On Monday May 13, Powerbitches brought together 40 feminist entrepreneurs, innovators, and changemakers to talk about how they bring their values to their work. Here’s a glimpse at some of the players and faces in the room. Photos by Micah Bochart.
Our May Salon guest Sharlene Kemler is on a mission to make philanthropy more effective and inclusive.
Through her consultancy SK Philanthropy, Sharlene works with pro-athletes, entertainers, and high net worth individuals to direct their money where it will make the most impact. Now she is working on her most ambitious project yet: Modern Philanthropy Collective, a minority-led social impact fund that is changing the face of philanthropy and creating a new philanthropic system in which generational wealth and sustainable impact can be obtained within minority communities.
We sat down with Sharlene to talk about power, purpose, and how she believes philanthropy needs to change.
PB: What drives your work?
SK: What it really comes down to is my passion for social sustainability. I want the people running non-profits to be able to do the work they’re passionate about, which is program development, instead of spending their time jumping through hoops to get funding. SK Philanthropy and Modern Philanthropy Collective are disrupting the way philanthropy is being done by prioritizing inclusion in every aspect of our model. We believe that in order to achieve sustainable impact we need to close the racial equity gap impacting communities of color nationwide.
PB: How does that sense of purpose play out in each of your projects?
“SK Philanthropy and Modern Philanthropy Collective prioritize inclusion in every aspect of our model.”
SK: With SK Philanthropy, I work with entertainers and athletes to match them with a nonprofit that fits their interests, image, and desired impact. Often when people with high profiles and lots of financial resources want to do good, they think the logical next step is to start their own nonprofit, but partnering with an existing nonprofit is often a far more impactful and efficient use of their money. We highlight the impact they could have giving $150K over five years, as opposed to spending $150K just to launch a nonprofit, before you even get anything done.
Modern Philanthropy Collective is designed to close the equity gap for minorities. There are over 1.5 million nonprofits in the US, and less than 11 percent are led by a person of color. Most grant managers at foundations and heads of giving in private industry are older white men, who give to the same organizations over and over again. There is a real mismatch between the communities receiving the services and the people funding them. Modern Philanthropy Collective addresses that mismatch by bringing together donors to fund projects and organizations led by people of color. We also have a really innovative financing model that’s part traditional philanthropy and part social impact fund.
PB: How did you get into doing this kind of work?
SK: I started my career in cause marketing, working first with Ben & Jerry’s on their global warming tour, and later with Lifebeat on HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness. In both of those roles, I saw first hand the impact celebrities can have when it comes to mobilizing people and passing legislation. If I talk to young people about condoms or how I lost my virginity, it’s like being lectured by your mom. If Snoop Dogg does it, people pay attention. The reach celebrities have is a gift that not everybody gets. So why not use it for good?
Part of my job at Lifebeat was to connect performers with local community groups who could set up stalls at concerts when they were on tour and educate their audiences about the rise of HIV/AIDS amongst youth in America. Some of the managers would come back to me the following year and say, “We love what you did, but we’re working on a different cause now - are there any organizations you can connect us with?” So I’d use my contacts to connect them with new organizations. I’d been wanting to branch out on my own for a while, and my husband pointed out that this work I was doing for free was the beginnings of a business. And that’s how SK Philanthropy was born.
PB: One of the reasons we started Powerbitches is to give entrepreneurs a community to talk about the challenges involved in doing big, ambitious work, often without much of a support structure around you. What have challenges have you faced running SK Philanthropy?
SK: I don’t always take everyone who wants to work with me. And that’s kind of hard, because a lot of celebrities are surrounded by yes people, and it throws them off when I tell them no. At the end of the day, I’m always going to be extra protective of the nonprofits I work with. If something goes wrong, the celebrity will always have their money, but the nonprofit will face backlash that could impact their funding for years to come. So some people who come to me, I have to tell them no. If you’re really passionate, you can donate anonymously, but I’m not going to let you use this nonprofit to help your PR.
“If I talk to young people about condoms, it’s like being lectured by your mom. If Snoop Dogg does it, people pay attention.”
PB: All of your work is grounded in the idea that we need to rethink the way philanthropy operates. How does philanthropy need to change?
SK: The model we have right now is a very old-school model. 501c3s and 501c4s are really restricted in what they’re able to do, in ways that make it really hard to create sustainable impact. For instance, if you’re a 501c3 you’re not allowed to lobby. But one of the main ways groups get policies passed in Congress is because they’re able to hire a really kickass lobbyist. Do you mean to get me a 501c3 on gun violence can’t have someone working for them on the Hill? Most donations from large private institutes have restrictions. Donors need to stop micromanaging their donations and believe in the organization and its efforts. Creating restrictions on funds forces nonprofits to move away from their original mission. The philanthropic sector needs to address the racial equity gap plaguing communities by diversifying their funding model.
PB: How do you hope Modern Philanthropy Collective will change that?
