Financial support helps women achieve career success
Earlier this month, I discussed the untapped potential of women around the world with attendees of the Iowa International Center’s Dialogue Series in downtown Des Moines. I also shared a bit of my personal story, which has shaped my perspective on practical financial approaches for giving more female leaders the support they need and deserve.
Coming of age in Bangladesh during a time when cultural and familial pressures kept most women from pursuing their ambitions was not easy for an individual like me. From a young age, I found intellect, curiosity and an intense yearning to defy the odds hard to squash. Fortunately, mentors, both male and female, encouraged me to pursue my ambitions.
Although the influence of these mentors has been key to my success, and the success of others like me, the criticality of financial support cannot be overstated. During the Dialogue Series, I discussed three specific and practical methods for injecting financial support into the lives of promising young women across the globe:
- Equal pay
Today, more women than men are enrolled in college. Scholarships have undoubtedly played a major role in that trend. Financial assistance not only helps a deserving female continue her education; it can also help young women pursue a career in advanced-degree professions they may not otherwise be able to afford. What’s more, scholarships awarded to women represent a better return on investment, as women are more likely than men to complete college and attend graduate school. Without the burden of student loans, these women can more readily leverage the income generated by higher-level careers to help finance the next generation of college graduates.
For many young women, scholarships represent more than money. They also build confidence and a sense of community responsibility. Earning my own scholarships were key, pivotal moments in my quest to prove myself. I had earned more than money to send me to school; I had earned dignity and respect from my family and community, all while hopefully setting an example for other young women in my corner of the world.
At 17, I started a home-based tutorial business alongside my brother, giving math, English and science lessons to students in grades six and above. Over time, I founded two other businesses, including a cafeteria supplying box lunches to one of the largest public schools in Bangladesh and a boutique with three other women. It was during this period of my life that I was introduced to the concept of microfinance, which describes broad financial services for entrepreneurs and others lacking access to traditional credit and other banking services. With loans as low as $125, microfinance has proven to be life changing in many parts of the world.
I have seen firsthand the benefits of microfinance. When I was growing up, many of the upper-class families in Bangladesh had in-home servants. Often, beggars off the street or those dwelling in slum quarters of the city would take a servant’s wage-paying job in exchange for food, shelter and nominal wage. In the early 1990s, however, fewer individuals were clamoring for maid servant work. Large clothing manufacturers were setting up left and right, creating better paying jobs that also gave workers a new and marketable skill. Those who aspired for more eventually used those skills in combination with microfinance programs to set up their own businesses. The empowerment that came from running a successful venture led to a contagious sense of freedom and feeling of great accomplishment that spread to more women.
American equal pay advocates have successfully maintained a steady drum beat for their cause, earning a great deal of awareness and inspiring a decent amount of action. Over the more than 100 years these advocates have been calling for change, the U.S. has experienced a series of legislative solutions, private-sector policies and even the declaration of April 14 as Equal Pay Day. Still, the U.S. ranks 65th in wage equality out of the 142 countries examined in the 2014 World Economic Forum report.
When it comes to equal pay, both genders bear responsibility for change. For their part, women in business have a responsibility to look out for themselves—something of which I’ve become more aware over time. When I was first offered a C-level position, I jumped at the opportunity without hesitation, accepting the first salary and benefits package offered. A male counterpart may have taken the time to consider all of his options and to negotiate a compensation package based on his worth assessment. Since that time, I’ve learned the importance of knowing your worth and the artful skills of negotiation—both critical factors for those who support fair pay regardless of gender.
How You Can Help
Helping women around the world achieve success doesn’t have to be as large as developing a scholarship program or funding a microfinance endeavor. Even something small, like advocating for fair pay or pushing against preconceived ideas can help others do the same.
To learn more about the role of financial support in helping women around the world achieve career success, download the white paper “Financial Support Critical to Greater Female Leadership.”