You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘women’ tag.

This editorial first appeared in the 2014 Holiday (Nov-Dec) issue of Vermont Woman.

by Linda Tarr-Whelan


Before my husband and I relocated to Burlington, Vermont a few years ago, I was deeply involved in national and international efforts to ensure that the experiences, skills and ideas of women do not go untapped. I have written and spoken globally about the benefits of balanced leadership, when a critical mass of women sits at power tables.

Internationally, the lesson that gender matters has been taken to heart. There is a growing movement to invest in empowering girls and women to increase growth and well-being. It is led by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, financial giants like Goldman Sachs with its 10,000 Women Initiative, governments across the globe (including our own), major foundations and many corporations.

As one example, the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles have now been adopted by almost 1,000 corporate CEOs who have personally endorsed the seven-point program to advance their companies by focusing on gender equality. In this country, investors – particularly large pension funds and sustainable investment mutual funds – are pressing the companies they invest in to join the effort. Extensive business research shows that gender equality is a smart bottom-line business strategy.

Local Surprises

So when we moved to Vermont, I expected that this state would be in the vanguard of efforts to promote economic development by making sure that all our home-grown talent has a chance to thrive. We were drawn to retire in Vermont for many reasons: the beauty everywhere, the great people, the local fresh food, the lively arts and college scene, and the state’s strong reputation as a progressive national leader. I’ve had a few surprises, and as a New Englander it wasn’t the long, cold winter.

What really set me back was reading the recent Enough Said report released by Vermont Works for Women. The study was based on focus groups and interviews with girls and young women from every corner of Vermont. It told a story of missed opportunities – for women and girls today, but also for Vermont’s future.

The statewide Task Force on Women and the Vermont Economy, which was formed to respond to the report, made solid recommendations for correcting the deficiencies that young women saw. Calling our report Change the Story, each member of the 29-person Task Force made an individual commitment to action, underscoring that moving the needle depends on all of us.

Here is what young women of Vermont stated that they needed to succeed—and felt was missing. First, career exploration and guidance was needed for them to move into non-traditional fields like STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). One student’s comment has stayed with me. She wondered how she could think about becoming an engineer or a mechanic if she had never used any tools.

In addition, the participants reported a deficit of personal finance skills to navigate the landscape of adult life including budgets, student loan debt and credit cards. And, last, the young women called for adult support to deal with rampant peer aggression and not push it under the rug as a teenage rite of passage. I asked our 16-year-old granddaughter who lives in Florida about peer aggression and she said, “Nana, that’s why most of my friends are boys, because there is no drama.”

Chilly Stat

I believe that the factors they identified are critical pivot points lying behind this cold statistic: Vermont women, across all ages and education levels, are more likely than men to live in poverty; they are a disproportionate share of our poor.

We know from the research why this is true. Recently, the Federal Reserve of Boston published an article that Tiffany Bluemle, executive director of Vermont Works for Women, and I co-wrote about investing in women and girls for economic growth in New England. Our article identified key reasons for this gender gap, such as limited assistance to help families balance family and work, including paid sick leave; minimum wages that have not kept up with inflation while two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women; and occupational segregation that clusters working women in just 20 percent of available careers.

I’ve been working with others on one aspect of changing the story to answer one important question raised by young Vermont women (also true for our young men): “How did I leave high school without understanding the basics around handling money?”

Champlain College’s Center on Financial Literacy has taken the lead on next steps to provide answers. Their national survey of 50 states last year gave Vermont a “D” on its financial literacy preparation for grades K-12.

Only seven of more than 60 high schools in the state require proficiency in personal finance for graduation. A committee of talented educators and experts is laying out a roadmap for the way forward, so stay tuned for the formal report which will be released by the end of this year.

Take Part

There are many ways for every woman to be part of the solution: to help and/or mentor girls and young women to have a better future and, at the same time, improve the potential for economic growth and stability in Vermont:

Check out the Vermont Works for Women website at to read the reports, sign up for peer aggression workshops, and learn practical ways to make a difference.

Parents and educators should ask school and supervisory union administrators what financial skills students will have when they graduate, and push for proficiency requirements.