SK: That we’re minority-led matters. It’s important for the communities being served to see people who reflect them both in the organizations doing service provision and advocacy, and in the people doing funding. You understand the issues a bit better, whether it’s maternal death rates for women of color or inequality in education for children of color, because you’ve lived with them yourself. I’m done with the white savior complex. Research has shown that having a fund that mirrors the population it serves is critical for sustainable development. That’s what I’m trying to do with the Collective.
In addition to being minority-led, one of the most important things we’re doing is creating a model that will free both Modern Philanthropy Collective and the organizations we work with from constantly having to chase funding. Instead of just giving a gift and walking away, all of our capital will be split evenly between two initiatives: a more straightforward, traditional grant, and our mission-related investment portfolio. By putting part of our money into VC companies and hedge funds that are minority led and run, in the medium term we’ll be able to use our profits to fund our grant work instead of relying on foundations and corporate funders. It’s a powerful model, and I’m excited to put it into action!
Sharlene Kemler will be in conversation with Powerbitches founder Rachel Hills at our next Salon event, on May 30. Click here for more information and to secure your tickets.
By Powerbitches founder & CEO, Rachel Hills
Today’s blog post feel dangerously off-brand. As we say on our homepage (and everywhere else), “we believe that work matters,” after all.
But I’ve been thinking about an article I read in last weekend’s New York Times, about how increasingly long hours in professions like finance, law, and consulting have impacted women’s ability to advance at work.
The crux of the article is that as more women have earned degrees, the demands of the jobs that require those degrees have grown, stretching from 40 to 60 hours a week or more. The result is that, intentionally or not, when high-earning professional couples have kids one person will take the 60-hour a week, multi-hundred-thousand-dollar-a-year job, and the other will take a 20-, 30- or 40-hour a week, moderately paying job.
Because it’s close to impossible for one person to work more than 60 or 80 hours a week and maintain a life outside of work, let alone two. And in heterosexual couples, surprise surprise, this often ends up arranging itself as the man working the 60-hour a week job and the woman working the more reasonable job that allows her to hold the front at home.
I found the article fascinating: not just from a “women’s” perspective, but from an all people perspective.
There are some jobs that require you to work around the clock. Running a country. Working on a campaign to help someone get elected to run a country. Putting the final touches on your book or film before you send it out into the world. Launching a start-up. (Although maybe we even need to rethink that last one. I run two businesses, and while I’m sure I’d get more done if I dedicated 80 hours a week to the task, I’m also pretty fucking productive with 30. More productive than I was when I worked 50 hours a week, even.)
But there is something wrong with a work culture that demands this kind of total dedication as a default. It doesn’t just make it difficult to raise a family. It makes it difficult to have friends, or maintain relationships of any kind. It makes it difficult to look after your health, to make time to go to the post office, or do anything in life outside of work that brings you joy.
It’s not a stretch to link this conversation to our upcoming Feminist Entrepreneurs roundtable on May 13, which is not just about connecting people bringing to life powerful products, ideas, and organizations that make the world a more gender-equitable place, but about incorporating feminist ideas and values into the way we run those businesses and organizations. Designing jobs so that the people we work with can have lives outside of work - and paying them accordingly - is an integral part of that.
And for those of us who are deeply in love with our work, it’s worth reflecting on how these trends play out in our own lives.
There will be seasons when whatever we’re working to bring in the world demands our total focus and dedication. But are we allowing that to become all the time? And when we do, what is the cost?
By Powerbitches founder & CEO, Rachel Hills
When I first learned about the concept of feminist entrepreneurship in the fall of 2017, I felt electrified, both as a journalist and a small business owner.
My friend and colleague Lex Schroeder was co-producing an event in Toronto called the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum, a coming together of business owners, theorists, social enterprise folks, and funders of all genders to talk about how to use business to create a more equitable world.
My inner journalist was excited by the potential to deepen the public conversation about women and entrepreneurship. In the previous few years, “entrepreneur” had become a kind of proxy for “empowered woman,” through cultural phenomena like Lean In and #GirlBoss, a trend I had covered for The Daily Beast in 2014. As a long time freelancer, I understood well the sense of exhilaration and autonomy that could come from charting your own course. All the same, the notion that “woman in charge” = “feminist” ipso facto felt hollow to me.
“Feminist entrepreneurship felt like a call to do better …to incorporate our feminist principles into our businesses, nonprofits, and other projects.”
From a business perspective, I had spent most of 2017 working on an off-Broadway play based on my 2015 book The Sex Myth, with a view to creating infrastructure to spread the project as an activist and social change tool. It was a project that involved raising money, developing and pricing products, and managing (and paying) a team of 14 people… all while being heavily pregnant and later caring for a newborn baby. The idea of creating feminist products and services that could be sustained by commerce rather than philanthropy or unpaid volunteers was - and still is - deeply interesting to me.
But feminist entrepreneurship - or entrepreneurial feminism, a term coined by Canadian professor Barbara Orser - asked for something more than what I’d already been thinking about. It wasn’t just about what we were creating. It was about how we were creating it.
Feminist entrepreneurship felt like a call to do better: both in the sense of having a more substantive public conversation about what it meant to run a feminist business, and in the challenge it presented to all of us to incorporate our feminist principles into our businesses, nonprofits, and other projects.
All of this is to say that I’m thrilled to be hosting a Powerbitches roundtable on Feminist Entrepreneurship in New York alongside Lex at Luminary on May 13.
We will be bringing together a curated group of 20-30 diverse founders and other feminist leaders to learn more about what feminist business practice looks like, the different ways it’s being applied in business in New York and elsewhere, and to learn from and connect with people who share our values. All participants will be given the chance to shape the discussion, and share their ideas, questions, challenges, and success stories. This interactive discussion will be the heart of the event.
Is this event for you?
For the purposes of this event, we’re looking at the category of “entrepreneur” fairly broadly. Some of the people we’re inviting to the event have venture capital backing, others are running nonprofits or solopreneuring their own startups. Others still are feminist artists or journalists
“We will be bringing together a curated group of 20-30 diverse founders … to learn from and connect with people who share our values.”
We’re looking for a diversity in the way feminism is incorporated into participants’ businesses as well.
You don’t necessarily need to be creating a product or service that is explicitly designed to improve gender equality to qualify as a feminist entrepreneur. Instead, you might exercise your feminist principles in your business practice: from who you hire, to how you market, to the way you design your work.
Nor does feminist entrepreneurship have to be “crunchy.” The decision by Rent The Runway and The Wing - two very “shiny” (and very profitable) New York companies - to give their hourly workers medical benefits, parental leave, and stock options last year is an example of feminist entrepreneurship in action.
Want to be part of the conversation? Apply to join us here.
Ultimately, when it comes to this subject, I’m still learning. And my sense is that the experts are, too. The standard way of operating a business is so unequal, so unfeminist, that the question of how to do it better - and the best way to do it better - is very much up for debate. It requires all of our creativity. All of our innovation. And all of our collaboration and collective brain power.
If you’re interested in learning more about feminist entrepreneurship, I’ve included a short list of resources for your information below:
Feminine Capital by Barbara Orser (book)
Feminists At Work
Design anthropologist Dori Tunstall on decolonizing design
The Oxford Handbook for Diversity in Organizations
How to Start a Feminist Restaurant (zine)
The Powerbitches roundtable on feminist entrepreneurship will be hosted at Luminary NYC on Monday May 13. Click here to learn more or to apply to join us.
By Powerbitches founder, Rachel Hills
A few weeks ago, I overheard a conversation in my coworking space between a marketing consultant and her client.
“People want to feel like they’re part of a community,” she said. And the most successful brands on social media were the ones that presented like a hive of interaction and activity. Ergo, her client should focus on ways they could make their brand feel more like a community, with events for their customers and lots and lots of pictures of happy, connected looking people on Instagram.
I found the conversation equal parts fascinating and dispiriting. Dispiriting because, as someone who has spent years obsessing about how communities work - and how they can work better - it bothered me to hear something I care so much about discussed so transactionally.
And fascinating because, well, she was right. In an era where many of the institutions that were designed to meet our need for human connection (church, neighbors, extended family) no longer play the role they once did - and maybe never properly met it for many of us - most of us are hungry to connect with likeminded people, form real relationships, and be part of something bigger than ourselves.
The problem is that while we’re really good at identifying that need for connection, we’re much less effective at creating environments that fulfil it.
Who among us hasn’t stood at awkwardly at a busy networking event, drink in hand, working up the energy to strike up a conversation with yet another stranger (or trying to figure out how to gracefully exit the one you’re in)? Or gone to a panel or conference presumably full of like-minded people - all there also in search of the same connection and community - and not spoken to any of them?
These problems are often framed in terms of introvert vs extrovert, but I’m an extrovert and I hate them too. I think they’re structural, inherent in the way gatherings are conceived, hosted, and facilitated.
But the good thing about them being structural is that they can be changed.
In that spirit, as someone who has thought a lot about how to create conditions that enable people to connect and form meaningful relationships, here are four things I believe all event organizers should be doing to enhance their communities.
1. Know who’s in the room. Like, really know them. Not just as an abstract marketing category, but as people. What are their names? What do they care about? What are they struggling with? Why are they here? And where appropriate, share this information with them, too. If I’m going to a meetup, a conference, or a cocktail hour and I know who else is there, that allows me to make a beeline for the people I have the best chance of connecting with, instead of just striking up a conversation at random and hoping for the best. It also allows me to ask better questions and more quickly find points of commonality, whoever I’m talking to at the event. Sending everyone who is attending a gathering each another’s photographs and bios before they meet is a trick I picked up at a Mindr networking event for women working in social impact, and it’s one I employ at all of our Powerbitches Salons.
2. Hosting is an active endeavor. As an event organizer, your job isn’t just to get people in the room. It’s to create conditions that help them to connect once they get there. If you’re hosting a dinner, this might mean thoughtfully assigning seats, rather than leaving them to seat themselves. If you’re hosting a mixer, it means checking in on people who are standing alone and introducing them to other guests with common interests. In a coworking scenario, it means talking to prospective members about who they are and what they care about when onboarding, rather than just talking them through the facilities in your space. (Shoutout here to Impact Hub Islington, where I worked as a member host when I lived in London, and which did hosting in a manner that is second to none.)
