By Melinda Gates
Updated: October 5, 2019 3:25 PM ET | Originally published: October 2, 2019
IDEAS
Gates is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, founder of Pivotal Ventures, and best-selling author of The Moment of Lift.

In 2018, there were more men named James running Fortune 500 companies than there were women. This year, only one CEO on that list of 500 is a woman of color. Women are 51 percent of the population but hold only 24 percent of the seats in Congress.

My reaction to facts like these is a complicated mix of outrage and optimism. I imagine I’m not alone. It’s frustrating—even heartbreaking—to confront evidence of the many ways our country continues to hold women back.

Then again, 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.

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.

Even so, there is no reason to believe this moment will last forever—or that this window will stay open as long as we need it to. If we’re going to act, we have to act now.

Here’s what keeps me up at night: I imagine waking up one morning to find that the country has moved on. That the media has stopped reporting on systemic inequalities. That diversity remains something companies talk about instead of prioritizing. That all of this energy and attention has amounted to a temporary swell instead of a sea change.

There is too much at stake to allow that to happen. Too many people—women and men—have worked too hard to get us this far. And there are too many possible solutions we haven’t tried yet.

That’s why, over the next ten years, I am committing $1 billion to expanding women’s power and influence in the United States.

I want to see more women in the position to make decisions, control resources, and shape policies and perspectives. I believe that women’s potential is worth investing in—and the people and organizations working to improve women’s lives are, too.

Gender equality in the U.S. has been chronically underfunded. Data from Candid’s Foundation Directory Online suggests that private donors give $9.27 to higher education and $4.85 to the arts for every $1 they give to women’s issues. What’s more, 90 cents of each dollar donors spend on women is going to reproductive health. As absolutely essential as reproductive health is, we also need to fund other unmet needs.

To that end, my company, Pivotal Ventures, will put resources behind new and established partners taking innovative and diverse approaches to expanding women’s power and influence. We will continue to adapt our strategy in collaboration with our partners, but we already know we will focus on three priorities.

First, dismantling the barriers to women’s professional advancement. Even though most women now work full-time (or more), we still shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities; we face pervasive sexual harassment and discrimination; we are surrounded by biased and stereotypical representations that perpetuate harmful gender norms. From the entrepreneurs incubating market-based caregiving solutions to the groups advocating for better policies and protections for women at work, the people working on these issues need support to deliver breakthrough solutions at scale.

Second, fast-tracking women in sectors with outsized impact on our society—like technology, media, and public office. The reason the traditional pipelines into these industries work best for men is that, intentionally or not, they were designed that way. We need to create new pathways into these industries that will open more entry points for women from all backgrounds.

Third, mobilizing shareholders, consumers, and employees to amplify external pressure on companies and organizations in need of reform. Data plays an essential role in driving mobilization, but there’s not yet enough of it when it comes to the lives of women—and especially women of color. That’s something more funding will help change.

$1 billion is a lot of money, but I also recognize that it’s only a small fraction of what’s necessary. That’s why I hope the financial commitment I’m making today is seen as both a vote of confidence in the experts and advocates who are already working on these issues—and an invitation for others to join the cause and make commitments of their own. Equality can’t wait, and no one in a position to act should either.

We are right to be outraged. 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.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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