Women Moving Markets: 3 Takeaways from a Boston Globe Panel featuring Social Finance CEO Tracy Palandjian

Gianna Cacciatore May 10, 2022

The disruptions of the past two years have brought unprecedented changes to the American workforce, especially when it comes to the role of women, who remain 2 million jobs short of pre-Covid employment levels. As we rebuild our economy in the wake of the pandemic, we must do so in a way that fully enables and values the contributions of women. 

To discuss the challenges ahead, Social Finance CEO and Co-Founder Tracy Palandjian joined Boston Impact Initiative CEO Betty Francisco for “Women Moving Markets: A Force for Social Change,” a panel on women, opportunity, and economic mobility moderated by Linda Henry, CEO of Boston Globe Media, and sponsored by PNC Bank as part of its 12th annual Women in Business Week. Explore three key takeaways from the panel below. 

1. To expand opportunity for women, we must first break down barriers. 

Both Palandjian and Francisco began by addressing the systemic barriers that limit the progress of women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups in the workforce. 

“People from marginalized communities—especially women and women of color—are the first to suffer and the last to recover,” explained Palandjian, referencing the unequal impact of the pandemic on certain groups. She highlighted some of the systemic barriers faced by women, like caregiving and household responsibilities, which exploded as schools and child care centers closed, and overrepresentation in the sectors most affected by pandemic shutdowns, which resulted in two-thirds of the net job losses since February 2020 being experienced by women

“People from marginalized communities—especially women and women of color—are the first to suffer and the last to recover.”

— Tracy Palandjian 

To help women overcome these barriers, Palandjian stressed the importance of creating accessible pathways to careers that offer child care, paid family leave, and other critical benefits. Until these changes are made—through legislation like the American Families Plan or through other avenues—women will continue to face undue systemic barriers.

Francisco focused on the challenges faced by women and other underrepresented entrepreneurs in particular. “They begin with fewer assets, and they don’t necessarily have the friends and family networks,” she explained. As a result, “their businesses oftentimes fail in the very early stages.” To drive systems change, Francisco is committed to “shaking up the way folks with capital think about investments.” Only by doing so can we de-risk investments in entrepreneurs who have traditionally been excluded from opportunity. 

2. True economic empowerment requires creative solutions.

To help communities build wealth, the Boston Impact Initiative looks to invest in businesses that use “alternative models,” like employee ownership. By emphasizing worker voice, these models connect a business’s success to that of its community. These cooperative business models may be “counter to powers that be,” says Francisco, but they effectively spread wealth and drive true change. 

“We want to leverage all aspects of a place in order to support a business,” she said. “We’re building an ecosystem that can start to tackle a lot of the issues of inequality.” 

At Social Finance, Palandjian’s team also uses creative models to drive economic mobility, especially for women and other underrepresented groups. Through innovative, outcomes-based financing solutions like Career Impact Bonds and Pay It Forward Funds, Social Finance partners with businesses, governments, and philanthropic leaders to design workforce training programs that focus on outcomes (i.e., wage gains for workers) rather than outputs (i.e., the number of people enrolled in a program). For example, Social Finance’s Career Impact Bond with Alchemy Code Lab has a focus on upskilling women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people for coding and software jobs that often pay $60,000 to $80,000 a year, with no upfront cost to them.

We’re building an ecosystem that can start to tackle a lot of the issues of inequality.”

— Betty Francisco 

“Right now, whether you go to a training program or even to a four-year degree institution, they are collecting tuition dollars no matter what happens to you after you graduate,” said Palandjian. Social Finance turns that model on its head so that training and education providers are only paid when students succeed. “The idea is that the educational institution has skin in the game,” she said.  

“The way that you structured it is really smart because you aligned everybody’s interests,” added Linda Henry. “If a person is coming in and knows they can’t afford the ten grand or the cost of the program, they [don’t have to pay it back unless] they get a job.”

3. Any effective solution must prioritize worker needs. 

Workers can’t succeed in training for a new career if their basic needs aren’t met, especially if they don’t have savings or can’t afford to take the time off to get trained. That’s why supportive services are integral to the solutions Social Finance designs. 

“Life takes over,” says Palandjian. “We try to remove any upfront barriers, financial and otherwise, that might prevent people from participating in these high-quality programs.” These supports can take the form of emergency aid funds, living stipends, financial literacy training, and extra job coaching support. 

At the Boston Impact Initiative, Francisco too focuses on the worker. “We first look at wages—at the livable wage versus the minimum wage, and also at the spread between the lowest-paid worker and the highest-paid worker,” she explained. By putting workers first in each conversation, the Boston Impact Initiative ensures that new businesses are properly compensating and treating workers from the get-go. Not only does this help individual workers build wealth, but it also, as Henry pointed out, “sets the standards for workforce empowerment,” creating “this whole ripple effect that is really beautiful to see.”

Learn more about Social Finance’s economic mobility work >>

Watch a recording of the panel: