Melinda Gates created Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company, to advance social progress in the United States, enabling better lives for more people. Their primary mission is for every individual to have an equal opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of others. In June of this year, they joined with other funders to launch the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, which will provide forty million dollars to support big, bold solutions to expand women’s power and influence in the United States.
The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge is a chance to put resources behind people and ideas that don’t often get the support they need. In the United States, gender equality is chronically underfunded. In fact, the arts receive nearly five times more private charitable funding than women’s issues according to data from the Candid Foundation’s Directory Online. Pivotal is working alongside several partners to advance solutions to accelerate progress for women.
“We certainly don’t have all the answers,” said Haven Ley, who is the Managing Director of Program Strategy and Investment at Pivotal Ventures. “We aim to connect innovative groups to funding and each other so we can strengthen the ecosystem that is focused on getting more women in positions to make decisions, control resources, and shape policies and perspectives in this country.”
Removing Barriers for Women
“We believe—and research backs this up—that when women have more power and influence in their homes, in their communities, and across society, everyone benefits,” Ms. Ley states. “Economies grow. Children are healthier. New and different perspectives are included in all sorts of decisions.”
Unfortunately, however, progress for women in this country is moving painfully slow, and in some cases, sliding backward. Pivotal is working to dig deeper into why this is, and what they see is as critical barriers that hold women back. As Ms. Ley explained, “We need to focus on them to accelerate the pace of change. These include the disproportionate amount of unpaid work women do to care for their homes and families, discrimination and harassment in the workforce, and biased narratives in society of what women can and should do and be. And if you’re a woman of color in America, racial inequity makes all these barriers higher and harder to overcome.”
Since these challenges are entrenched and widespread, Pivotal’s supporting partners are tackling them from several angles. They’re advocating for public policies like paid leave, working with the media and entertainment industry to change how women are portrayed, advancing legal protections to safeguard women at work, and funding companies that work on new solutions in the market. Together, they are working hard to create change from multiple directions simultaneously, as that’s how they believe they can drive progress at the pace and scale needed.
How COVID Has Impacted Gender Equality
In the academic journal Gender, Work & Organization, it showed how mothers, in particular, have had to cut their workweek by about two hours on average during the coronavirus to try and balance work and their families. They are also nearly three times as likely as fathers to quit their jobs to take care of a family member. When asked about this, Ms. Ley responded, “The pandemic has absolutely set back progress and had a devastating and disproportionate impact on women. But am I completely pessimistic? No.”
If anything, their mission has become more urgent. “We’re starting to acknowledge the sacrifices of our essential workers, most of whom are women and many of whom work in low-wage jobs,” she said. “We’re reading story after story about how tough it is for women to work and care for our families. We’re asking why there aren’t more women leaders included in the pandemic response. As we work to recover from COVID-19, America has a chance to change our systems, so they’re more equitable and sustainable. Now is the time to think big, get creative, and move with urgency—all of which the Challenge is set up for.”
As part of the stimulus package earlier this year, Mrs. Ley points out that paid leave provisions finally made it into law (although they are not permanent at this time). Partner organizations are launching creative efforts to support women in their careers, whether they’re students looking to break into tech or domestic workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. A generation of young people are getting an up-close look at what it takes to care for a family. And in some cases, questioning why mom is doing so much more of the work.
“How much gender equality is set back depends partly on how we respond as a country,” Ms. Ley said. “We have an opportunity to remove the barriers, and maybe this pandemic will help us summon the collective resolve.”
What Women Can Do To Help
Making this unique moment in time an opportunity may be one of the most potent things we, as working women, can do to advocate for ourselves. “For the first time, my dad is asking me about how I’m managing my job and homeschooling for my kids. My friends are coming up with new solutions to support their partners at home, and we see policymakers talk about the lack of care options as a burning issue,” Ms. Ley shared. “We are finally starting to have conversations about how to better support women’s undervalued and underrecognized work—the work that has powered our economies for generations.”
It’s up to us to take advantage of these conversations. You can share your story on social media. Ask the candidates who are running to represent you at all government levels about their policies to support working women. Join organizations like MomsRising or TIME’S UP to advocate for paid leave and funding for care programs in the next relief package. Make your voice heard, whether that’s calling your elected official or, most importantly, voting.
As Ms. Ley wisely states, “This is a unique moment when the issues women have long been talking about are in the spotlight, so all of us need to push for change.’