Make sure the girls you know have a wide variety of career exposure experiences like the Women Can Do! annual conference, which last year drew 500 young women from across Vermont to meet with women in non-traditional careers.

For many years, the Ms. Foundation had a national “Take our Daughters to Work” campaign. Any business or community could make this real in Vermont and provide girls with a window into various options.

Make sure career nights at your school have lots of women role models—particularly in areas where women are under-represented—and that as many colleges and tech centers are present as possible.

Gender matters. Let’s work together for a healthy future for girls and young women and improve Vermont’s economy at the same time.


Linda Tarr-Whelan is the author of Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World and is the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and Chair of the Task Force on Young Women and the Vermont Economy.

This editorial first appeared in Vermont Woman, April/May 2012 (Vol. 8 No. 5/6 ).

Loretta Preska, a Bush-appointed federal judge, will have a special place in hell. I speak of the place that former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reserved for a woman who didn’t help other women.

Justice Preska in late 2011 ruled against “family work-life balance” in a class action suit against Bloomberg, L.P., the financial media giant owned by New York’s mayor. Nevermind plaintiffs weren’t asking for that; they just wanted fair pay for equal work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  had found discrimination as pure and simple as Lilly Ledbetter’s case against Goodrich in 2007. Oh, but come to think of it,  Lilly lost her sex discrimination case, too, thanks to other Bush appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs at Bloomberg deposed lots of evidence. The EEOC documented how Michael Bloomberg compared maternity leave to giving guys time off to practice their golf swing. When told by a female employee that she was pregnant, Bloomberg told her what to do: “Kill it,” he said. His Human Resources manager openly remarked that a mother’s place was at home, while another manager accused women, who took maternity leave and then chose not to come back, of stealing from Bloomberg’s wallet. “They ought to be arrested,” he exclaimed, while still another asked rhetorically, “Who would want to work in an office full of women?”

The charming details of women’s work life at Bloomberg didn’t get the same media play as Sandra Fluke’s treatment,  possibly because Justice Preska set aside the devil in those details—and don’t forget that in this case the devil owned a huge media company.

Instead Preska reframed the Bloomberg case in a way that reminds me of how women’s access to birth control through Obamacare somehow got recast as Catholic bishops’ freedom of conscience and the rights of individual conscience to reject government mandates like—you guessed it—Obamacare.  Perhaps those who feel strongly enough should have to the right to abstain from purchasing auto insurance to drive, too. Did Jesus ever buy insurance?  If the Occupy movement were arguing this stuff, Fox News would be screaming anarchy.

Reframing Bias

Judge Preska, like a Dr. Frankenstein, had to resuscitate a dead court rule to accomplish her ruling. A decade ago, discrimination lawsuits were stymied because of no suitable “comparator” to mothers—namely a pregnant man. Over time, courts sensibly gave up their search for a comparator in these cases, instead allowing plaintiffs to prove discrimination by introducing evidence of stereotyping—say, like comments about moms belonging at home.

But Preska not only insisted on comparator evidence as the basis of the case, but rejected the obvious comparison between those who took maternity leave and those who did not. Instead, she compared the women plaintiffs’ salary growth to that of other employees who took similarly long leaves; and voila! Compared to men who were seriously ill or disabled, the salary disparity found by the EEOC disappeared.

“The law does not mandate ‘work-life balance,’” Judge Preska wrote, and you can almost hear her self-righteousness lecturing us:  “It does not require companies to ignore employees’ work-family tradeoffs—and they are tradeoffs—when deciding about employee pay and promotions.”  In other words, because Bloomberg’s male employees hardly ever “decided” to get pregnant, it’s only natural they were paid more. See?

Joan Williams, in a blog on Moms-Rising, wrote about Preska’s abandonment of anti-discrimination law rooted in the 1970s, saying it’s “a really, really devastating setback for women. It’s open season on mothers….Studies show what dooms women economically in the United States is not being a woman—it’s being a mother.”

The latest such study appeared in  The Hastings Law Journal.  “The Motherhood Penalty” (Correll, Benard and Paik) opens this way: “If you give people identical resumes, one a mother and the other not, the mother is 79 percent less likely to be hired, 100 percent less likely to be promoted, offered an average of $11,000 less in salary, and held to higher performance and punctuality standards.”

