In 1996, she became the youngest woman and first female trader to become a partner at Goldman Sachs. But since then, her work has been even more impressive.
Zehner has devoted herself to empowering women to take charge of their personal finances — both in their careers and as consumers. She was the executive producer of the award-winning film “Ready to Fly,” the story of ski jumper Lindsey Van. She recently became the CEO of a non-profit company called Women Moving Millions, which is dedicated to distributing resources to women and girls. She also serves on the boards of many organizations, including the Sundance Film Festival.
Maria: You recently participated in the Sundance Film Festival. What is that experience like?
Jacki: It was great, it was an amazing festival. I actually live in Park City, so it’s right in my back yard. This year was very exciting for women in film. We’ve launched this special initiative to bring attention to issues women film makers might face as an underrepresented community in general. It was a landmark year as far as participation, in the feature category.
Maria: You were the executive producer of “Ready to Fly” and have funded other films as well. Where did your interest in film start?
Jacki: It goes way back. I’ve always loved film. If I trace the history back, when I made that switch from career one to phase two, it was because I had a dream about a Wonder Woman screenplay when I was still working at Goldman … I ended up becoming obsessed with why there were really no woman super hero feature films.
Maria: Because of your story, you inspire so many people. Who inspires you?
Jacki: I’m inspired all the time by so many people, men and women. I guess more personally, Pat Mitchell, who I’m sure you know from The Paley Center for Media, but has a 40-year career … She is such a trailblazer, a mentor to me and countless other women. She has been continually pushing and present in such a passionate way, particularly in the media. She’s just been an amazing inspiration to me. I’m 48, and I’m thinking if I can be Pat Mitchell in those years, that would be incredible.
And Gloria Steinem … she was there at the moment I decided to quit Goldman, and it turns out she’s one of the experts on Wonder Woman. She’s such a source of inspiration. I think she’s 77 now, and I can’t believe it. She’s so committed to activism and never giving up and being such a force in terms of her commitment to what she believes in.
Maria: You’ve been outspoken about making sure companies have female representation on their boards of directors. Are there companies who don’t, that we should be aware of?
Jacki: One that comes to mind for me, is anthropologie. Especially for companies whose primary market are women consumers … for them to not have a critical mass of women on their board is ridiculous. It’s not only bad business, but a total lack of respect to those who pay their salaries.
I hope to get more involved [in that cause] going forward. It’s not so easy to know … I try to shop local and show support, especially for clothing and things like that, but this is an area where I have to put my money where my mouth is, increasingly. Sometimes it’s not easy and not convenient, and I have to be willing to be inconvenienced as I hope we all are.
Maria: On the flip side, are there companies that are representing women well?
Jacki: I think there are great companies, platforms like Plum Alley which is an online consumer company founded by women with a great mission that go to charities. Tory Burch for example is another one. Retailers founded by women who have a social mission, like Eileen Fisher, Donna Karan. I try not to be so biased so it’s not only representation on boards, but who owns these companies?
Maria: Do you think there are things women could be doing better in terms of their finances?
Jacki: I think a lot, the board of directors thing is important and matters a lot, but even buying stuff on Etsy. Increasingly [buying consciously] with every decision you can and do make about how you use your money to buy goods and services. We can’t do it for everything. But where you can, be more intentional.
LearnVest [an online personal finance community for women, for which Zehner is an investor], makes money more fun and accessible for that younger generation. It promotes natural literacy, and fluffs it up with daily candy and other goodies.
Being financially savvy is just a really important skill set. It’s not necessarily true for women more so than men, but owning your financial life and having a little bit of a plan going into it. Having that spend, save, give sort of mindset. Money has three purposes: spending, buying commensurate with your income and being thoughtful of savings … being intentional of who you buy from is great.
For the saving, investing piece, increasingly there are options, like the Pax Women’s Global Equality Fund. … In many ways, it can be using a bank that has a social mission for women.
It can’t be acceptable to say, “I’m a girl, so I shouldn’t care about investing.” We need to own it. We need to own our financial power in all those categories.
Maria: What are women doing well with their finances?
Jacki: I think in general, women are pretty sound. They’re the ones who make the majority of spending and consuming decisions, especially for married-with-kids kind of households. Then again, it’s hard to make generalizations.
Some studies have shown as managers they approach risk in a different way. Some say conservative or risk averse, but I say more risk measured. Taking a longer-term approach and wanting to plan a life for which you have a financial plan aligned with your career plan and family plan.
Maria: You have two children, who are 16 and 13. How do you teach them about money?
Jacki: It takes a real commitment to teach your kids about money, and you realize how innately different everything is. Some kids could care less about money and others are money-obsessed from the time they’re born. It’s hard to match the learning with the personality.