I was also struck by the group’s relative youth—I mean, weren’t professors usually older? As our discussions ensued, I learned that several women faculty ended up leaving the school prior to attaining tenure, and there were concerns about making less money than their male colleagues. Really? I thought universities were progressive institutions. However, this news was consistent with the many women doctors and faculty that teach at Duke and UNC—my clients.

I found that these highly competent, dedicated professional women were in the same boat as the rest of us—juggling children, family life and a career, while making less money than they would have if they were men. Doing more but getting paid less. Of course, this makes no sense.

Fortunately, I had good news for these women, sharing the fact that as a group, we women control nearly 60% of the nation’s wealth at exactly the time when values-based investing is becoming available to the average investor. Ah, I had something new and exciting for the group. Each member of this group could choose to use their investments to address the social problems we face. They could simply invest in companies that support the causes they care about—such as gender equality, or climate change, or gun control. They could put the full value of their wealth behind these causes while potentially attaining benchmark-like returns, growing their savings and responsibly planning for their own financial security.

As time went by, the message subtly shifted from “take control of your financial future” to “take control of the future.” This was especially exciting given studies suggest that less than 35% of the broader population, regardless of political affiliation, believe that either government or philanthropy can solve our social issues. Finally, with access to socially responsible investments, and their growing wealth, women are able to meaningfully exert their own brand of social influence. The energy in the room was palpable.

And suddenly, time was up. 

The faculty, talking excitedly, gathered their belongings. Some asked questions, others said goodbye and thanked me. “You empowered 15 women today,” said Josiemer. “I feel like I can have a real conversation about what we need to do financially.”

I, too, packed up my belongings and headed out to the car. Sitting at Logan, eating Legal Seafood, I realized what had happened. 

I had experienced Harvard, where the life of the mind prevails. And where, perhaps, planting these seeds of hope, real change was possible. What a privilege. 

Haleh (pronounced Holly) Moddasser, CPA, is the senior vice president and lead advisor of Stearns Financial Group’s Chapel Hill office, where she works with a variety of clients ranging from couples to single adults and across the aging spectrum.

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