3. Think participation, not passive consumption. Panels, speakers, and screenings are a great way to get exposed to interesting people and perspectives, but as a general rule, they are terrible at building community. If you want your audience to form a connection with one another, you need to give them opportunities to participate and connect with each other beyond the Q&A at the end of the event. Last year, I took part in a Not Safe For Mom Group event that did this really well. Instead of focusing the conversation on those of us on stage, the facilitator invited participants to share their stories, experiences, and questions throughout the evening, creating a conversation that felt much more connected, cohesive, and profound than your average panel event.
4. Repeat encounters matter. Even the most beautiful, intentionally crafted gathering will struggle to create a lasting or meaningful connection if there isn’t an opportunity for the people in the room to meet again. Real relationships build over time, whether that’s in the structured environment of a monthly event series or annual conference, or the casual run-ins that happen on a college campus or coworking space. This is one of the main reasons we decided to pursue a membership model for Powerbitches - we wanted our members to meet each other over and over again, and to build the trust and community that comes with that.
What are your secrets for building authentic community and connection?
Our April salon speaker is journalist and author Robin Marty. We first fell in love with Robin’s work through her deep dive investigative pieces on the repro rights landscape for publications like Cosmopolitan, Rewire, and Rolling Stone, which make complex policy debates concrete and human. Her new book, Handbook for a Post-Roe America is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what is likely to unfold when it comes to abortion rights in the United States over the next few years, and who wants to be able to prepare for it - personally or politically.
We sat down with Robin to talk about what the map is likely to look like, how we got where we are now, and how she funds her investigative reporting.
“The right needs abortion in order to motivate voters and achieve an electoral majority.” - Robin Marty
Powerbitches: How did you get started writing about reproductive rights?
Robin Marty: I had been a progressive activist for a while, but I started writing personally in 2009 after I had a miscarriage. We were expecting our second child and I assumed everything was fine until the 12-week checkup, where we found out there wasn’t a heartbeat and the baby had stopped growing at 8 weeks. My OB didn’t know how to do a D&C, so I had to try to find another doctor who would help me take care of it. It happened right at the moment they were having the debate about whether abortion should be allowed in the insurance exchange, and I wrote about my experience for RH Reality Check (now Rewire). One of the things that struck me was how many people responded to the article saying that it was okay for me to have an abortion because the baby had stopped developing. But it’s all the same procedure, all the same hospital paperwork. That was the moment when I really understood that it’s all the same, and it’s just that we’re creating these fine lines between what is acceptable and unacceptable.
PB: In your first book Crow After Roe, you look at how, although abortion is technically currently legal in the United States, the pro-life movement has whittled away at rights and access on a state and local level. How has that played out? And how has the addition of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court change that?
RM: At the time we were writing the book, there were all these model legislations being floated by red state legislatures. This was the first time a fetal heartbeat bill had been introduced, the first time a 20-week ban had been introduced. All of these bills were designed to go to the Supreme Court. They were written to appeal to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was then the swing vote on the court, trying to persuade him to come up with a new line at which abortion should be banned. Now with Kavanaugh on the court, the swing vote is Chief Justice John Roberts, who has publicly said that he believes Roe was wrongly decided. Right now, we have 20 different cases that are right at the approach of the Supreme Court. My guess is that the court will overturn Roe, but not until after the 2020 election. The right needs abortion in order to motivate voters and achieve an electoral majority. It’s the same reason I don’t think we’re ever going to see a total federal abortion ban in the United States. There are too many people who will vote Republican because they want to make abortion illegal, but who don’t agree with them on anything else.
PB: For a lot of people, the idea of a “Post-Roe America” evokes images of a Handmaid’s Tale-style dystopia. Is that realistic? What should we expect?
RM: We’re basically going to a situation where abortion is legal on the northern part of the East Coast, on the West Coast, in Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, and Minnesota, and illegal through most of the rest of the country. Wisconsin and Michigan should be able to keep things in place, but it depends on who is in power. In some ways, the pro-choice movement is really well prepared for this situation: there are activists and organizations who are already transporting patients interstate to receive treatment, the system is just going to have to be embellished. The other side of it is that unlike before Roe v Wade, doing abortions ourselves at home is much safer than it was prior to the 1970s. We have a system where people can obtain medical abortion safely, but we don’t yet have a legal system that accepts it. There’s no medical reason a clinician needs to be present when a person ingests mifepristone, but legally restricting the use of telemedicine is an effective way to restrict access. One way activists are fighting back is through a bill called the Pregnant Person’s Dignity Act, which argues that every person should be free from scrutiny if they’ve had a miscarriage or other difficult situation in their pregnancy. Because once abortion is illegal, every miscarriage is a suspected abortion.
PB: We first encountered your work as a reporter for outlets like Cosmopolitan, Rewire, and Rolling Stone, writing incredibly detailed investigative pieces that put a human face on the reproductive rights landscape. Of all the stories you’ve covered and the people you’ve met along the way, what are the ones that have most stayed with you?
