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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Initiative Looks to Propel Women’s Financial Equity

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Laura Gamble
Laura Gamble, Regional President for PNC Bank, Greater Maryland Courtesy Photo

A 2020 report showed that it would take until the year 2278 to close the economic gender gap. But PNC Bank doesn’t feel that makes good business “cents,” and the financial institution has taken steps to help change this anticipated timeline. PNC recently launched Project 257: Accelerating Women’s Financial Equality, an initiative designed to help close the 257- year economic gender gap and expand on PNC’s decades-long track record of supporting female financial decision makers. “We call female financial decision makers a woman who owns a business or is managing her personal and family accounts from a wealth perspective,” said Laura Gamble, Regional President for PNC Bank,  Greater Maryland. “We’ve focused on women for quite some time, and there’s plenty of statistics that show that women are in control of wealth, and the fastest growing segment of new business owners. So, there’s a lot of good reasons why we have focused on women as customers.”

“Project 257” was derived from the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report that found at the current pace of progress, it will take another 257 years for women to catch up to men from an economic perspective. The World Economic Forum is the International Organization for Public- Private Cooperation. Established in 1971, the Forum strives to demonstrate  entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding standards of governance.

“We recently became aware of the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report that showed at the current pace, it would take women 257 years to reach economic parity,” said Gamble. “With all the statistics of why we’re interested, women as customers are still 257 years behind men in terms of reaching financial parity. The Report really made us stop and look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and ask, ‘What can we do? What can we do to take our work to the next level? We decided we needed to step it up.”

PNC has partnered with SheEO, a global nonprofit whose mission addresses one of the major factors driving the 257-year gap: women’s lack of access to capital. PNC Bank’s three year, $1.257 million commitment is the largest contribution that SheEO has received from a U.S. company. SheEO provides interest-free loans to businesses, or “Ventures,” owned and led by individuals who identify as women or nonbinary (someone who does not identify only as a man or woman) and crowdfunds capital from “Activators.” The “Activators” fund the loan pool and play an active role in evaluating and selecting the “Ventures.” SheEO has funded over 100 innovators— 45 percent of whom are Black, Indigenous, and women of color, and touts a 95 percent payback rate on loans. The organization has crowdfunded $7 million to support more than 100 “Ventures” in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

“PNC Bank was looking for partners to help jumpstart women businesses, and we heard about SheEO,” said Gamble. “We thought SheEO was a great fit. Not only because of the provision of zero interest loans to businesses, but they also provide support and advice and are helping women-owned businesses to grow. SheEO is also a very diverse group of women, and that attracted us as well.” Through this partnership, PNC will work with SheEO to drive awareness and help increase the number of “Activators” who support SheEO Ventures. Fifty PNC employees who identify as women or nonbinary, will serve as Activators on behalf of PNC—  one per market in which PNC has a presence— and play a significant role in the selection, mentorship, and success of SheEO Ventures.

“The Activators not only contribute money and vote on the Ventures, but they are also a community of support to these women-owned businesses,” said Gamble. “So those who are selected not only receive zero interest loans, but can call on this community of Activators for help.” PNC’s long-standing support of women can be seen across the organization, from Women’s Business Development’s executive Advisory Board to its nearly 4,000 PNC-certified women’s business advocates, who are active in their communities and committed to providing valuable resources to female decision makers.

“Through Project 257, we want to close the equity gap, and it not take 257 more years for women to hit financial equality with men,” said Gamble. “I would like to see Maryland be a wonderful place for women to do business, start a business, or to just work and thrive.” The application process for “Project 257,” opened September 13, 2021 and concludes November 1, 2021. For more information or to apply for the program, visit: pnc.com/women.

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