Written by Linda Miller
Director, Network Journalism and Inclusion
MPR News recently partnered with the Twin Cities chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) to host Women Empowering Women: A Conversation About Financial Security at MPR’s UBS Forum in downtown St. Paul.
The idea for the June 29 event came from a Public Insight Network questionnaire that asked women how they are doing financially and what would help them do better. We heard from women working to overcome student loan debt, pay for childcare, save for retirement, live within their means, confront bias in the workplace, and have difficult conversations with loved ones about finances. We also heard from women with a lot of knowledge to share – about setting financial goals, creating budgets, negotiating a raise and eliminating credit card debt.
Their insights sparked interesting on-air conversations with MPR listeners – something that is common for PIN sources to do. But when we asked the 170+ women what they wanted, the response, overwhelmingly, was to be in conversation with other women.
Convening conversations is something that is second nature to MPR. Our show hosts do this every day, as do our digital and social media producers. And we have a strong track record of hosting community engagement events like Policy and a Pint, Talking Volumes, the Top Coast Festival and Conversations on the Creative Economy.
Most often we invite authors, academics, journalists, politicos, pundits, thought leaders or other authoritative experts to answer questions, provide commentary and, in some cases, dole out advice. Here, however, women were asking for something different: an opportunity to learn from each other.
To understand how a conversation like this might play out, we used the questions from the PIN survey to spark discussions among professionals at MPR through our Women’s Employee Resource Group. Our conversations were deep, illuminating and cathartic, and many of us learned more about each other in two hours of conversation than we had in years of working together.
Inspired, we reached out to our friends at NABA and asked if they would co-sponsor an event and help recruit their members to attend. About 25 women of diverse professional and personal backgrounds signed up and showed up, including a few MPR employees.
Arts reporter Marianne Combs, co-chair of the MPR Women’s ERG, and PIN engagement and inclusion manager Annie Anderson facilitated the two-hour-long workshop, which started with networking and a Jamaican dinner catered by Pimento in Minneapolis. We did not record the event for broadcast, live-blog, stream or tweet it. But we did establish some values to guide our discussions:
1) Everyone is an expert in her own lived experience.
2) Everyone has insight to share.
3) When you are curious, you cannot be judgmental.
4) To be inclusive means to listen.
We spent an hour circulating among tables labeled with topics the women most wanted to discuss, starting each conversation by sharing stories about steps we had taken to better understand or improve our financial futures.
We spoke about our relationship to money and the role money plays in our relationships. We talked about debt, divorce, and online tools for creating and maintaining a household budget. We talked health care, retirement planning and philanthropy, about obstacles we are facing and hardships we have overcome. And we talked about how to talk about all of these things with children, parents and spouses.
At the end of the night, we reflected on what we had learned and pledged to take one more action, write it down in a “memo to self,” and seal it in a self-addressed envelope to be mailed back to us in 30 days. Several women lingered to continue their conversations and swap contact information, and many have since offered written feedback on the event itself.
“It was really incredible to speak with other women and hear about their struggles,” wrote 31-year-old Kristin Campbell of Minneapolis. “Money is one of those things that no one talks about so it’s easy to assume you’re the only person who’s made poor choices or been through rough times or that those times are permanent. Here was a group of women in various stages of their lives, all who have struggled and worked and made their financial situations better.”
“It was reaffirming that most women seem to want the same thing–to have financial independence and to give back,” wrote Elizabeth Dickinson, a 56-year-old life coach and writer.
Andrea Jauli, 28, said she learned a lot from the older women about planning for kids and retirement, and she has since connected with women she met at the event. Next time, she suggested, build in more time for women to network.
Speaking of next time, all of the women who have provided feedback so far would like MPR to host more events like this on topics ranging from gender equality at work to parenting for safety to empowering female heads of households to cultivating a practical spirituality.
One of my big takeaways is that, by creating safe spaces for people to share their insights, especially on taboo topics like finances, Minnesota Public Radio can create learning opportunities with the potential to change the way we relate to one another. The experience also reaffirmed the founding principle of PIN®: It’s amazing what people will tell you if you bother to ask, and remarkable what we all can learn if we take the time to listen.
Linda Miller became a journalist in the small towns of Wyoming, where newspapers were pieced together with hot wax and held together by trust, transparency and a partnership with readers. As the Director of Network Journalism and Inclusion, she is still helping journalists deepen relationships with the communities they serve, albeit with better technology.