RM: One of the most interesting stories to me was traveling to Idaho and meeting Brandi Swindell, who was working to position her organization Stanton Healthcare as “the new Planned Parenthood,” only without abortion. She was the first “pro-life feminist” I had encountered, and it was the first time I really understood how someone could view themselves as a feminist but not believe in access to birth control. It was puzzling to me, but also really fascinating. We were so close on so many issues, but because we disagree on abortion, we can’t work together on any of them.
“Look at where your closest clinic is. How far away is it? Would you need to travel? Do you need to start saving for your own abortion fund?” - Robin Marty
PB: How do you fund that kind of deep reporting work - especially when it involves travel?
RM: [laughs] I’m broke most of the time. I self-fund a lot of my work and just hope for the best. I’ve found granting organizations can be good at providing the money needed for things like travel, but there’s often an extra layer of editorial that goes on top of that. There are things they want to see that the story doesn’t always bear out. I try hard to make sure everything I do stands up to scrutiny. I have abortion opponents who are more than willing to throw me up against the wall, and on the other hand, abortion rights reporters who are worried that [through Robin’s reporting and her podcast Ask An Anti] I’m too close to the enemy.
What’s the number #1 thing you recommend pro-choice people do to prepare for life after Roe?
If you have any money, give money to an abortion fund. They are doing all the work to move people from place to place so they can access the care they need. Also, look at where your closest clinic is. How far away is it? Would you need to travel? Do you need to start saving for your own abortion fund? Would you need to take time off work? Make a plan now, because it’s going to take money, it’s going to take resources, and it’s going to take time. When you’re pregnant and you don’t want to be, you have to do things fast. And the more information you have, the fast you can move.
Robin Marty will be in conversation with Powerbitches founder Rachel Hills at our next Salon event, on April 25. Click here for more information and to secure your tickets.
By Lex Schroeder
When you grow up seeing people underpaid for their valuable work—in my case, both of my parents and many members of my community in a small town in Maine—and know that so many people, especially women and especially women of color, are hurting because they are severely underpaid for their work, it’s hard to go to bat for yourself. At least it is for me.
On some fundamental level, some small part of me still doesn’t want to get paid if I know other people are hurting. I think this is because I understand myself as part of a whole community, and I want my whole community to be well and taken care of. I’m proud of the fact that this is a value of mine, and I know where it comes from, but as a freelancer, I’ve had to find a creative way to work with it. (This is why when I’m not doing editorial development work, I try to create mechanisms for taking care of the whole community by rethinking business design from a feminist perspective).
“I understand myself as part of a whole community, and I want my whole community to be well and taken care of.”
Along these lines, the biggest shift for me as a business owner has been coming to understand that the more I can support myself, the more I can support others. I decided to become a freelance writer/editor and consultant for many reasons, but I also did it just to learn how to advocate for myself. Being freelance reminds me that change is happening all the time, and I can navigate that change. I can support myself because I’m good at my job, I ask excellent questions and see many possibilities, and I work hard for my clients. These things don’t change even though my work is always changing.
On the more practical side of things, as for pricing out projects and retainer contracts, I try to keep in mind three things:
“Ask for what you need” – I came up in dialogue and facilitation circles where I heard brilliant minds in the participatory leadership community routinely ask people to, “Ask for what you need, Offer what you can.” It’s a beautiful idea that just keeps me human and feeling connected to my community/the world. So in contract negotiations, when I feel myself want to erase myself or toss aside my own needs, I remind myself, “Ask for what you need.” And it’s usually pretty simple. I need to make a solid day rate (even if I give discounts, which I do, to women-led firms and nonprofits), and I need to set a price that accounts for taxes, travel expenses, and other work-related expenses. It’s a bit annoying, but asking for what I need often means telling a client, “No, I don’t bill hourly. I have a day rate or I’ll work with you for a set number of days per month on a retainer, and here’s why…” My work requires heads-down think time and writing time, and billing hourly just doesn’t serve the work well. When I am clear about this with clients, my clients trust me and we find a way to work together that respects everyone’s time.
“Lead with the work” – A mentor and colleague of mine, John Shook, taught me this during my years at The Lean Enterprise Institute. When the work is out front, when you’re running experiments and focusing on the work itself, not the anxiety around the work or the political relationships around the work, then everything becomes easier. In other words, I do fine if I remember that my job is to put pen to paper for my clients, making their good work visible to the world, and to build beautiful communication and knowledge management strategies. The sooner I jump into the work, even if it’s just sketching out a proposal and being in the creativity of this process, the easier it is for the client to see my value. I don’t recommend “leading with the work” by doing too much unpaid work upfront, but I do recommend doing some upfront work to show your client how you think and operate in the earliest stages of a project proposal or contract negotiation.
“The more I can support myself, the more I can support others.”
