social and economic aftershocks from the pandemic has many people asking themselves, “How can I serve my community? How can I make a difference?” One way both Katharine and I have worked to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women is by serving and supporting our local Commissions on the Status of Women.
The original Commission on Status of Women (CSW) was established in 1946 as a functional commission of the UN’s Economic and Social Council promoting “women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women”. In 1965, California established its own CSW that was made permanent in 1971. Since then, many local governments have adopted CSWs as advisory bodies to elected officials. In 2018 I was appointed to the Commissioner for the CSW for San Mateo County, serving as the Vice President from 2020 as a partner to my fellow Commissioner, President Nirmala Bandrapalli.
At our last Social Impact Advisory Group meeting, I invited several my fellow Commissioners and CSW volunteers to discuss work we’ve been doing to understand and bring awareness to the factors that stunt women’s economic empowerment; problems that not only existed before the damage of the pandemic, but were also made worse by it. The following was edited from the original presentation for length and clarity in printed format.
Early Learning and Care with Ann Girard and Carolina Nugent
Ann Girard, Commissioner, CSW for San Mateo County and Co-Founder of Raiizz: It’s no surprise that early learning and care is a big issue with a lot of legs to it. I have three daughters whom I raised in San Mateo County while practicing law so I’m very familiar with the challenges of childcare. I have also been very focused on education. Most recently, I’ve co-founded a startup supporting online fundraising in the education space.
Carolina Nugent, Sr. Engineering Program Manager, Apple: I volunteer for the Commission, supporting Early Learning and Care. I was a kindergarten teacher for five years in Texas and a former education director for an edtech startup. Now I work in big tech in the Bay Area. I’ll share a little bit more of my story while we’re in the presentation, but I come with this education background and a lot of passion for this space.
Ann Girard: So just to frame the issue. early learning and childcare have been in a freefall, especially since the pandemic. The lack of affordable, high-quality care especially impacts women in the workforce and, of course, early childhood learning. Over 3 million women in the US have dropped out of the workforce in the past year. This is four times the number of men who have dropped out. In California, during the first three months of the pandemic, employment of women of color fell by 20%. It’s no secret that early learning and care supports children’s health, wellbeing and development. It strengthens families, enables people to work and go to school, and overall, impacts our economy. We spent the last year looking at San Mateo County which is, in general, a progressive county in so many areas. It was fairly easy to collect data that is very compelling. One study estimated that for every potential dollar invested in high-quality care, the life outcome is better. One study estimated that returns to society could be as high as $17. And then, of course, it would increase property values from an economic standpoint. Our problem right now—and it’s a nationwide problem—is that businesses cannot fill vacancies, which is causing economic slack. And with labor on the sidelines, output is decreased which could keep inflation high. One important note that has really been the focus in our county is that childcare needs to be near housing, businesses and transportation, because in order to decrease our carbon footprint.
Carolina Nugent: The facts point to a really clear vision for San Mateo County and we’re striving towards universal access. This is beyond the narrative we might hear in the news about preschool-for-all, but it’s a vision of an equitable child- and family-centered system with holistic support for children’s optimal development. The path to creating an equitable child and family care system takes both an investment and policies at the state, county and local level. We are very fortunate that California has a comprehensive master plan for early learning and care that can be implemented and sustained for the benefit of all children and families. Our recommendations are aligned with the state direction and based on conversations with experts in the county.
I’ve worked in early childhood education as a public school teacher and I have a master’s degree in education. But I would not be able to afford to live here if I’d stayed in that field. And the only reason we’re here in the Bay Area is because I now work in tech. My husband and I struggled to find quality childcare that was affordable and convenient. In our own situation, it ended up better for my husband to leave the workforce when our son was born than to pay for childcare. As our situation changed into the pandemic, we ultimately found wonderful home daycare. But given the pandemic restrictions, the childcare provider could only provide care to four children when things were really, really bad. And as you can imagine, limiting the number of spaces a facility can provide makes it very challenging to run a business and afford to live here. More funding is going to lessen the current burden on both providers and families in need of quality care. Given the historically low wages for childcare providers, we need to ensure that funding is driving up wages, which will help to retain workers. We also need to continue working with employers in the county to encourage them to expand the number of childcare options for employees, like advocating for policy changes that increase paid maternity leave and parental leave. I was really fortunate to take six months off due to a strong employer benefit package. But this is a privilege that most people don’t get. I was able to not only get more time with my son, but I also struggled with postpartum anxiety and had I returned to work too early, it would have been really unhealthy for me. And then lastly, we have excellent educational institutions in the county that we should be partnering with to advise on policies. We should be looking at thorough research and successes elsewhere in the state and across the country to scale further.
Financial Wellness with Susan Kokores, Candra Williams and Bharathi Chinnakotla
Susan Kokores, Vice President-Elect, CSW for San Mateo County and Co-Founder of WANDA Silicon Valley: I’m delighted and passionate about presenting this next section, which is about the financial health of women, and takes a stronger look at their ability to save, invest and build toward their futures. I should say at the start that I am not a financial expert. My background is nursing and fundraising and became very concerned about the most vulnerable in our community. Specifically, that would be single mothers’ ability to save, invest and plan for their futures. I’m a co-founder of WANDA, a nonprofit in San Mateo County, that provides single mothers with strategies to build their financial foundations and invest in assets that help them secure a successful future.
