Melinda Gates’ announcement that she is allocating $1 billion dollars to fund specific initiatives with the goal of reaching full gender equality almost made me cry.
It felt powerful. I felt emotional.
It doesn’t necessarily impact me directly, today: it’s not like some of it will be paying off my student loans or buying me some sweet real estate in New York.
But, the main sectors her pledge will fund are public office, tech, academia, medicine, investing, and entrepreneurship, and, as is her goal, empowering women with money in those areas will absolutely permeate all of society and women in every sector and walk of life. Including me, and you.
More importantly, what her massive gift did was show me, viscerally, that money is power. And she is literally attacking the idea that women (historically and today) do not have enough of either.
Specifically, her announcement sparked a number of things in me:
*I was ebullient at the fact that a targeted gift of this magnitude will have tangible targets toward women’s equality.
*I felt momentarily jealous that I am not an uber-wealthy philanthropist. Because, if I was, I would also be able to do live in my condo in Paris and work on my next book for a month whenever I felt like it.
*I learned (after reading her book The Moment of Lift) that she has also struggled: it wasn’t too long ago that she wasn’t even thinking in terms of gender equality in her professional past nor in her foundation work, plus, she and Bill have had to work hard to iron out their own marriage when it comes to equal partnership. This made me feel better that everyone, even Melinda freaking Gates, is on a journey of growth and has plenty of blind spots and made lots of mistakes along the way. Every day is a chance to start over and do better.
*I want to do so much for the world, for women, and sometimes I feel powerless to do so.
*I want to BE enough, and to HAVE enough, for myself.
*Falling short happens. Or at least feeling like I am falling short. (Then I revisit point #3).
I think what Gates’ announcement really highlighted for me was the fact that I have spent most of my adult life fighting a battle with myself over money.
I was raised by a loving, brilliant and wonderful single Mom. We did things like go on an amazing ten-day vacation to Florida...and then come home to a house where the heat had been turned off (not an ideal scenario in February in Buffalo, NY; Mom then had to heat the kitchen in the morning by opening up the oven door). Multiple credit cards were declined at stores in one visit...yet we always found a way to purchase the nice new shoes or dress or bag anyway. We rarely flew (road-tripping instead)...but we still visited lots of places.
We went to the best private and intellectually progressive all-girls’ high school in the region (all thanks, again, to Mom), where there wasn’t a whisper in the halls about financial empowerment...or even education around credit scores or savings accounts.
In college, right there on Locust Walk, credit cards companies were lined up to give me access to “free money” along with that free t-shirt all within the five minutes or so it took me to fill out a form and chain myself to a 29% interest rate for the next five years...but I could go on spring break with everyone else to Mexico, after all.
I can’t decide if I’m more embarrassed or proud to say that it was only a few years ago in my mid-thirties that I sat down and faced the music. I looked at everything, and for the first time ever, I made a plan to become financially solvent.
It’s an uphill climb, for sure--I am more wired than not to put something on a credit card that I really want (At least it’s my weekly French class, or a flight to Rochester to see the kids, I justify to myself, rather than stupid shit like purses or shoes or clothes)--but I have a handle on my finances, am paying off debt, and am becoming more responsible with and educated about money every day.
I’ve got my mind on my money, and my money on my mind. Always.
And perhaps less Melinda Gates’ billion-dollar donation, maybe that’s what I’m really talking about here, right? My own relationship with money: the alternating excitement, fear, shame, not having enough, and thus, not being enough.
I’ve been saying for a long time that the reason female empowerment is needed is because when critical masses of women are personally empowered, we gain the strength in numbers needed to attain big-picture, macro-level societal power. Gates’ billion-dollar way is a wonderful and welcomed acceleration of that.
But my way addresses something and someone else: someone, well, like me. Personal empowerment first. Facing head-on whatever it is that’s been in my way (in this case, around money) and moving forward and making progress in spite of the roadblocks.
Or, as Gates writes in The Moment of Lift, when women start to get empowered, “They begin seeing themselves differently, and that gives them a sense of their own power...which means that women can use the skills they learn...to dismantle the rules that keep them down.”