Shortly after Harvard Business Review and Melinda Gates launched The Big Idea: Women, Power, and Influence, Gates announced she is pledging $1 billion to fund efforts outlined in her feature article. HBR caught up with Gates about the announcement and what it means to her efforts to radically accelerate progress toward gender equality in the next 10 years.
How does this donation change the timeline to gender equality?
One of the reasons that the pace of change has been so glacial — and that the World Economic Forum projects that we are still a staggering 208 years away from gender equality in the U.S. — is that philanthropists and investors have underfunded women and their potential. My hope is that a collective push — from philanthropists, from investors, from business leaders, from policymakers — will bend the curve over the next 10 years enough that it will change the whole trajectory. We don’t have to wait 208 years. If we take the right steps now, we can shorten that timeline considerably.
You’d be the first to say that money isn’t enough to reach your goals, and you outlined several good strategies in your HBR article for bending the curve to equality. What else needs to happen in addition to funding to move women forward?
Yes, I absolutely agree that capital alone won’t bend the curve. In addition to capitalizing the organizations and firms working on gender equality, we need to create new opportunities for collaboration between them. That could take the form of hubs connecting these organizations and firms to donor networks, policymakers, corporate stakeholders, and research and policy groups. If we strengthen the muscle between these groups, it will help ensure the sum of their efforts is greater than the parts.
What other kinds of behavior are you hoping this gift will catalyze?
I hope it encourages us to set bold, ambitious goals for women in the United States. We shouldn’t have to make ourselves content celebrating small gains, like the record number of women who ran for office in 2018 and won, without addressing the big picture, like the fact we’re still nowhere near equal representation in Congress. We shouldn’t just aim for parity. We should aim for equal power and influence in society — the same opportunity to make decisions, control resources, and shape policies and perspectives.
Have you spoken with others about making similarly dramatic gifts? Is it your aim or hope that your billion will beget others’ financial commitments?
That’s certainly my intention. If I could contribute to setting a new standard for philanthropists and investors when it comes to the way they fund and prioritize women, that, to me, would be success.