An old mother like me says, Now you tell me! We should legally contest discrimination like that.  But I also argue for actively creating a wiser family-work balance, and Preska be damned. For that we need new laws to set policy for a saner, happier and reproductively sustainable world. For that we need a far more far-sighted vision of the world our progeny will inherit. That old vision the guys at Bloomberg want to carry to full term?  Kill it.

This issue of Vermont Woman is as full of pregnant and formerly pregnant women as the world is. There are women business owners with young children, women helping other women give birth, history-making moms at the statehouse and grandmothers passing the bar exam. Without women willing to be mothers, our economy would collapse. Not having a dependable supply of young, healthy, well-socialized workers would be bad for Mr. Bloomberg on Wall Street, and worse for our communities on Main Street.  It isn’t enough to demand American women pay for their own pills and aspirins. Mothers—and dads—both at home and at work—should expect something better of the economy in return.

Meanwhile population growth outstrips the world’s natural resources. You’d never know that to listen to U.S. political theater and mainstream media chatter this season. Nor do you hear of the penalty mothers suffer economically, whatever their decisions.

Read more

The great feminist Andrea Dworkin put it this way in 1981. “Money speaks,” she said, “but it speaks in a male voice.” We know this better than ever since 2008. As the financial fog begins to lift on the fraud and gobbledygook of economic Wall Street and Washington, it feels a little like walking in uninvited on a jack-ass frat party. Eeee-ooooh. You actually do that?! How can anyone be so stupid??!!

Feminists aren’t the only ones to notice how male-dominated this crisis has been. Ken Hirschhorn, a trader at Long-Term Capital Management, a prominent hedge fund whose collapse in 2000 foreshadowed 2008’s melt-down, told Sheelah Kolhatkar of New York Magazine, “I don’t think greed is gender specific. But if you ask me whether Long-Term Capital Management would have blown up if there were more women involved in the decision-making process? A woman might have said, ‘Let’s not assume we’ll never be wrong.’ ”

Kolhatkar also talked to Joe Herbert, a neuroscientist who studies finance at Cambridge University. He said, “The banking crisis was caused by doing what no society ever allows, permitting young males to behave in an unregulated way. Anyone who studied neurobiology would have predicted disaster.”

The question is what to do about the reeking mess left behind. How do we prevent another monetary jack-ass crisis? Growing numbers of critics agree we cannot continue to do more of the same. But how can women make a difference?


Financial headlines in September sounded an alarm about the small ranks of women in high places shrinking even further. When Sallie Krawcheck, CFO at Bank of America, left without explanation, Nathaniel Hopper at The Los Angeles Times, wrote: “Krawcheck joins a string of other top female bankers to leave the upper echelons of financial companies in recent years. Other notable exits include Heidi Miller, who in June stepped down as one of two women serving on JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s operating committee…Citigroup Inc.’s Terri Dial last year stepped down as head of the company’s consumer banking operations; former Morgan Stanley co-President Zoe Cruz resigned from the investment bank in 2007; and Lehman Brothers Chief Financial Officer Erin Callan was pushed out just before the firm collapsed.” In another corporate story in September, New Yahoo CEO, the respected and outspoken Carol Bartz, got an unprecedented surprise, fired by her board on the phone. Bartz responded to reporters with rare candor: “These people f***ed me over,” she said.

Nor do Washington women fare better. In a late-September interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, author of Confidence Men, Ron Suskind of The Washington Post, reported a “hostile environment for women” in Obama’s White House and “not just on economic matters.” Christina Romer, who stepped down as chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors in August of 2010, told Suskind there were alternative views (like hers), not listened to. Elizabeth Warren, head of FDIC who expected to be placed at the head of the new consumer protection agency she designed, instead got run out of town. She’s now running for the Senate from Massachusetts.


Overly influenced by a testosterone-ruled Wall Street, Washington appears too polarized to work and too moneyed to represent most women. Last year’s Supreme Court “United Citizens” ruling monetized speech in our political process; that’s as good an explanation as any for Occupy Wall Street’s move to give the 99 percent a voice. It is hard to discover how many women number among the protestors, but clearly many are reaching for change. (See Occupy sidebar.)


