I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate all of our impressive Women of Power professionals, like you, who have made rather remarkable achievements despite the odds. Your journey has been marked by daunting challenges that have included confronting racism and sexism from managers and colleagues while meeting corporate objectives in a rapidly changing, competitive environment. By demonstrating proficiency, professionalism, and perseverance, many of you have been rewarded with career-advancing assignments and a series of promotions. For those who decided to become your own boss, you represent the nation’s fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs. In fact, the number of firms launched by African American women has grown more than 250% from 1997 to 2013.

Unfortunately, even with the growth and achievement levels in corporate and entrepreneurial business, the wealth status for African American women is in decline. A 2010 report from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development reveals a chasm between the median net worth of white and black women that’s as wide as the Grand Canyon. The study found that while the median net worth of single white women ages 36–49 is $42,600—61% of the median wealth for white men of the same age and marital status—black women in the same demographic have a median wealth of a mere five dollars. Even worse, 46% of single black women ages 18–64 reported a zero or negative net worth versus 23% of single white women. One of the most alarming conclusions: Just one unpaid sick day or appliance repair could plunge half of these single black women into debt.

Despite significant career and entrepreneurial success, a large percentage of African American women do not have a single dollar socked away for emergencies and have not started the process of building a retirement nest egg. Institutional factors such as wage disparities, lack of fringe benefits in the workplace, or being targeted by predatory lenders all have affected the wealth status of black women. At the end of the day, however, personal actions—and inaction—are the greatest determining factors of a woman’s financial standing. As a community, we have to hold ourselves better accountable for the financial decisions that don’t just affect us personally but should support generations of our families.

As the father of two daughters, I am often concerned that impulsive spending habits, even at their young age, may have already begun to erode the important foundation and principles of wealth building. I am also concerned that many do not see the importance of investing in their future—even at our company, where women comprise 70% of the black enterprise workforce. I often remind our staff that 401(k) plans are the best means of saving and investing tax-deferred dollars for retirement. Failure to engage in such long-term planning is committing yourself to a sentence of lifelong labor.

I urge you to adopt the theme of our Women of Power Conference—Embrace Your Power: The Moment Is Now!—for your financial life. Most of you have adroitly managed multimillion-dollar budgets for projects and divisions of major corporations. Your skill and professional pride would never allow you to handle such matters without a focus on the bottom line. You should do no less in your personal life. Sound financial management provides options to live a rich life in which you can reward yourself and family as well as make the contributions you want to your community. After all the battles fought and won to become a woman of power, you deserve to live like one. And you should start by embracing your power. That is the first step toward financial independence.

Embrace Your Power: The Moment is Now! Attend the Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit hosted by State Farm, Feb. 26 to ­March 1, 2014, at Boca Raton Resort and Club, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, Boca Raton, FL. This exciting, executive leadership summit is designed to train, equip and encourage women to become industry leaders, learn career strategies, and discover proven work­-life balance techniques. Register today!

CELEBRATING 10 YEARS! Join us for the landmark 10th Annual Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit hosted by State FarmMarch 2–4, 2015, at Fort Lauderdale Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale, FL. This exciting, one-of-a-kind executive leadership summit is designed to train, equip and encourage women to become industry leaders, learn career strategies, and discover proven work–life balance techniques. Register Now! http://www.blackenterprise.com/wps