Meet the Utah ‘financial feminist’ on a mission to change the state’s statistics around women

Jacki Zehner, once a partner at Goldman Sachs, is behind ShePlace, a network of women businesses.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) From left, Jacki Zehner, the founder of ShePlace and SheMoney and Madison Limansky, the chief operating officer, Oct. 13, 2022.

Outside the Park City office of ShePlace — a Utah-based network consisting of women from diverse industries and backgrounds — there’s a poster: Four doodles of women dressed as superheroes, their capes representing paper money from different currencies, under the group’s tagline, “It’s time for women+ to flourish.”

Inside the office — located in Kiln Park City, a shared office space full of kitchy decor and overflowing potted plants — the superwoman theme continues.

Jacki Zehner, the founder of ShePlace and its adjacent SheMoney, has Wonder Woman memorabilia all over. That includes a framed copy of the first issue of Ms. Magazine — the first national feminist magazine — on one wall, with the comic-book Amazon on the cover.

Alongside it is a photo of the magazine’s co-founder, Gloria Steinem, posing with Zehner. They’re accompanied by prints of other powerful women: Joan of Arc, Emma Smith and Harriet Tubman.

Across the room, an empowering collection of feminist literature, spines emblazoned with such titles as “Dare to Lead,” “Bad Feminist” and “The Feminist Agenda.” The whole bottom shelf contains books about money, all written by women.

“You could say the bookshelves of ShePlace are full of financial acts and feminist propaganda,” Zehner joked as she pulled some titles off the shelves to talk about. She’s effusive when she speaks about them, bright-eyed in a money green blazer.

Zehner describes herself as a “financial feminist,” with three decades of experience in the finance field. When she worked at Goldman Sachs, she became the youngest woman and first female trader to make partner — before leaving the company in 2002.

“It makes me nuts how feminism has become a four-letter ‘F’ word,” Zehner said. That’s why, she said, she wants to bring financial feminism to Utah. It’s a new term, one she defined as “owning your own financial agency.”

“It’s thinking about money as a tool in your life to advance your agency, to advance women’s more full and equal participation in our society,” Zehner said.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jacki Zehner, the founder of ShePlace and its adjacent SheMoney, cherishes her Wonder Woman memorabilia, Oct. 13, 2022, including a framed copy of the first issue of Ms. Magazine Ñ the first national feminist magazine Ñ and a photo of the magazineÕs co-founder, Gloria Steinem, posing with Zehner.

Feminism via finance

For Zehner, finance is a new frontier of feminism.

It’s also one of the foundational ideas behind her new ventures, along with a lifelong passion for women’s leadership and inclusion. The community aspect of that passion is something she wanted to carry over from her Utah Wonder Woman project, another networking community.

When the COVID-19 pandemic came around, Zehner says it forced her to pay attention to the statistics of what women face in Utah — and how she found them “completely unacceptable.”

After 12 years of living in Park City, Zehner was exposed to the work of Dr. Susan Madsen, from Utah State University’s Huntsman Business School, to look at data from the Utah Women & Leadership Project, which Madsen started when she was at Utah Valley University. That’s when Zehner learned there’s no lack of networks and organizations for women — 180 in total that have been tracked.

So, to set her new venture apart, Zehner started asking community members at networking events: What matters to them? And what is missing?

ShePlace and SheMoney are run by a team whose members all identify as women. (The groups use “women+” in their marketing, meaning they encompass cis and transgender women, and nonbinary and gender-fluid people.) ShePlace is what Zehner and Madison Limansky, the chief operating officer, call a “container” for connection and programming for women.

At present, ShePlace amounts to a networking platform via MightyNetworks — also women-owned — and is for those interested in building “social capital,” which Limansky defined as “meaningful relationships to further your career, personal life or sense of identity.”

The network boasts some 700 members, coming from 26 states and 12 countries. Of the current membership, 70% are based in Utah. It’s not an e-commerce site that pushes the members’ products or services, but more about “organic and economic connectedness” among “women and queer folks,” Limansky said.