While protests happen, real economic solutions for preventing another crisis are being offered by two unlikely women, neither of them economists: lawyer Ellen Brown of California and city planner Gwendolyn Hallsmith of Montpelier, Vermont. Both women propose creative and local solutions, which are exactly the kind of economics that women can most easily access. Their ideas promise a common meeting place closer to home, and big economic changes that could provide greater security and a role for revitalizing state democracies.

To introduce Brown and Hallsmith’s ideas, it’s important to understand that both women critique our current method of creating money. You may not have realized it, but none of the world’s governments now directly issues its own currency—including our U.S. dollars. Instead, a global system of central banks (like our privately owned Federal Reserve) trade in government bonds with global investment banks. (For more on this, see the September/October issue of Vermont Woman for “Dollars on the Make,” or

Government bonds create loans to our nation’s Treasury. The Treasury then authorizes the issue of Federal Reserve notes, essentially IOUs, or the dollars in your wallet. Banks also create dollars when they loan to businesses, mortgagees, states or municipalities. Dollars are created by banks and backed by the Fed – but only through debt.

The Fed would argue this is a good thing. They call it “the multiplier effect.” A bank need only hold cash (or Federal Reserve deposits) equal to about 10 percent of its total customer deposits; the rest can be loaned. Thus, each dollar soon becomes $9. However, as Charles Eisenstein recently wrote in Reality Sandwich, “[I]n the last decade various kinds of non-bank lending have skirted the margin reserve requirement through the alphabet soup of financial instruments you’ve been hearing about in the news. The result is that each dollar of original equity has been leveraged not to nine times its original value, as in traditional banking, but to 70 times or even more.”

Both Brown and Hallsmith argue this financial gaming has little to do with the real economy where you and I live. Money based on leveraged air creates a currency and financial debt-products, essentially a pile of IOUs. Everyone must pay the principal and somehow find added interest. This demands the economy constantly grow until it collapses. Periodic crashes are inevitable with this kind of scheme. Numbers grow exponentially without limit, yet the planet and human beings cannot. As Hallsmith said to me recently, “The trouble with this system is that it requires some people to lose.”


Ellen Brown had written a number of books about health before she wrote about our money system. Confronting a corporate healthcare industry seeking profits introduced her to economic realities here in the U.S. “There can’t be anything more inefficient,” she said in a recent interview. “You’re going to private hospitals, private doctors, using profit-seeking drug corporations, and they all have a vested interest in sickness.”

Brown’s most recent book, Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth about our Money System and How We Can Break Free,makes money an understandable subject. Her protagonist is a young girl we all know, Dorothy from Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. Brown’s illustrations from Oz help to make monetary history and theory both readable and inspiring.

While Brown knows the history of the Federal Reserve System’s behind-closed-doors secrecy, and while she outlines long-term reforms, she is after efficiency. She envisions a more immediate way to circumvent debt. In 2011, she founded the Public Banking Institute. Its goal is to persuade states to better utilize the existing banking system for the public good.

During her research, Brown had discovered a surprising exception to the rule of Wall Street. The nation has only one state-owned bank, the Bank of North Dakota (BND), founded in 1919, about the time when the Wizard of Oz and monetary issues were both popular. BND’s existence has made all the difference to North Dakotans.

What difference exactly? The only state in the union to maintain a continuous budget surplus since the 2008 Wall Street crisis is North Dakota. While other states like Minnesota and California suffer near-bankrupt crises, and 48 states, including Vermont, suffer shortfalls, profits from BND have contributed more than $300 million to North Dakota’s state coffers during the past ten years. That’s a sizeable amount for a state with only 25,000 more people than Vermont.

Brown reported recently in The Huffington Post, “[North Dakota’s] balance sheet is so strong that it recently reduced individual income taxes and property taxes by a combined $400 million and is debating further cuts. It also has the lowest unemployment rate, lowest foreclosure rate and lowest credit card default rate in the country, and it hasn’t had a bank failure in at least the last decade.” North Dakota does produce oil, but she says a study done by the Center for State Innovation, from 2007 to 2009, revealed the BND added nearly as much money to the state’s general fund as oil and gas tax revenues did.