Candra J. Williams, Commissioner, CSW for San Mateo County and Associate Director, Regulatory Affairs, Advertising and Promotion at Gilead Sciences: I am in regulatory affairs at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, California and am a native of Mobile, Alabama. I have lived in the Bay Area for four years now. I recently joined the Commission on the Status of Women for San Mateo County a few months ago and have been a part of our economic empowerment subcommittee with an interest in helping young, single women who are starting off their careers to learn financial wellness.
Bharathi Chinnakotla, UC Berkeley MPH Candidate: I am a recent college grad from UC Berkeley and currently doing my master’s in public health at UC Berkeley. I am particularly interested in this topic, because I think there are huge issues surrounding how socioeconomic status can impact health. As a recent college grad who’s entering the workforce, I felt ill-equipped and had a lack of understanding of investing and how to manage my finances. I think a lot of my friends also felt the same way.
Susan Kokores: Many of the economic issues women face existed way before COVID, however it has exposed them more seriously since the pandemic. COVID-19 permanently damaged most women’s financial health. The wealth gap we now understand is even more of a concern than the wage gap. Wealth building begins at work for most women, yet many workplaces really can’t help women enough in this area. Many women are concerned about their finances and they know they need help. However, the bottom line is women oftentimes lack the confidence to invest. So how much will the pandemic really cost women? Women who have left the workforce for five years are estimated to lose almost $600,000 in income . For women earning over $100,000 annually, the loss in wages over five years can reach over $1 million. Other meaningful research tells us that 65% of women say finances are the top cause of stress, while 52% of men feel that way. 55% of women they feel they are behind in saving for retirement versus 45% of men. 32% of women are more likely to have student loan debt compared to 15% of men and 51% of women have less than $1,000 in savings versus 38% of men [2, 3].
More than one third of the gender gap in financial literacy can be attributed to lack of confidence, more than even lack of knowledge. Confidence is a huge barrier for women. This confidence gap however correlates to less stock market participation, which is a key means of women in building their wealth and securing their future retirement. The Advisory Council states an individual’s ability to fund retirement is highly dependent on wealth accumulation, but the average single woman has accumulated three times less wealth than the average single man.
Supporting Women-Owned Businesses
Maya Tussing, President-Elect, CSW for San Mateo County and Co-Founder of Fairlight Advisors: As Susan stated, building wealth is one of the most effective antidotes to combating poverty and financial insecurity. The power of compounding is real and can turn a few dollars, if set aside every month for many years, can turn into hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s why we’re also investigating how San Mateo County women can build equity through launching their own business. We are looking at two different ways the county can get involved. The first way is by encouraging more investment and financing into women-owned businesses, be it seed capital, institutional venture money or lending. Second, we’re looking at how the county conducts its own partnerships with women-owned business through government contracting and procurement policies to create opportunities for women business owners to build more wealth.
A white paper published by the IMF  found that economies that provide more support to women-owned businesses experience faster economic growth than economies that do not provide support to women business owners. Economies with a higher number of women entrepreneurs experience positive social change for women and girls, because they become a for what is possible. And we know that when girls can see themselves in today’s leaders, it’s a powerful motivator to take bigger risks. Women entrepreneurs are more likely to give to women- and girl-focused philanthropic initiatives. Case in point MacKenzie Scott and Melinda Gates give a significant portion of their own wealth to organizations that serve women and girls, so it becomes a virtuous circle. Boston Consulting Group has found that women will control $20 trillion in worldwide consumer spending 2028. And while almost 40% of privately-held firms are women, they face many more challenges than male entrepreneurs. Women business owners are less likely to secure funding for their enterprise, whether investment or loans. This is really similar to a topic we had at SIAG about, you know, the network gap. Women entrepreneurs were more likely to be rejected for PPP loans than their male counterparts, simply because they were less likely to have relationships with banks that were successful in securing those loans from the Treasury. Women are less likely to run in circles that bring lucrative government and corporate contracts. Because women-owned businesses are typically smaller than their male-owned counterparts and with fewer years under the belts, they’re often rejected for those contracts, even if they have the skills to fulfill the requirements. So we have this vicious circle of being rejected for not having previous experience and having to rely on service and product buyers that are willing to change purchasing or investment policies that rely heavily on years of experience. These challenges are even more significant for Black women entrepreneurs. The question is, how will they get that lucky foot in the door?
Reynolds, A. J., Temple, J. A., White, B. A., Ou, S., & Robertson, D. L. (2011). Age 26 cost-benefit analysis of the Child-Parent Center early education program. Child Development, 82(1), 379–404; Barnett, W. S., Belfield, C. R., & Nores, M. (2005). “Lifetime Cost-Benefit Analysis” in Schweinhart, L. J., Montie, J., Xiang, Z., Barnett, W. S., Belfield, C. R., & Nores, M. (Eds.). Lifetime Effects: The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Foundation.
Peck, E. (2021, May 26). Exclusive: Pandemic could cost typical American woman nearly $600,000 in lifetime income. Newsweek. Source data, Michael Madowitz, Center for American Progress. https://www.newsweek.com/2021/06/11/exclusive-pandemic-could-cost-typical-american-woman-nearly-600000-lifetime-income-1594655.html
John Hancock 2020 Financial Stress Survey
Talk to the financial experts at Fairlight Advisors to learn more about managing your nonprofit’s investments. Schedule a free consultation today!
Latest posts by Fairlight Advisors (see all)
- Embracing Risk: The Path to Agility and Resilience in Nonprofits - February 1, 2024