Melinda Gates announced that she will be committing $1 billion over the next decade to expanding women’s power and influence in the United States.
In an op-ed for Time magazine, the philanthropist and longtime women’s advocate notes that in 2018, there were more men named James running Fortune 500 companies than there were women in CEO roles at these firms, and only one CEO on the list was a woman of color. In political life, too, women remain severely underrepresented. Though making up 51% of the US population, women hold only 24% of the seats in Congress.
Gates’ reaction to those hard numbers is what she describes as “a complicated mix of outrage and optimism,” noting that “for most of our history, women’s absence from positions of power and influence wasn’t newsworthy; it was normal. The fact we’re now talking about these inequities is itself a sign of progress.”
To accelerate things, her company Pivotal Ventures will be putting money into initiatives addressing three main objectives: dismantling the barriers to women’s advancement (including bias and sexual harassment); creating new pathways for women in media, technology, politics, and others sectors “with outsized impact on our society”); and mobilizing investors, employees, and consumers to pressure companies in need of reform on diversity issues. Gates describes these three priorities in more detail in a recent piece for Harvard Business Review.
Gates, who is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, notes that gender equality in the US has been chronically underfunded. Her op-ed in Time cites data from Candid’s Foundation Directory Online showing that private donors give $9.27 to higher education and $4.85 to the arts for every $1 they give to women’s issues. Even her 10-year, $1 billion pledge is only a small fraction of what’s needed, argues Gates, who hopes her announcement will serve as validation to those who are already working on women’s issues and encourage others to join the movement.
“Equality can’t wait,” she writes, “and no one in a position to act should either.”