Brown says, “North Dakota is a conservative red state, not the sort you would expect to be engaging in government enterprise. But the conservative justification for a state-owned bank is that it preserves state sovereignty, allowing the state to be independent of Wall Street and the Feds. The BND is not a business competitor of the local banks but partners with them, helping with capital and liquidity requirements. It participates in loans, provides guarantees, and acts as a sort of mini-Fed for the state.”

Not only does the BND return its profits to the state’s general fund, it helps to build the state’s tax base by funding local businesses and the infrastructure that attracts and supports them. Brown explains. “Among other resources, it has a loan program called Flex PACE that allows a local community to provide assistance to borrowers in areas of jobs retention, technology creation, retail, small business, and essential community services. The BND also furnishes a credit line to the state itself, one that is effectively interest-free, since the state owns the bank.”

Typically, credit lines get extended in times of emergency or whenever state department budgets or municipalities face unforeseen circumstances. Vermont’s recent budget deficit and the flooding due to Hurricane Irene would be good examples. Having a credit line to the state’s own bank allows state and local governments to avoid exorbitant rates on Wall Street and answers pressures to privatize or reduce services in order to avoid downgrades from rating agencies.


Brown’s vision is to help establish a network of state and local publicly owned banks, which can create affordable credit and provide a sustainable alternative to the current high-risk centralized private banking system on Wall Street. Such a network, she says, would act in the public interest to stabilize credit crises like our current one. It would also resist asset devaluations, build infrastructure, and fund expansion of critical industrial-productivity capacity – most importantly, education and local jobs, which could be adopted as bank mandates.

Her most recent research examines a network of state and municipal public banks in Germany. These were created in the shadow of post-World War II economic devastation and are credited with helping Germany make its remarkable recovery. In 2010, while the rest of Europe staggered, Germany reported a 3.6 percent increase in its economic growth. Its exports led the world until 2009, when China (population 1.3 billion) narrowly overtook Germany (population 82 million.) How was Germany able to do this?

Brown writes, “One overlooked key to the country’s economic dynamism is its strong public banking system, which focuses on serving the public interest rather than on maximizing private profits. After the Second World War, it was the publicly owned Landesbanks that helped family-run provincial companies get a foothold in world markets.” Municipal banks administered by state banks are all part of this system.

Thanks to growing interest in public banking, Brown’s own state of California just passed a bill to study the feasibility of a state-owned bank like North Dakota’s. California’s economy is the largest in the nation and surpasses all but eight countries. A California State Bank in the public interest would have huge influence nationally. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, preferring to use the existing legislative committees on banking, rather than establish another “blue ribbon” commission. About this Brown says, “I think it’s a good thing. Commissions are where ideas go to die. We don’t need a study, we need a public bank.”

Fourteen other states have submitted bills to create banks similar to North Dakota’s, and Brown monitors them all. You can learn more about public banking and legislative developments, and imagine its potential for the people of Vermont, at

Gwendolyn Hallsmith


Gwendolyn Hallsmith of Montpelier has worked on environmental and sustainability issues for more than 20 years. Working with citizen-action groups and Greenpeace, she began to realize protesting wasn’t enough. “We had to have a concrete, alternative way to do things,” she said to me recently. Her books, The Key to Sustainable Cities: Meeting Human Needs, Transforming Community Systems and the workbook Taking Action for Sustainability, draw on substantial local and international work experience. At their core is the idea that systems can either integrate or disintegrate communities unaware of their power.

Hallsmith had long struggled to understand economics in her sustainability work. She came to see it as a global system only recently, while living and working overseas. “I actually lived through the currency crash in Kazakhstan,” she says. “I was still getting paid in U.S. dollars, so it didn’t have the same effect on me as it had on my neighbors. We were working closely in neighborhoods and the woman next door saw her pension – which had been enough to cover her rent and her heat and her food – become enough for a loaf of bread. It was devastating.”