Money is personal, and it’s not personal – Everyone has dozens of opportunities and constraints they’re working with and around at all times that other people simply cannot see. If someone can’t pay you what you ask for, that’s not on you. Only your client knows their own budget and constraints. You need to still ask for what you’re worth and what you need. It’s just not personal if they say no to you. The good news is, while a potential client may surprise you by saying “no” when you are expecting a “yes”, they may also surprise you with a “yes and…” I have learned to put myself out there because the world is fundamentally open in all directions. Good and bad business surprises happen all the time. Or as my auntie says, “The tide goes in, the tide goes out.” There’s more good working class wisdom from Maine for you!
Lex Schroeder is the Co-Founder of Feminists at Work and co-producer of the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum. A writer/editor and strategic communications consultant with deep roots in systems thinking, complexity science, and participatory leadership, she works frequently with Changemaker Strategies.
As part of our ongoing conversation about $$$, we asked our community to share their most powerful and productive money advice.
Here’s what they told us:
“Price your work based on cost rather than value. This runs counter to most advice I've read, which tells entrepreneurs we will earn more money if they charge based on the perceived value of our product/service rather than what it costs to produce. But I found my businesses became far more sustainable when I picked an hourly rate (or more accurately, a set of them) and priced everything I worked on based on that. ‘Value’ is subjective. Labor is less so."
- Rachel Hills, Powerbitches founder
“Get an accountant with lots of clients who are self-employed/freelance/in the arts. Folks like us have specialized reporting requirements and fluctuating incomes, and my accountant has saved my ass so many times I've lost count. She walked me through becoming an LLC and a legit business in the eyes of the IRS, starting Roth IRA and SEP retirement accounts and gently harassing me to contribute every year, figuring out sales tax filings, and recommending other professionals to fill in the gaps. Her fees are more than worth the money and stress she's saved me–and they are deductible. I love Jadah Carroll, who I always recommend.”
- Therese Shechter, Trixie Films
“There are plenty of practical steps I've taken that have benefitted my finances, from using the Qapital app to raising my rates to more accurately reflect what my labor and experience are worth, but the most powerful work I've done is re-adjusting my attitude about money by seeing a financial therapist. So many of us carry shame and even trauma about work and money and living under capitalism. In my experience, these feelings must be addressed to really make way for abundance in its many incarnations.”
- Kristen Sollee, author, Witches, Sluts, Feminists
“Outsource what you habitually don't like or have time to do - for me, it’s my accounting. I think of it as the rule of threes. Make a list of the three things you are naturally good at. Do those things. Next, choose three things you are not super good at yet but that you think you could and want to get really good at. Dedicate yourself to those things and become an expert in them. Finally, choose three things you habitually hate doing and are always behind on, and outsource them.”
- Jillian Foster, Global Insight and Continuum
“Fuck the ‘shoulds.’ You don't need the fanciest new software, an office space, or anything else to legitimize you. In fact, keeping expenses to a minimum and creating systems that allow you to streamline and automate is one of the best ways to earn more...and invest it into the causes and business you care about.”
- Kait Scalisi, MPH, Passion by Kait
“Money is personal, and it’s not personal. Everyone has dozens of opportunities and constraints they’re working with and around at all times that other people simply cannot see. If someone can’t pay you what you ask for, that’s not on you. Only your client knows their own budget and constraints.”
- Lex Schroeder, Freelance writer and communications strategist
“Two small pieces of advice:
1. Brass Taxes is a local and very affordable outfit that specializes in tax prep for freelancers and self-employed people -- they know how to comb through your expenses! www.brasstaxes.com
2. I have automated most of my donations to go out on a monthly basis. This helps me remember to do it and makes it feel like a normal, ordinary part of money life, not a big stretch at the end of the year.”
- Jen Peirce, Criminal justice researcher
“I read the book Overcoming Underearning by Barbara Stanny and it was so helpful! It's both practical and inspirational, and ends up being a journey in valuing yourself, taking yourself seriously, and being honest and loving with your finances. She also suggests to go through the book with other people, and that helped immensely! Well after reading the book, a small group and I still meet together to discuss finances, get real with each other, and open up about our fears and wins. It's been life saving! “
- Kimmay Caldwell, Hurray Kimmay
“Wanting to make the world a better place and helping uplift others are important elements of my mindset as well as business. But I have also learned the hard way that you can't help others from an empty space. That's negative martyrdom. If my business makes more money, I can help nonprofits and causes close to my heart. And a flourishing business means I can hire women employees. Conscious living all the way.”
- Sweta Vikram, Entrepreneur and author, Louisiana Catch
Prisca Bae has spent her career serving as a bridge between the women’s movement and the private sector, working for companies like Goldman Sachs, Women in the World, and advisory group Seneca Point Global. In 2015, working at PepsiCo in the Global Diversity & Engagement group, she led the development of a $100 million commitment to women and girls.
We caught up with Prisca to learn more about her unique career path, her experiences working for change in corporate America, and how she built her enviable professional network.
You can catch Prisca in person at our next Powerbitches Salon on March 23 (tickets here).
Powerbitches: You work at this really interesting intersection of advocacy and the private sector. How did you land there?
