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Pinnacol board member on being a woman in the workforce: Never be afraid to advocate for yourself

March 28, 2023
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Akasha Absher serves as vice chair of Pinnacol’s board of directors. She’s served on the board since 2020, most recently as an employer representative. Akasha is also the chair of Pinnacol’s Investment Committee. She is president of Syntrinsic Investment Counsel, a national investment firm that provides investment advice and strategic consulting to foundations, endowments, nonprofits and the people affiliated with them. As we reflect on Women’s History Month, we caught up with Akasha to discuss her thoughts on starting a career, the state of women’s rights and gender equality. 

What advice would you give to young women who are just starting out in their careers, and what resources would you recommend they seek out?

Akasha: To lead, you need not only to be given a chance, but also to do a lot of listening and have a strong network of people to help and support you. Building a diverse network of mentors is paramount as well as being a mentor to other women and people of color. We will not survive or thrive without the support of others.

When opportunity knocks, be prepared to say yes even when it is scary. Never be afraid to advocate for yourself. Being a woman in the workforce can be hard, and to persevere you must own your voice, be your authentic self as much as possible, and recognize that mistakes or missteps are part of the learning journey. 
My authentic self identifies as a black woman, a friend, a boss, a colleague, a partner, a finance professional, a dreamer and a human with the capacity to achieve greatness and make monumental mistakes.

What do you think needs to be done to advance women’s rights and opportunities worldwide, and what role can individuals play in this effort?

Akasha: As a friend of mine so aptly puts it, when firms are not intentional about who gets mentored and sponsored, firms tend to do what is easy by supporting the demographic groups that always have been supported — whoever has the strongest connections to you, who feels familiar, who makes you feel comfortable. It’s a subtle dynamic with powerful consequences, because it influences who gets assigned to that high-profile project with you, who has someone advocating for them when it’s promotion time or the chips are down and when the company is considering who to lay off. 

This needs to change. Employers need to start asking the right questions about turnover and promotion rates by gender, race and ethnicity.  There needs to be more transparency about pay equity. The lack of transparency and accountability for outcomes sends a clear message that exclusionary work environments and practices — whether conscious or not — are OK.

That said, attitudes are starting to shift, and investments are being made to create change. But we still have a way to go.

Despite all this, I do believe that the future is bright. We are in a moment in time when not only is there a social need for gender equality, but also there is a strong economic case for it. More businesses are starting to understand that gender-diverse boards of directors and workforces generate a higher return on equity than those without, and investors recognize that investing in women can highlight opportunities and improve investment decisions. 

How have you seen attitudes toward women and gender equality shift over the course of your career, and what still needs to be done to achieve true equality in the workplace?

Akasha: As I mentioned above, at this moment in time, the broader conversation around the economic opportunity for investing in women and people of color has evolved. We have started to look at the issue from an economic perspective. In 2023, Moody’s Analytics surmised that by closing the gender pay gap, we could increase the world’s global economy by 7%, or $7 trillion.

The economic imperative, in and of itself, has the power to change some hearts and minds. It has changed from a charity discussion to a discussion about what growth and prosperity look like going forward.

At a minimum, investors need to allocate capital and resources equally and look at their procedures and practices for allocating those resources.

Investors can allocate to women and diverse investment managers, activate cash in support of underserved communities, build networks, and advocate for more diverse representation in all engagements. These things alone can change the face of equality.

What message would you like to share with women everywhere as they reflect on Women’s History Month, and how can we continue to celebrate and support each other throughout the year?

Akasha: My thoughts fall into two main themes …

Empower Others

Our personal engagements in the community have meaning and purpose and can be a powerful method for addressing injustices and fighting for equality. I know that I have a role to play, and I continually ask myself the following questions as I engage:

  • Is the work I’m doing elevating women and communities of color and creating economic sustainability?
  • I’m not as privileged as some, but I have earned influence — so how do I use it to bring others along?
  • How am I bringing other people up with me? Am I helping expand tables instead of reshuffling seats?
  • If I am not able to serve, am I sharing the names of five people who are women and people of color who could be great for the organization?

Intentional Investing

Personally, as an investor, I can intentionally advocate for the things I want to see in the world. I can allocate my investments to diverse investment managers, invest in businesses led by women and people of color, activate my cash in support of women and underserved communities, and advocate for diverse representation in companies at all levels. This alone has the power to change the face of not only the asset management industry but the workforce in general. 

Learn more about Akasha and the Pinnacol board of directors.

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