Melinda Gates Makes a $1 Billion Bet on Bending the Curve on Gender Equality

Melinda Gates' Pivotal Ventures Backs Ventures to Improve Gender Equality

Do you have 208 years to spare? No? Neither does Melinda Gates, which is why she’s committing $1 billion over the next decade to make sweeping strides toward achieving gender equality.

According to projections from the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, the United States is currently 208 years away from closing gender gaps as they relate to the workplace, public office and health and education outcomes. Despite comprising 49.8% of the total workforce, American women still don’t earn as much as their male counterparts, they don’t hold as many positions of power, and they don’t have an equal voice in policy making.

Recognizing these disparities, Gates, the former tech executive and philanthropist who co-chairs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and founded Pivotal Ventures, believes the moment to enact change is currently upon us.

As she wrote in an essay for Time, “A window of opportunity has opened. Or, more accurately, it was painstakingly pried open by the hundreds of thousands of people who have joined marches across the country, the millions of women who summoned the courage to tell their #MeToo stories, the record number of women who ran for office in 2018 and won—and by the women who are working multiple jobs, caring for multiple loved ones, and proving you don’t have to protest or enter politics to challenge a system stacked against you. It wasn’t just grand gestures that got us here. It was daily acts of courage, too.”

To add financial heft to the swell of sea change, Gates’ Pivotal Ventures will use $1 billion in funding to back three initiatives: dismantle barriers for women; expand pathways into leadership; and amplify external pressure on institutions that can change the status quo.

In the latest cover story of the Harvard Business Review, Gates details the specific steps she intends to take to meet these lofty goals and “expand women’s power and influence in society.

As she outlines, all industries—from film production companies and ad agencies to textbook publishers and media organizations—must challenge stereotypes by telling “new and better stories about women.” In the wake of the #MeToo movement, companies have a heightened responsibility to address and end sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. And it’s time to account for the fact, she argues, that while the majority of women now work outside the home, they still spend twice as much time on unpaid caregiving work as men; as such, she supports establishing a federal paid family and medical leave policy.

To accelerate the career paths of women, Gates believes that funding should be distributed across the following priority sectors: public office, tech, academia, media, investing and entrepreneurship. Females should be encouraged to enter these fields and then, once there, be offered new pipelines for equitable and rapid success—unshackled from the traditional biases that once stood in their way.

What’s more, she argues that shareholders, consumers and employees must collectively mobilize to apply external pressure “in the courts, in the media, in statehouses and on the streets.”

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Melinda Gates: It's time to bend the curve on gender equality

With the $1 billion her company is providing, combined with additional philanthropic and private capital, Gates feels passionately that we can “accelerate the pace of change and bend the curve.” She sees this workplace and societal revolution as a shift that’s crucial to all women, but especially to the most marginalized, including women of color, poor women and lesbian and trans women.

Gates is also quick to acknowledge that her family’s wealth puts her in a position of power and influence that few others have access to—and that $1 billion is a lot of money. But she also notes that it’s a small fraction of what’s needed to affect historic change.

Finally, she urges others to maintain the momentum and take immediate action before the window of opportunity slowly begins to shut.

“We are right to be outraged,” writes Gates. “But we’re also right to be optimistic. Americans are no longer willing to accept the glacial pace of change—and I feel lucky to be alive at a time when we no longer have to.”

Read more about Melinda Gates’ ambitious three-point plan for committing $1 billion to achieving gender equality in the Harvard Business Review.


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