Kelly, Congressional caucus hold symposium on how black women can build wealth
When I was a child, my parents talked to me about the importance of paying bills on time, maintaining good credit. And saving.
Today, too many African-American girls aren’t learning about money matters. While I value the important financial lessons my parents taught me, I also recognize their advice was limited, based on their experiences and knowledge.
Like many young African-American girls growing up in families without wealth, we lacked in-depth discussions about financial security, investing and building sustainable, transferrable wealth.
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, co-chair and co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, hosted a symposium at Chicago State University Friday that offered important advice on finances.
The event, “Securing the Bag,” attracted nearly 300 women.
“The combined impact of gender and race has had a particularly damaging impact on black women and has impeded them from achieving sustainable, transferrable wealth,” said Kelly in an interview. “It’s important to see black women not only become financially conscious, but able to maintain financial stability for themselves and their families.”
Kelly said women continue to earn just 80 cents for every $1 men earn. For black women, the gap is even larger.
“Black women, who work full-time, year-round, are typically paid just 63 cents on the dollar,” she said, adding over a 40-year career, that translates into nearly $1 million in lost income.
“This is of great concern to me because it shows that despite being one of the most educated and civically engaged groups in America, black women still lag behind white men, white women and black men. We cannot allow this persistent, gender-based wage gap to continue to harm women, their families and the economy.”
Kelly said, “we have to enforce equal pay for equal work, and there needs to be penalties if that is not done.”
Discrimination in lending also must be eliminated. It is a barrier that continues to impact black women entrepreneurs, said U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke D-N.Y., also a caucus co-founder and co-chair.
“We can never make up for all of the wages that have been lost,” but there should be some level of reparations, she said, adding, “there needs to be real teeth in the Pay Equity Act.”
Dorri McWhorter, CEO of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, who gave the keynote at the symposium, shared with the group the important role that corporate American can play in helping African-American women build financial security and how black women can hold corporations accountable. She shared with the symposium attendees that the YWCA, with assistance from the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago, launched an exchange-traded fund, WOMN. The fund, which began trading on the New York Stock Exchange Monday, enables investors to invest in companies that rank higher than their peers in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women as evidenced by such things as corporate polices on equal pay, paid time off, percent of women workers and women in leadership positions.
“We can hold people accountable as we buy from companies and invest in companies that understand the needs in our communities,” McWhorter said in an interview.
Becoming financially literate also is key, said symposium panelist Marcia Cantarella, daughter of the late civil rights leader Whitney Young Jr., higher education consultant and author of “I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide.”
In communities of color, people often “don't understand how finances work, how the business world works, how to negotiate their first salary, so you have higher base as you move forward,” Cantarella said. “We don’t understand things like property values and leveraging assets. The whole question of understanding the economic universe is something we are often lacking.
“Every student in the country starting in middle school if not sooner, needs to be learning about how the economy works, about budgeting and savings and investment and how the private sector works, so they are not intimidated by it, but see it as something they can engage in. Economic literacy needs to be part of what we learn at school, at church or wherever it can happen.”
As girls, women of all races often were taught the wrong money lessons, such as money is the root of all evil, the money game is not for us, it’s for the boys or “a man is a financial plan,” said panelist Monika Black, a financial empowerment coach who has a PhD in community psychology and a master’s in clinical psychology. Other negative lessons picked up are that financial security is fleeting and nonprofits are good and for-profit companies are bad, said Black, who is also chief strategy officer at DyMynd, a financial empowerment and social innovation firm and who was a panelist at the symposium.
Meanwhile, women in general and African-American women in particular, even when successful financially, often aren’t a priority for financial advisors, she said.
These lessons and experiences shape one’s attitudes and behaviors and can have negative repercussions on building financial security and creating transferrable wealth later in life, Black said.
As adults, black women are less likely to take higher paying jobs in the for profit world, less likely to proactively manage money and less likely to feel empowered when it comes to dealing with financial institutions, she said.
Among other factors that can impact the financial security of African American women is the size their “care networks.”
Women have a broader care network than men, that is the network of family and friends they feel responsible in helping and take into consideration when planning financially. Indeed, one of the biggest lessons my parents taught me is the importance of being there when family and friends are in need. My dad would often say, ‘If you can’t count on your family, who can you count on.” And in my family, the definition of family often was not limited by bloodlines.
“Women of color have larger care networks than white women because of the extended family model and relationships with the community as a whole,” Black said. “For women of color that is huge. Women of color are the souls of their community. We wear the Superman cape.”
Living in communities with less resources also influences the size of their care networks, she noted.
But it’s important for black women to secure their own finances first before helping others, she said. She added black women have to understand how their past upbringing impacts their financial decisions. They also need to understand their emotional relationship with money because that drives financial behavior and is important in maintaining financial security, she said.
Getting financially educated, creating a sustainable model, acting as a chief financial officer and understanding one’s emotional relationship with money is empowering, Black said.
One of the most important lessons from the symposium is it’s never too late to start securing a financial future, Kelly said.