New Paradigm: Shifting Power as We Rebuild America with a Gender Lens

Editor’s Note: With the crisis of COVID comes the opportunity to see the world in a different light: one that values people of all genders and progresses toward greater economic and social justice. Here, Joy Anderson, President and Founder of Criterion Institute and Teresa Younger, CEO and President of the Ms. Foundation for Women, urge us to respond to the crisis by taking guidance from gender justice movement-builders.

(Image credit: Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash)

Imagine a world where financial actors actively sought out and paid gender experts to advise them on lending criteria and the terms attached to stimulus loans. Imagine gender justice organizations weighing in on reports produced by banks and consulting firms, shaping the narrative of where asset holders should be investing. Imagine if a key indicator of economic recovery was not how large-cap US stocks are trading, but how many women, nonbinary individuals, and people of color have returned to work in safe jobs that pay a fair wage and offered benefits.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust a number of injustices and inequities into our consciousness and mainstream media conversation, from a lack of access to healthcare and protective equipment for low-wage, predominately female frontline workers to a dramatic increase in gender-based violence as victims of domestic and family abuse are quarantined with their abusers. The pandemic is disproportionately affecting women across the globe.

But it’s not because of COVID that we have health disparities, that people are unsafe and that there is a heightened risk of physical and sexual abuse. COVID is merely shining a spotlight on the failures of our financial and economic systems—systems that were neither designed for us or by us—and how they have historically failed to value women. This moment of brokenness reveals the urgency and opportunity to redesign economic systems that are more aligned with valuing everyone. There has never been a more critical time for the gender justice movement to bring its wisdom, its voice, and its influence into public discourse to ensure that the financing of the recovery tilts the scales toward justice. As the country scrambles to plan for our economic recovery, those fighting for gender justice must claim this as our time to rebuild the nation and decide what success in the recovery looks like.

Our financial and economic systems impact almost everything in our modern lives, from the goods and services we’re able to purchase, to the homes we’re able to buy or rent to the day-to-day operations of entrepreneurs. In this moment, the world is figuring out how to finance the post-COVID economic recovery. The structures, processes and underlying analytics of finance have never had more power. Financial analysts will define the markers of “recovery.” They provide the guidance to those in foundations and others who hold endowments and predict when their assets will return, assuage their fears, and shape the decisions of those who own assets.

Yet despite the vast amount of gender analysis that has been done about the impact of COVID-19, this is not being adequately translated into economic and financial projections or response efforts. We don’t use gender in any way, shape or form to help decide or make determinations about financial practices – not locally or federally. It is no surprise that, despite being the fastest-growing segment of our pre-COVID economy, up to 90% of businesses owned by women or people of color were reportedly left out of the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.

These are “unprecedented times” yet remarkably the same metrics that were being used before – stock market performance, as an example – are measuring our recovery. We need to ask different questions in this financial context and imagine that we could change it. What if in rebuilding our economy, we radically reduced gender-based violence in sectors such as hospitality and agriculture where women are fundamentally at risk at work? How do we create a recovery where structural change is embedded into our financial systems at a local, state, and national level? Imagine if we understood knowledge of gender was valuable and could use that knowledge to make financial decisions as we recover. What would that recovery look like?

Our financial system is not only about money. It’s about power, and the key to shifting power – as the gender justice movement is well-aware – is about organizing concerted influence. It’s about leadership, knowledge, and networks, all of which we have readily available within our organizations. By pointing these skills and leadership at the power held within finance, we can directly influence the COVID-19 response and recovery, and catalyze long-term, structural shifts to make our financial and economic systems more equitable and just.

The time is now for gender justice movements to expand their imagination and sense of possibility. We must use our collective power to visualize a feminist future that includes all of us, and that is bold enough to step forward and challenge the systems and structures that are out there. This is our time to rebuild America.


Joy Anderson, Criterion Institute President and Founder

Joy Anderson is a leader at the intersection of business and social change. She is the president and founder of Criterion Institute, a nonprofit that does research and education to broaden who and what matters in the work of reinventing the economy. Criterion Institute has helped launch and grow the gender lens investing field. She has been a teacher, a consultant, and a founding principal of Good Capital, an investment firm that increases the flow of capital to innovative ventures creating solutions to inequality and poverty. Her thought leadership focuses on shaping financial markets, investing with a gender lens, and combining theological and financial imagination. She holds a Ph.D. in American History from New York University. Social: Twitter | LinkedIn

Teresa C. Younger, Ms. Foundation President and CEO

Teresa C. Younger has served as President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the oldest women’s foundation in the United States, since 2014. Under Teresa’s leadership, the Foundation launched #MyFeminismIs, a multimedia campaign sparking a national conversation on feminism; funded a groundbreaking report on the sexual abuse to prison pipeline; joined leading women’s foundations at the White House to announce a $100 million funding commitment to create pathways to economic opportunity for low-income women and girls; and led a campaign to hold the NFL accountable for violence against women. Social: Twitter | LinkedIn


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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