Female Empowerment Through a 401(k)
This is the first of a two-part series based on an interview with Neal Brown, former Chief of Staff at Women Who Code. Originally from Atlanta, GA, she moved to the Bay Area in October of 2014 and is working on her third successful business venture. Through this interview, she hopes to help other budding female entrepreneurs by sharing some of the knowledge she’s acquired throughout her own journey, especially around the theme of empowerment. Whether she was talking about other women in tech, her organization itself, or other team members — everything she does seemed to reinforce it. Interestingly, empowerment was both the cause AND the effect of setting up a 401(k).
Note: Vanguard just released a report showing men’s retirement savings is 50% more than women’s — “despite women being far, far better savers than their male counterparts.” The root of this brings us back to income inequality; women still only make a fraction of what their male peers make. And not one thing will reverse the damage done by income inequality, especially when it comes to women and retirement savings. That’s why I love Neal’s story about why she made the leap to offer a 401(k) plan at Women Who Code.
In the business of empowering women
Women Who Code (WWCode) is a non-profit dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers. The organization connects amazing women around the globe facilitating networking and leadership opportunities, which help women take their careers to the next level. We believe the world of technology is much better with women in it!
To date, WWCode has produced more than 2,000 free technical events globally, from Hong Kong to Atlanta to Bangalore; garnered a membership exceeding 30,000; and has a presence in 18 countries.
Empowering the business through communication and process
The great work at Women Who Code is enabled by an incredible team of Directors around the globe who volunteer their time and 100% align with our mission statement and core objectives. A large component of my job was to help set these women up for success in their respective cities, and we decided what that success looked like together. It was about making their jobs as easy as possible. I was managing, at any given time, between 80 and 100 volunteer directors — that’s a lot to manage when you work for a global organization. I found though, that keeping communication lines open and checking in once a week with the team quickly catalyzed efforts and, all of a sudden, we were this global force. Managing people is both an art and a science, but when you get it right, it’s a beautiful thing. Time-consuming, but gratifying beyond belief.
Another key aspect of what I did was bring order to an organization that was growing extremely fast. At the speed of light actually. We wanted results and we wanted them yesterday. It was very chaotic at times, but I love putting order into chaos. Introducing processes and building a culture around those processes, looking back, is one of the things I’m most proud of. In the technology space, people go back and build stability into their code, chipping away at technical debt, so why not do the same with your people? Implementing structure builds stability into your DNA or culture. I think that’s another way I empowered the business and the people in it.
401(k) to empower the business
In the competitive job market today, there is a core set of things you have to have — health insurance, dental, vision, 401(k), among others — but these are the baseline. Everyone expects that in my opinion.
For Women Who Code, to continue to scale successfully meant we had to build our team at headquarters. So, when we went to hire a third person, we needed to be able to lay out their employment package and give them reassurance that they’re taken cared of. 401(k) was missing from the initial set of benefits, but it was a low-hanging fruit to add even for a non-profit on a budget. It gave us more credibility for recruiting and hiring.
When adding a benefit like this, with all of the other things you have to worry about as a small business, it was important for us to find a simple and easy solution, but one that was the right fit. I wanted the time-consuming pieces of a 401(k) plan, i.e., compliance and fiduciary responsibility taken care of so I could run the business for the CEO and keep things on time and on budget.
I felt our 401(k) benefit empowered our business and made our brand a lot stronger.
401(k) to empower the employees, too
I wanted to be able to take care of our people, and since I was actually the first employee in the organization, it was something I really wanted, too.
You’re already on a small team, your time is limited, and things are stressful. I couldn’t have my employees worrying about how they were going to save for retirement or cover health insurance costs, and benefits packages became more urgent for me as we looked to scale our team.
At the end of the day, if you take care of your people, they will do the same in return.