Diana Taylor likes to tell this story. And so, she asked those at Jean Shafiroff’s annual Le Cirque luncheon for the New York Women’s Foundation to bear with her if they’d heard it before. As the exiting Chair of the Foundation, which helps underprivileged New York women become entrepreneurs (and the Chair of Accion, which micro finances emerging market business start ups), Taylor, who is the better half of former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, hears versions of it all over the underdeveloped world, when asked how these women got started.
“‘We were both poor. We had no food on the table. My husband was coming home at night and … beating me.'” The woman gets an idea for a business that excites her. “‘I told my husband. He beat me and told me I couldn’t do it. I did it anyways And now, my husband works for me.'”
Dina Habib Powell (Head of Goldman Sachs Bank USA’s Urban Investment Group & Global Head of the Office of Corporate Engagement) had her own version. She recounted what a woman in Kandahar, Afghanistan, told her:
“‘My husband has never respected me…looked me in the eye or asked my opinion on any matter. But ever since I started making a teeny bit of income, he suddenly asks me questions. Like last week, when he said, ‘I shouldn’t even be asking you this and these girls you provided for me are useless, but I guess I should ask you, ‘Should we send them to school?’ … With that one moment she was able to change the course of a generation, of her sons and daughters. Those girls are still in school. They were going to be married off at 12. They’re 18 now.”
Powell, as president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, launched The 10,000 Women initiative in 2008 to foster women entrepreneurs in emerging economies. She said research shows, when women work, they spend it reinvesting in the family. “Immediately you see better educated children, cousins and community.
“What do you think men spend it on? … It’s very specific actually in emerging markets: Alcohol, cigarettes and sex.”
Moderating the discussion between the two female philanthropists, Priscilla Painton, Executive Editor of Nonfiction at Simon & Schuster, and former Managing Editor at Time Magazine, noted: “We are on our way to a society where women will be the majority breadwinners. Today, four in 10 American households with children under age 18 now include a mother who is either the sole or primary earner for her family.”
And so, we are in the middle of an economic and cultural sea change. Taylor, who has seen first hand how Wall Street, often depicted as the ultimate male club, could subtly belittle its women brain trust, is all too aware of the pitfalls of confidence women can face, with their boyfriends, husbands and bosses. “We need to support each other,” she said.
Shafiroff echoed that theme: “When you empower the women around you to support one another, you also empower yourself.” Shafiroff will be one of the Co-Chairs for the NYWF Oct 9 gala at the Plaza Hotel.