Five Questions with Jacki Zehner, Co-Founder of ShePlace/SheMoney

April 17, 2024
  • Private Banking
Executive Director of the Center for Women & Wealth Adrienne Penta sits down with Jacki Zehner, founder of SheMoney, to talk about the lessons she has learned from Gloria Steinem and how they have inspired her life and work. May they inspire you as well!

On March 25th, 2024, Gloria Steinem celebrated her 90th birthday. Jacki Zehner, a pioneering figure in finance known for her trailblazing achievements as the youngest woman and first female trader to attain partnership at Goldman Sachs, reflects on her profound 25-year relationship with the iconic champion of women's rights. Jacki shares how Gloria's unwavering dedication and advocacy inspired her own journey toward becoming a financial feminist.

1. When did you first meet Gloria Steinem? 

I first met Gloria in early 1999. This moment is etched into my brain like it happened yesterday. At the time, I was a partner at Goldman Sachs and had recently joined the board of a non-profit organization called The National Council for Research on Women (NCRW). For many years, I had been very involved with Goldman’s efforts to attract, retain, and promote more women. NCRW had an annual gala, and that year I was selected to receive an award in acknowledgement of my efforts to advance women in the corporate sector. Needless to say, I was beyond honored to discover that none other than Gloria Steinem herself would be presenting me with this award.

When the night of the gala arrived, I showed up fully pregnant with my daughter Allie, who would be born about a month later. I was standing offstage while Gloria gave the kindest, most generous, and deeply personal introduction, and I remember being so touched by her thoughtfulness. There is a beautiful quote by Maya Angelou that comes to mind when reflecting on this memory: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

That night, Gloria Steinem made me feel powerful. She encouraged me to continue to leverage my corporate role to create more opportunities for women, and more importantly, to use my money with that same intention. Money + Feminism. BAM!

2. You shared that Gloria was a catalyst for you choosing to leave Goldman Sachs at the peak of your career. Tell us more. 

Two years after our first meeting, my role in the firm had evolved into a senior leadership position in human capital management where my focus was very centered on women’s careers. I was having one of those days where I was questioning whether or not I was making a difference. I called a friend, a fellow Goldman partner, and asked if I could come over to talk as I was thinking about quitting. She said I could come over, but we had to talk after her dinner party – which Gloria Steinem and her husband were attending. I don’t think I had seen Gloria since the event in 1999, so I excitedly accepted the invitation to join them for dinner.

It was there that I learned that Gloria is one of the world’s foremost experts on the character of Wonder Woman. In fact, the first issue of Ms. Magazine in 1972 had Wonder Woman on the cover. My head almost exploded at this revelation, as I was, and still am, a massive Wonder Woman fan and collector. Not only that, but one of the reasons I was considering leaving Goldman was because I had an idea for a Wonder Woman screenplay that I wanted to pursue.

Over dinner we spoke about Wonder Women, the Gnostic Gospels, and so many other topics, and it was magical. After dinner, I had time to talk alone with my friend, and I felt that the whole chance encounter was a sign that I should just trust the universe and take a leap. I resigned from Goldman soon thereafter.  

3. So, did you write the Wonder Woman screenplay? When did you see Gloria next?

The movie is a long story, but the short answer is no. I pursued the screenplay idea for a while, and even went so far as to set up a film production company in this pursuit. What is wild is that a big part of the narrative I envisioned was how the character of Wonder Woman would teach other women to step into their own unique superpowers. In many ways, it was a foreshadowing of what would come next for me.

However, I did write (with help) a 70-page paper called “Why No Wonder Woman?” and used it to start a campaign to get a Wonder Woman movie made. This was in 2013, after several attempts by Hollywood to get the character back on screen had gone nowhere. The first Wonder Woman film was still years away, but when that release finally happened in 2017, I managed to get myself invited to the premiere in Los Angeles and had a picture taken with Gal Gadot. 

As for Gloria, I encountered her quite a few times over the next seven years. After leaving Goldman, I joined the board of many women-focused non-profits, and I attended many fundraising events for organizations like the Ms. Foundation and The Women’s Media Center. Gloria was everywhere those days (and still is!), showing up to lend her support.

This is one of the biggest lessons I have taken from Gloria over the years: You have to show up!

4. In 2009, you joined the Women Moving Millions (WMM) Campaign, and later went on to be named a co-founder of the organization. Tell us more about that.

I was one of the approximately 100 women who were part of the first WMM campaign, which meant I made a public commitment to give a million dollars to women-focused organizations. That campaign ended in 2009, but a small group of us worked with WMM Founder Helen LaKelly Hunt to take it from campaign to community. Gloria was a constant source of encouragement and support to us during this time.

I recently found a letter she wrote called “The Top Ten Reasons Why the World Needs Women Moving Millions.” The number one point she wrote was this: “You are the community of women with the possibility of challenging, naming, shaming, and otherwise putting a real dent in the masculinization of wealth. Unless we end it, we can never end the feminization of poverty. That is the basis of everything.” Again, BAM!

I dedicated almost 10 years of my life to building Women Moving Millions, and it felt like I was participating in a real-life narrative of my own Wonder Woman screenplay. WMM’s efforts were primarily centered around inviting high-net-worth women to step into their power, specifically their financial power, and align it with feminist values.

I know the word feminism is not embraced by a lot of women, and personally, that is heartbreaking. But that is why I think it’s time that we, in particular all women, reclaim it. I went to Uplevyl, a new AI tool built by women for women, and asked for its definition of feminism:

According to Uplevyl, “Feminism, a term particularly significant for us women, can be defined as a social, political, and economic movement that strives for the equal rights of women. It's an ideology that believes in the social, political, and economic equality of all genders, and aims to address, challenge, and eradicate societal norms and laws that discriminate against women based on their gender.

“Feminism works towards achieving equal opportunities and rights for women in various areas such as education, employment, and politics. Remember, feminism is not about women being superior to men, it is about achieving equality and fairness. It empowers us women to challenge the status quo, to push the boundaries, and to strive for greater accomplishments.”

In honor of my years of dedication to WMM, I was named Co-Founder of Women Moving Millions, Inc., alongside Helen LaKelly Hunt. Our mission under my leadership was to “catalyze unprecedented resources for the advancement of women and girls.” There were many times during my tenure when we visited Gloria in her home asking for advice, and she repeatedly showed up to speak to our members. That is another lesson I have learned from Gloria: Always be generous with my social capital. 

Money is a means, a resource, a tool, that when aligned with our values, finds its greatest purpose. For me, as a woman, that purpose is to end gender-based inequities and to help all of us thrive. That is financial feminism.

5. In 2018, you retired from Women Moving Millions and started your new company SheMoney. Is there a Gloria connection here too?

Post-WMM, I took some time to really think about what I wanted to do next. I was still serving on a lot of boards, including the Sundance Institute. I mention this because Gloria and I continued to connect around film, in particular in January 2020 when the feature narrative film, The Glorias, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It was such an honor to be at the very first screening of a film all about my friend and mentor. She stayed at our home during the festival, and one of my favorite memories of her will always be Gloria sitting at my kitchen table, in her red pajamas, drinking tea, and talking to my kids. With Gloria there is no pretense of superiority. None. Ever. Which is another lesson she has taught me: Always remain humble and know that you have something to learn from everyone.

One of my favorite quotes from Gloria is “may we be linked and not ranked,” which to me means that no one person is more important than another.  I also had the opportunity to travel to Africa with her in 2016 as part of a small group of mainly moms and our kids. Gloria was in her mid-80s, and I had a hard time keeping up with her! Another lesson from Gloria. Stay in shape and keep traveling!

In 2010, I had moved from the northeast to Utah, and after eight years of frequent travel as a spokesperson for gender-lens philanthropy, I had started to get a bit worn down. Therefore, post-WMM, I wanted to focus my work activities in Utah. I had learned so much from leading WMM, and I wanted to take all those learnings and make it bigger. 

I have always been an investor, but by the time I left WMM, I had become much more intentional around employing a gender lens in my investments, especially as it related to investing in women founders and women-led funds. Additionally, since 2008, I was regularly writing on money related topics, and in 2020, I focused these efforts into a monthly newsletter on LinkedIn called SheMoney. I started getting so many requests to create a more robust platform aimed at supporting women on their journey to full financial agency and wellness that I finally decided to go for it. I have a fantastic business partner, Madison Limansky, and we are only 18 months into this new venture.

On June 6th and 7th this year, we will be hosting our first SheMoney Summit in Salt Lake City, and this will be an event like no other in the women and money space.

SheMoney Summit
June 6th – 7th, 2024 | Salt Lake City, UT

The inaugural SheMoney summit will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah from June 6th to 7th, 2024. There will be short talks on money related topics that will also live online after the Summit thanks to a partnership with Comcast. We will have money experiences, a green and gold themed pop-up store, financial wellness workshops, and my favorite part, a full out dance party with a SheMoney playlist. We are putting the fun into finance!

We’ve already hit five questions, but any final thoughts?

It was as I stood in the atrium of the Ford Foundation on March 25th at her 90th birthday party that it fully landed on me what a constant source of both inspiration and direction Gloria has been in my life. It was 25 years ago when we first took the stage together; me, a money gal, and her, a feminist icon. Money is a means, a resource, a tool, that when aligned with our values, finds its greatest purpose. For me, as a woman, that purpose is to end gender-based inequities and to help all of us thrive. That is financial feminism. Would my life have unfolded the way it did without that first meeting and all the ones that followed? I think not. 

Gloria's Foundation, named in celebration of Gloria Steinem's lifelong work as an activist and organizer, has been recently established with the primary goal of supporting and nurturing the feminist movement. Please visit the website for more information on the foundation and how to support it.

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