Prisca: Being an immigrant and a woman of color has defined my life’s passion and goals. I was always a feminist and majored in women’s and gender studies at Columbia. I never thought I could make a career out feminism so I went to law school and ended up at a big law firm. It made sense at the time – I had huge law school loans and wanted to start supporting my parents, who were nearing retirement.
10 years ago, I made a career pivot. Thanks to some great mentors, two female partners at my firm who I’m still good friends with today, I met an attorney named Kim Azzarelli who would hire me to work with her at Goldman Sachs in the philanthropy group. We would go on to work together at Women in the World and Seneca Point Global, which she founded with Ambassador Melanne Verveer, the first-ever US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, a role created during the Obama Administration by Secretary Clinton.
There was no strategy behind my career pivot other than surrounding myself with supportive mentors who cared about me as well as advancing women in work and leadership.
“Being an immigrant and a woman of color has defined my life’s passion and goals.” - Prisca Bae
Powerbitches: How did your work build from there?
Prisca: At Goldman Sachs, I helped manage Goldman Sachs Gives, a $500 million donor-advised fund for the partners of the firm. It was an incredible opportunity to learn from leaders in the development and social impact space.
At Women in the World, I ran the Women in the World Foundation and became immersed in the women’s and media space and saw the genius of Tina Brown first hand. I also got to know how the production and media side of things work, which was exciting for a former attorney. Both Goldman Sachs and Women in the World gave insights and access into worlds I never thought I would be a part of. At Seneca Point Global, a global advisory firm Kim founded with Ambassador Verveer, I helped Fortune 500 companies on their corporate social responsibility and women’s empowerment initiatives. I’m really proud that I was able to build a career that was both mission driven but also enabled me to continue to pay off my student loans.
Powerbitches: Let’s talk about your work at PepsiCo. As their Senior Director of Global Diversity & Engagement, you led the launch of a new $100 million commitment to women and girls. How does something like that happen?
Prisco: When I was first approached by PepsiCo, I thought it was to join the Diversity & Engagement team – and my focus would be global women’s issues. At that time, PepsiCo wanted to develop an external women’s strategy, something that aligned with their internal business priorities and could help women and girls around the world. Indra Nooyi was the CEO and I could not imagine a more interesting and exciting opportunity.
The internal alignment and approval process was my first challenge. It started with making the business case, which was obvious - women make the majority of purchasing decisions (~70-80%). I then mapped the existing landscape and presented to stakeholders throughout the company, showing what other companies were doing and how much they had invested. From that, we were able to get a commitment of $100 million over 10 years from the business and PepsiCo Foundation.
At PepsiCo, you can’t have a top-down strategy - it’s such a big, diverse company. It’s a matrix. There are all these silos and groups that work independently, so if you want to get something big done, you have to influence people who might have other priorities to work with you. Fortunately, there were supportive leaders throughout the company who cared passionately about women and girls. Right now, the fund is very focused on putting money into women farmers and closing the crop gap.
I left my role in Diversity & Engagement and joined the Public Policy and Government Affairs group over a year ago, but the work to advance women is still ongoing. And by 2025, PepsiCo and the PepsiCo Foundation will have invested $100 million on women and girls, which I’m really proud of.
Powerbitches: A lot of people who are looking to do mission-driven work wouldn’t necessarily look at the private sector as a place to do that. Why should they?
Prisca: Everyone and every sector has a role in contributing to positive change in society. While I can understand the criticisms directed towards corporations, in my experience, corporations can also serve as a force for good. The sustainability and corporate social responsibility movements within the private sector have been going strong for over a decade and is only getting stronger.
“If you want to get something big done, you have to influence people who might have other priorities to work with you.” - Prisca Bae
While it’s important to have people advocating on the outside at nonprofits and advocacy groups, you also need to have people on the inside serving as allies. The thing that I feel very passionately about is that everyone has a role. You need allies wherever you go. And I’m an ally in the private sector.
Powerbitches: What advice do you have for someone currently working in the private sector who would like to use their role to make a difference?
Prisca: I think of that Mr. Rogers quote, “Look for the helpers.” Seek out like-minded people within your company (they exist!) and figure out how to do make positive impact with them. It could be small, like starting a volunteer project or raising money for a nonprofit.
If you want to get involved in a more systemic way, find out where that work is happening in your company and just be helpful all the time. Because when a role opens up, they’re going to think of you.
Powerbitches: Finally, it seems like a lot of your work has been based on relationships and connecting people. Do you see yourself as a connector?
Absolutely. I love to connect people.
People always tell me that I know a lot of people. I think I also just have a tendency to like people. And I really like helping people. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to amass this incredible network of people - because the relationships are authentic.
I have certainly had times when I’ve met someone whose work I’m interested in and it hasn’t gelled, whether because of chemistry or energy or shared experience. But there are enough people out there that you’ll like. Find those people and focus your energy on them. And help each other – especially women – because nothing’s going to change otherwise.
Prisca Bae will be in conversation with Powerbitches founder Rachel Hills at our March Salon event. Click here for more information and to secure your tickets.
