May 12, 2018

Hi hustlers,

We’re back to talk about women & money, a conversation Glamour spotlighted and one we very much want to have. In this issue, we talk with She Spends founder Alicia McElhaney, who started an awesome weekly newsletter in 2017 “to tackle wage, investing and board seat gaps.” We also link to Glamour’s best reads (plus other resources around the internet) and give you a look at career journals of yesteryear.

As the daughter of a male accountant, I (Natalie) was long steeped in conversations about money. Still early in my career, my dad has urged me to save for retirement, even as I pay down student loan debt (unbeknownst to him that women are living FOREVER).

While growing up, I had a series of Tracy Flick moments at my Catholic grade school in suburban Philadelphia. I ran and lost, ran and lost (usually to boys) in school elections. But in one program called “Exchange City,” students created a mock city and everyone had a job. I, at 10, finally landed a gig in what I thought was politics and money: city finance manager. The program taught us to write checks (oy), and in my position, track balance sheets and grant or deny loans.

Fast-forward to after college, and I consume information about money like I’m drinking from a firehose. That viral Billfold article on a Fuck Off Fund sparked much of my obsession, and seriousness, about personal finance. Last year, I worked at, where a headline containing the word “woman” would generate less clicks among a largely wealthy, conservative male audience. I became even more interested in old and new financial systems’ exclusion of my own sex.

Unlike the stat on MarketWatch, lots of women I know have little to no difficulty talking about money. I do wish, however, that gendered conversations around money included more men, who are poised to earn, invest and save more across their lifetimes.

Chase that paper,

Natalie & Danielle

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Q&A with She Spends founder
Alicia McElhaney

Growing up, what were your earliest conversations about money? 

My parents drilled into me from a young age that debt was dangerous because of interest. We lived in a small house and shopped at thrift stores despite having the money to do more. But because we lived small early on, they were able to help me pay for college, which was incredibly meaningful. 

She Spends was launched during a post-Lean In, pre-Me Too period, right around when Ellevest launched. What sparked its creation? 

When I look back on the start of SheSpends, I realize that it came at that post-election point when it seemed like EVERYONE was launching something. She Spends was a part of that, even if it didn't directly address President Donald Trump. I just found myself craving better resources on finance and feminism than were already offered. I worked as a stocks reporter and I knew a lot about how the world of money works. There wasn't a resource out there for women that really addressed the financial system in a smart way. There are sites that maybe talk a bit about saving money or budgeting for women, but nothing that tackles the system as a whole.

What are your thoughts on how women’s media and magazines are currently covering money? Have you noticed any huge blind spots? Any culture changes? 

I think women's media outlets are slowly starting to wake up. Refinery29, for instance, has been doing Money Diaries for a while now. One of the biggest blind spots, in my opinion, is the lack of understanding of the large, systemic issues surrounding women and money. Like, a lot of magazines can do a piece on how to start investing, but forget to cover the fact that many women in our mothers' generation were unable to invest because their husbands had complete control over money. So they talk about the investment gap without really going deep on where it comes from.

I was seeing this SO MUCH with women's media across the board - just a lack of understanding of how our financial system works. There was no nuanced discussion of how the diet, makeup or even retail clothing industries exploit women and refuse to involve women in their c-suite and leadership. So I started She Spends with the aim that we'd tackle the financial discussion from all angles, not just personal finance or career or the small stuff.

She Spends founders, left to right: Amanda Eisenberg, Alicia McElhaney, Jemma Frost

Part of your mission statement says “leaning in is yesterday’s news” and that we don’t need “another book about being a ‘bawse bitch.’” Magazines can seem stuck on the boss bitch ish given that it’s easy to sell & brand, easy to package, and easy to digest (if not actually helpful or advancing the dialogue). Do you have any suggestions for them on avoiding feminism Lite masquerading as money coverage?   

I think that avoiding any advice that talks about "becoming one of the boys" or "acting like a man" in your career or with your money just doesn't cut it in today's world. "Lean In" was great for its time but we've evolved so far beyond that. We don't need feminizing language like "boss bitch" or any of its other iteration printed on mugs or t-shirts in the hope to sell us stuff. We need companies dedicated to promoting equality at all levels, and honestly, the ones that do it tend to not be the ones that advertise it. 

Take, for example, State Street. They are the investment firm behind Wall Street's Fearless Girl. Such a great PR campaign, but it came out right around when they had a huge pay discrimination lawsuit. Which, of course, is a great cover for them. And don't even get me started on their board and c-suite. Their board has eight men and four women on it. Their CEO, president and COO are all men. 

I'm just tired of companies peddling feminism without actually making the changes internally. Basically, I want more intersectional feminism entering discussions of money. 

Did you check out Glamour's Money issue? Any thoughts yet? 

I just picked it up! On one hand, I want to be like, we were the originals! But I'm glad to see that publications with a broader reach are covering important topics like these. Their piece on women in cryptocurrency was awesome, and I thought the piece on the gig economy was important too.

Glamour’s Money issue refers to the viral Billfold essay on a Fuck Off Fund. What were your thoughts on the piece? 

That piece was SO important. Financial abuse is very real, and a fuck-off fund is one way to ensure that it doesn't happen to you. Just having that freedom is so vital for women (or anyone, really). A note: we work with a nonprofit, Savvy Ladies, to educate women on personal finance and to help them get out of financially abusive situations. Just want to plug them here! 

Any thoughts on bringing men into the conversation about women's personal finance? 

It's a must. Because men are in power, they must change the system. We can do our best to overthrow it, of course, but men ceding power and giving more leadership roles to women is a definite way to ensure change. 

Can you think of any other recent money & career coverage in women’s magazines that you enjoyed? Or hated? 

I really think a lot of the listicles on "ten ways I saved money" are disingenuous. What works for one person doesn't work for another. We work really hard to ensure that our advice is actionable for the people reading it, which I think a lot of magazines and certain female-focused money sites don't do.

What do you see coming next for women’s media & money coverage? 

For She Spends specifically, it's more of a focus on class. The women behind She Spends are all white and middle class. Earlier this year, we identified class and race as two things we needed to work on doing a better job of representing in the money conversation, and while we have done better in the past few months covering race, we're still working on the class piece. Impoverished people have a unique set of challenges that a lot of mainstream media struggles to address, and we want to able to do it in a thoughtful and strong way. TLDR: More intersectionality to come for She Spends!

For women's media at large, there is a definite shift toward understanding that women are multifaceted. I loved the Glamour money issue, and I expect to see more of that. What I would LOVE is a more nuanced take on how women's magazines sort of came from capitalism and uphold it in a way, and then a discussion on how we can exist in this system that doesn't benefit women and how we can change that. 

This could be simple, like looking at Oprah's investment in Weight Watchers and saying, this doesn't serve women. It's not empowering. I'm not going to buy into that. Or, similarly, choosing to shop at somewhere other than Victoria's Secret for underwear. Their parent company, L Brands, is run by a bunch of older white men who put on that fashion show each year that in my opinion, objectifies women. 

The internet as it stands today opens a lot of doors for us as feminists. We can choose to support smaller companies owned by women and non-binary people, which we encourage at She Spends. Women have a TON of financial power. We just need to harness it. 

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Written by
Natalie Daher and Danielle Fox. Designed by Martina Ibanez-Baldor.
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