Hallsmith’s most recent book, Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies, tackles economics more directly. She met her co-author for this work, the Belgian economist who helped create the Euro, Bernard Lietaer, when organizing a national sustainability conference. Lietaer objected to an imposition of a 20-minute time-limit on his talk; it would take him much longer to explain why our monetary system cannot help but undermine sustainability. Hallsmith later asked if he would explain it to her. “He paused, and I could hear him sigh,” she recalls with a laugh. Then he proposed she commit to monthly hour-long phone conversations for at least six months. She agreed.

Lietaer recently told me he believes women will be key actors in redesigning a more livable economy. “Right now the economic structure is hypermasculine,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it has to remain that way. Women can change it.”

It was during those mentoring sessions with Lietaer that Gwen learned about money creation. “Debt-money” is their name for the dollars we take for granted as national currency. In their book, Hallsmith and Lietaer propose several currencies that could work in partnership with dollars, depending on a community’s needs. Wealth, they explain, can be created locally by developing and supporting real resources, such as small business systems, energy systems and food systems in communities, by setting up asset exchanges, electronically tracked.

One currency they discussed at a recent presentation at Montpelier’s City Hall is called a Commercial Credit Circuit, or “C3.” It confronts small business owners’ most pressing problem, cash flow. Small businesses invest in products or services, yet when a sale occurs, payment from a vendor may not come for 90 days. C3s utilize invoices, insured and tracked by a bank, as cash. The invoices can be converted to dollars whenever needed, but a supply chain paid by this currency need not wait for payment. This creates money without debt, rewarding small business initiatives. Uruguay and Brazil are already successfully using C3s; recently Uruguay even moved to accept C3s as payment of taxes.

Another business currency they discuss is the 75-year-old Swiss WIR, which means “we” in German. The WIR enables businesses to freely exchange goods and services, helping each other to thrive, instead of only competing. In 2008, the value of WIR trades among its 65,000 members amounted to $1.58 billion.


Creating Wealth is not an easy read from cover to cover, but its ideas can be sampled depending on your interests. Each area seems well supported by real community endeavors put into practice by Hallsmith and others. This isn’t so much economic theory as application in action. The authors discuss food currencies to support local food production and farmers, an arts currency to underwrite creative endeavors and even an educational exchange that enables young students to gain money for college tuition through tutoring younger students.

Hallsmith’s work in Montpelier has already helped to create two time banks—dollar-free exchange systems in which services are measured according to the time they take to render. The Onion River Exchange in Washington County ( has more than 400 participants who have traded 6,000 hours of service in 75 different categories. Coordinator Allison Underhill said she couldn’t easily translate those hours into dollar amounts because the services range so widely, from legal advice to sewing, from house-painting to childcare.

The other time bank is more specific: the REACH Care Bank (, administered by the Coalition of Vermont Elders (COVE), allows for the exchange of eldercare services. Hallsmith, whose father is an enthusiastic new member, points out that time currencies supply difficult-to-value human connections that people need to be healthy and happy. One member’s testimonial reads, “I gained not just the hours I banked, but I also met two wonderful people.”

The underlying philosophy here counts people as assets and assumes everyone has something to offer. It redefines caring work as beyond price and still values reciprocity. Hallsmith has succeeded by valuing networks and helping others to understand systems.

Most recently she has put together a monetary policy group for Vermont intended to develop concrete recommendations for Governor Shumlin and the legislature. The committee, which includes a legislator and well-known business leaders, will explore state banking in the public interest; complementary currencies that Vermont communities might be wise to develop; the possibility of moving deposits to local Vermont banks; and financial innovations successfully used in other strapped states. Monetary reform of the Federal Reserve is another of the committee’s concerns.

Hallsmith takes the crisis in our monetary system seriously. While she values a diversity of approaches, she also works with a sharp sense of humor: “I’ve got a set of metaphors that describes different monetary strategies: Moving your money from Wall Street to a local credit union is a little like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic. Public banking is a way of cashing in on a portion of the Titantic’s ticket-sales, but creating local Vermont currencies? That’s like making ourselves life-rafts.”

First published by Vermont Woman, Nov-Dec 2011



Public Banking Institute

Bank of North Dakota

Germany’s Public Banking

Reach Care Bank, Montpelier

Onion River Exchange, Montpelier

Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies