Early October, Ursuline alumna Melinda Gates announced that she will be committing $1 billion to promoting gender equality. This announcement, centered around a three-pronged approach to implement more women in positions of power, was particularly inspirational for her fellow Ursuline alumnae as well as current students, many of whom feel that her pledge embodies the values of every Ursuline girl.
Melinda Gates is no stranger to philanthropy. Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest charitable organization in the world, she works to improve communities both locally, in the U.S., and globally in underserved or fragile communities. The mission of the foundation is “improving equity in four areas: global health, education, access to digital information via public libraries, and support for at-risk families in Washington State and Oregon.” Melinda and Bill also implemented a policy of one year of paid leave for employees following the birth or adoption of a child. Generally, Melinda works to create the America she envisions – much like with her $1 billion pledge.
Gates’ plan for her pledge is three-pronged. First, she aims to break down barriers to female professional advancement, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, primary family caregiving responsibilities, and pervasive biases. She urges corporate offices to not only acknowledge these challenges but to implement active initiatives to overcome them.
Her second approach centers around the truth that many fields, like technology, media, and public office, have great influence in society, but are traditionally male-dominant. Naturally, this balance gives men a greater avenue to power than women. Gates plans to change the structure of these fields, designed to work for men, to open more entrances for women to hold those positions of power.
Her third and final approach involves assembling investors, consumers, employees, and management to recognize and pressure companies to change. She believes there is a lack of necessary data on women and their workplace experiences, and the assembling of additional data via funding will expose and push those in need of reform.
“$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,” says Gates for Time.
Gates’ pledge arrives at a necessary time. Organizations for women and girls received only 1.6% of philanthropy dollars as of 2016, according to a study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University. However, since 2016, female-focused philanthropy has been increasing through the MeToo movement, and other groups such as Women Moving Millions.
Gates recounts her optimism at current progress being made for women in the workplace and other social spheres, noting that the momentum exists for her pledge to make the biggest possible impact in promoting women’s power and influence in major roles.
“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,” says Gates.
Gates channels her passion for philanthropy together with her belief in gender equality to create a remarkable movement. Her donation is one full of hope, and serves to inspire women globally, but specifically her fellow Ursuline alumnae to do their part in promoting women’s influence in prominent fields and positions.
“I think for one it’s just incredible to see a woman from our very community with such an unwavering drive for equality. Not only is her impact inspiring, but it is also a call upon us as young women to never stop once we reach our goals. I am now always seeking out pursuits of equality any way I can, and her path is motivating to never just accept the progress we have achieved, but to always continue striving for more,” says McKenna Coulter ’17.