“We’re really approaching financial feminism with an intersectional lens because we know feminism is not feminism unless it’s intersectional,” Limanksy said. (’Spend’ a business guide which is a part of SheMoney has committed to have half of its businesses be owned by woman of color.)

ShePlace is built off the idea of “sistering up,” inspired by the construction term that means adding support to something to make it stronger. There are four pillars — connect, amplify, champion and partner — each a more intense level of investment in one another.

During their initial research with ShePlace, Zehner found that finances were important to community members. Thus was born SheMoney, a sub-brand. Within it is ‘Spend’ which consists of 70 Utah women-owned businesses “dedicated to women’s financial wellbeing in Utah,” according to the company’s marketing.

The first program offering from SheMoney is also the first step of their money movement framework: Spend. The others are invest, earn, borrow, give, protect and save — all things one can do with their money.

“We’re starting with spend for multiple reasons: We know entrepreneurship is one of the most accessible paths to wealth creation, and we really want to understand what are the biggest challenges for women-identified businesses in their journey to growth,” Limansky said.

Zehner added that the big picture of SheMoney is wanting to help business leaders invest and spend, but also develop a better mindset about finances.

“That’s a tool that’s going to make you and your loved one’s lives better,” Zehner said. “The more you own that and think about it and normalize your thoughts around money, the better.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) ÒYou could say the bookshelves of ShePlace are full of financial acts and feminist propaganda,Ó Jacki Zehner joked as she pulled some titles off the shelves to talk about, Oct. 13, 2022. Zehner is the founder of ShePlace and its adjacent SheMoney and her goal is to advance women's full and equal participation in society and the financial world by women, for women.

The barriers for women

It might seem like a lofty task, starting something to promote women’s success in a state like Utah, considering the state’s poor standing when it comes to supporting women financially.

In August 2021, WalletHub ranked Utah as the worst state overall for women’s equality — for the fourth consecutive year. Utah also ranked low in the report’s three main categories: Work environment, education and health, and political empowerment.

SheMoney stated — based on a research paper from Madsen’s Utah Women & Leadership Project, and commissioned by Zions Bank — that 15.6% of Utah businesses are owned by women, and that women in Utah make 30% less than what men do, one of the “largest pay gaps” in the country.

This data, Limansky said, are rooted in “a lack of education, confidence and general cultural barriers unique to Utah.”

The stats are also, Limansky said, not reflective of “our direct experience of women in Utah.”

“There’s a disconnect between our daily interactions with powerhouse women and the stats,” she said. Contrast the statistics with some of the state’s history, such as how Utah women had the right to vote long before their counterparts elsewhere in the country, and it’s even more confusing. “We’re really trying to change the stats because, I think women in Utah are really powerful,” Limansky said.

It starts, Limansky and Zehner said, with a focus on financial well-being.

“You improve a woman’s financial situation and levels of domestic violence go down, ability to access health care and full participation in political engagement rise,” Zehner said.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The offices of ShePlace, located in Kiln Park City, Oct. 13, 2022.

What does success look like?

Zehner mentioned an idea Steinem shared with her about consciousness raising, something that she thinks Utah women are starting to do.

“Women have very limiting beliefs,” Zehner said. It’s what she calls “internalized financial misogyny.”

“What are those beliefs that we have around money? Where we don’t negotiate for what we’re worth, we don’t ask for raises?” she asked. That, she said, is why it matters that they’re running this “grand experiment of supporting women to become financially engaged.”

Ultimately, the success of ShePlace and SheMoney is up to the community. For Zehner, success means different things, such as meeting someone whose friendship becomes transformative in your life.

“All you can do is turn to your own life and say, ‘What has made a difference in my life?,’” Zehner said. “When you think back, it probably ties back to relationships or some little surprise piece of wisdom that just sat with you forever. You just felt a sense of belonging.”

SheMoney will host a launch party event for Spend. on Wednesday, Nov 2. at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Arts, 20 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City. Details on the event are forthcoming. Tickets to the community celebration from 7-9pm can be purchased on Eventbrite.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The offices of ShePlace, located in Kiln Park City, Oct. 13, 2022.

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