Amid a renewed interest in women’s issues and the emergence of hashtag activism, celebrities, brands and businesses are looking for ways to help empower women. It’s an uphill battle, activists note, especially given the current political climate. But there are organizations who are delivering programming and mentoring to improve the lives of women.
For fashion brands and retailers, it’s often difficult to know if donations are being used effectively in this work. But Beth Bengtson, founder of Working for Women, or W4W, has launched a nonprofit aimed at addressing this issue. Its nonprofit partners include Bottomless Closet, Girls Inc., Raising Hope and New Women New Yorkers. Here, Bengtson explains the genesis of the organization, it’s mission and expected outcomes.
WWD: What’s the impetus behind launching Working for Women? Where did the idea come from?
Beth Bengtson: The convergence of two very specific experiences are behind the impetus to start Working for Women.
First, on a trip to Guatemala. I met a group of prostitutes who essentially were running their own small businesses by selling the only service they had to offer. These women had fundamental business skills earning enough to cover their rent, pay the gangs, and support themselves and families. It was not the place or time for me to help this specific group of women, but I realized that I must do more to mentor women and help them recognize their potential.
Second, when I was running a small digital marketing consulting business in the Hudson Valley, my business partner and I adopted a community giving policy where we donated 1 percent of our revenues — not just profits — to advance women’s causes. To be honest, we struggled. There are a lot of organizations doing good work and competing for donor dollars. As a business person, I wanted to know that my money was being used effectively and efficiently to create meaningful results. In addition, our staff wanted to feel involved. We did not have the bandwidth to identify and properly vet opportunities. I figured we were not alone.
The convergence of these two events in my life became a call to action and the birth of W4W.
WWD: Why is this important now?
B.B.: There are two salient trends in society that make W4W particularly relevant now.
The first is the groundswell around the #MeToo movement. There is a renewed spotlight in many spheres of influence and industries on the advancement of women. But is that spotlight reaching all women? We think not. W4W is committed to expanding opportunities for underserved women and girls.
Second is the tendency among Millennials and members of new generations to look through an impact lens when making decisions about their future — including, for example, employment and the products and services that they use. Corporations that do not take this under consideration will not survive. As so eloquently said by Blackrock chief executive officer Larry Fink in his annual letter to executives: “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”
Working for Women wants to make it easier for businesses to be a force for social good.
WWD: What are some of the activities the organization will be involved in? And what are you looking for in regard to supporting members?
B.B.: Overall, we are developing a community of individuals and institutions focused on empowering women. Specifically, we will:
• Create a network of business owners who join Working for Women to be a force for social good.
• Aggregate the resources of this network to fund nonprofit projects.
• Identify, vet and partner with nonprofits focused on improving working conditions for women
• Work with nonprofit partners to define projects that support their growth.
• Match employees of the businesses with the knowledge and skills needed to help nonprofit partners implement the projects.
• Measure and tell stories of impact.
• Pilot the model in the greater New York area and then expand to other regions.
WWD: What are the expected outcomes?
B.B.: Working for Women is unique in that it has a dual mission — to enable businesses to be a force for social good and elevate women in the workforce. Therefore, our expected outcomes are in these two areas.
Nonprofits will be able to increase their reach and impact. Our nonprofit partners have the resources — money, people, skills, infrastructure, partners — to do more of what they do. Underserved women will be elevated and empowered. The women that these partners serve are reaching their personal and professional goals.
Businesses will also be enabled to be a force for social good. Businesses know how they are making a difference which results in employee retention and loyalty and improved business performance.