No Loans, No Credit, No Funding: Why More Women Aren’t Millionaires

Rachel Rodgers, the author of “We Should All Be Millionaires,” blames systemic sexism and racism — and internalized beliefs — for holding women back.

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“I wanted to write a book for people who grew up on my block.”

— Rachel Rodgers, the author of “We Should All Be Millionaires”

Many self-help books in the so-called women’s empowerment category focus on fixes without acknowledging the societal barriers at play.

Rachel Rodgers is out to change that.

Her new book, “We Should All Be Millionaires,” focuses on earning more, building wealth and gaining economic power especially among those who have traditionally been left out of the high-income world like women of color, queer women and disabled women.

Eighty-five percent of the world’s millionaires are men, according to GlobalData. The racial wealth gap is also significant: One in seven white families in the U.S. have a net worth of $1 million or more, but only one in 50 Black families do.

More non-white, non-male people should be earning seven figures, Ms. Rodgers writes in the book. But between systemic racism and sexism and the internalized limiting beliefs many women of color have from operating within those systems, most struggle to get there. It starts in the workplace, where Black women make 62 cents for every dollar earned by a white man doing the same work. Even as they become more educated, Black women with an undergraduate or even advanced degrees face a 35 percent gap in earnings compared with white men, according to LeanIn.org.

Ms. Rodgers’s aim is to acknowledge the unequal systems at play and, without “shaming” women, get them to dream bigger and figure out an action plan.

She talked to In Her Words just a few days a head of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, about how most financial advice excludes people of color, how making more money requires women to first tap into their desires and how she reimagines capitalism so that it benefits more than a handful.

Our conversation has been condensed and lightly edited.

You’re a business lawyer by background. How did the idea of helping women become millionaires come about?

I grew up as a low-income person in a mostly Black neighborhood in Flushing, Queens. I saw my parents struggle with money, a lot. I wanted to not have financial issues when I got older, and I also wanted to solve those issues for my parents, which I think happens a lot, especially with people of color.

I started my business in 2010 with a $300 investment, which was everything in my savings account. Eleven years later, it is a $10 million business. I wasn’t broke by choice, I had to really figure it out.

I wanted to write a book for people who grew up on my block.

Your book offers advice on building wealth for people who have been left behind by the system …

The advice most get-rich books often share would not work for Black women or people of color. They say “invest in real estate.” But that isn’t something that I have access to — no bank is giving me any kind of money! I can barely get a credit card. It’s so unrealistic. We can’t just go get a loan, we can’t just ask an uncle and raise our “friends and family” round or go get V.C. money. [So far in 2021, Black women have received 0.34 percent of all venture capital funding in the U.S.]

What else holds back women of color from making money?

First, sexism and racism. Second, internalizing that sexism and racism. Part of why that happens is because it’s reinforced everywhere we look. It’s in marketing emails, Instagram feeds, commercials. It’s in movies. We’re told success and wealth are not for women of color.

Who’s this book for?

I dedicated the book to my sister, who I think is a good representative of a lot of women. She’s a mom of two and she’s divorced. She has a full-time job where she’s a people manager. She also has a side hustle as a realtor, where she’s generating extra capital for herself. I think that’s true for so many women these days. We need to see ourselves as entrepreneurs, no matter what. We have a set of skills for sale and we can sell it to one company or we can sell it to multiple companies or multiple individuals.

Is that the million dollar value you talk about in the book?

Yes. The million dollar value is being crystal clear on answers to questions like: How am I adding value to this company? Be so clear about how you add value whether you’re in a corporate career or as an entrepreneur, so that you can charge accordingly. Then you’re back in your power instead of waiting for someone else to promote you.

You talk in your book about the “million dollar squad.” What is that?

Decades-old research finds that successful people are surrounded by other successful people. They have a powerful network. But you’re not likely to have a powerful network if you grew up in a poor neighborhood, like I did. I had to really create my network. And for that, we need to look to each other.

What’s your take on the narrative that women make poor financial decisions?

There’s this idea that women should cut out coupons and skip the lattes to build wealth. But I don’t believe in shaming people for wanting pleasure. Pleasure is something that we all deserve. I am about balance, I save and I invest. We need to change the narrative: Men invest, take risks and buy the suit, the watch, the yacht, the car to express their power. Women are called frivolous and are told to stop spending money on lipsticks and shoes.

How should women get started on building wealth?

Ask yourself what is it I actually want. Then do the math on what it costs to get there. I wanted a bigger house with a backyard for my kids. I also wanted to support my mother. I wanted to send my kids to extracurricular activities. Take vacations. Get a new car. I did the math on that, and I realized I needed to make three times what I was making. It took me two or three years from when I imagined that to when I had all of the things on that list.

What’s driving you right now?

Eighty percent of women entrepreneurs never make more than $50,000 in total annual revenue. That is enraging. I was making six figures in my law practice and I did not feel like I’d “arrived.” So many women of color support family members, and have childcare costs. To me, $100,000 is not enough.

If I could do it with the very limited resources that I had, every other woman of color can do it too. And for those who truly can’t, the rest of us need to do it so we can create opportunities for her.

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