By Rachel Hills
I knew I needed to do something radical about my approach to money when I screwed up three negotiations in the space of a week.
The first was when a client I had been working with for a few weeks (but who hadn’t yet signed a contract) came back to me and told me she couldn’t afford the amount we had originally agreed and would need to cut my fee by half. The second was when I lowballed another client by quoting based on what a friend whose judgment I trusted thought they could afford rather than the time it would take me to do the work, leaving me kicking myself when I realized what my hourly rate would be. (Clue: significantly less than I would like.)
The third - and the one which caused me the most embarrassment - was when I reached out to a woman I admired about co-hosting an event for an organization doing work we were both passionate about. She wrote back asking if I would be charging for tickets. I panicked, not wanting her to think I was exploiting her but wanting to earn something for the labor involved in running the event, and quoted her a nominal ticket price. She turned me down not because my price was too high but because it was too low - she was too stretched at the moment to do anything pro-bono.
“this pattern of undercharging is tied to a bunch of more universal issues at the intersection of gender, self-employment, and purpose-driven work”
My cheeks burned with my own smallness, and I fought the urge to write back and explain to her that it had all been a big misunderstanding. I was happy to charge more! I had only quoted such a low price because I hadn’t wanted her to think I was greedy! But I had enough sense to know that email would only make me look even worse.
I tend to blame this pattern of undervaluing and undercharging for my time and expertise on five years working as a full-time freelance journalist at a time when the industry - and associated rates - were in freefall.
But it’s also tied to a bunch of more universal issues at the intersection of gender, self-employment, and purpose-driven work.
Most advice on women and money is targeted at women in salaried jobs. This makes sense - there are more of them, for one - and one of the reasons women collectively make less money than men do is because we are less likely to negotiate (and our negotiations are received differently).
But the challenges women in salaried jobs face when it comes pay and negotiation are exacerbated for women who are self-employed, who must continually negotiate our worth. Price yourself too low, and you end up feeling resentful, exploited, and powerless. Price too high, and your risk getting no customers at all. There can also be a different calculus applied to freelancer or project-based payments, on both ends of the transaction: what looks like a good rate in a full-time job can result in poverty wages for a self-employed person or small business owner.
For women doing purpose-driven work, there are additional complications. Often, our desire to make whatever it is we care about a reality can outstrip our desire to be paid fairly for our work. I’ve lost count of the number of women I’ve worked with who have calculated their projects budgets based on the minimum amount required to get them off the ground - which usually results in underestimating labor costs and cashing in on goodwill instead. Sometimes, this results in underpaying the people we work with. Even more often, it involves drastically underpaying ourselves.
There’s also an underlying stigma that seeking payment for work we care about is greedy. That if we really believe in the work we’re doing, or we really want to serve other people, the money shouldn’t matter. (A rationale that is regularly used to undervalue the work of people in the caring professions, who are disproportionately women.)
“the challenges women in salaried jobs face when it comes pay and negotiation are exacerbated for women who are self-employed, who must continually negotiate our worth”
These patterns don’t just lead to our own systemic underpayment. They fuel an ecosystem in which we systematically underpay each other as well: whether we are hiring other women as contractors, or purchasing each other’s products or services.
This is something I’ve been conscious of for a long time as someone who hires other women, asking the friends and colleagues I work with to quote me a rate they think is fair, rather than trying to talk them down to a rate that might be more affordable for me. But it’s only recently that I’ve started to apply these same principles to my own work.
“These patterns don’t just lead to our own systemic underpayment. They fuel an ecosystem in which we systematically underpay each other as well”
My sabbati horribilis prompted me to do some soul-searching about my own deep-seated beliefs about money: among them, the lessons I’d taken on from my family and upbringing, the impact of my years as a freelance writer on my sense of self-worth, and my fear of being seen as greedy and undeserving if I charged what was needed to sustain my work.
It helped me to think about what I would do with my money if I had a lot of it: hire support staff to make the projects I was working on stronger, buy work from artists I loved, invest in people and businesses doing socially transformative work, support causes I believe in (not as altruistic as it sounds - one of my fantasies involved buying a table at the Planned Parenthood Gala).
It also prompted me to change some of my personal practices around money. To charge for projects based on the number of hours I estimated it would take me to complete them, rather than what I perceived the value to be to the client. (This is the opposite of what most entrepreneurs and consultants will tell you to do - they believe you earn more when you charge for value - but it resulted in an immediate increase in income, and no one has complained about price.) To track the time I spend on all the projects I work on - including the ones that don’t currently break even - so I have a clearer understanding of what I should be earning from them.
Finally, it was the impetus that prompted me to start thinking about our March Powerbitches discussion “We Need To Talk About Money,” which looks at questions around $$$ on a psychological, practical, and systemic level. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post in which our members share their best money lessons and advice.
This won’t be the beginning and end of the Powerbitches conversation about money, I’m sure. It’s a topic that cuts to the core of so many things, from values, to our perceptions of our own value, to our ability to create and maintain boundaries.
But it’s definitely a conversation I’m excited to start.