How Connecting Women Accelerates Social Change

When Muffet McGraw, the championship-winning coach of the Notre Dame women’s basketball team, was celebrating her team’s victory last week, she also got serious about sexism. In a post-game press conference with reporters, McGraw, in a moment that swiftly went viral, expressed the frustration of a lifetime spent waiting for true equality for women—beginning with the (still unratified) 1967 Equal Rights Amendment, 1972’s Title IX and more.

“How are these young women looking up and seeing someone that looks like them, preparing them for the future?” McGraw fired at the press. “We don’t have enough female role models. We don’t have enough visible women leaders. We don’t have enough women in power.”

She’s sick and tired and not going to take it anymore. Aren’t we all?

In the U.S., women make up only 24 percent of Congress, 18 percent of governors and only 21 percent of mayors. In business, less than five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women and women comprise only 22 percent of Fortune 500 boards. Globally, women account for about six percent of the total number of heads of state and less than a quarter (24 percent) of senior roles in business.

To address the complexity of today’s problems, a rebalance in global leadership is needed in every sector. From shifting populations, violent conflicts and threats of terrorism to a global climate crisis and worsening economic inequity, women leaders are increasingly on the front lines of our world’s greatest challenges. Many are shaping innovative solutions to these and other complex global challenges as transformative leaders, but more are needed.

This month, in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, I’m convening a leadership forum at the Rockefeller conference center in Bellagio, Italy. Along with Ronda Carnegie, one of the TEDWomen co-founders, we’re gathering a group of women leaders from all over the world on the front lines of change in culture, media, business, social enterprises and government. It’s the second gathering of the Women’s Leadership Summit, the first we convened in 2017.

Motivated by the need to build a new collective movement towards shared learning and better solutions, we convened 28 women leaders from 17 countries in July 2017, at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy for the Inaugural Global Women Leaders Summit, in partnership with the Skoll Foundation, The Carter Center, the Council of Women World Leaders and Apolitical.

In that first gathering of global women leaders, we agreed on the attributes needed to be a transformative change leader. We strategized how to apply these attributes to bring forward new solutions to the climate crisis, the threats of rising populism and growing economic inequities as well as reviewing the role for women leaders in strengthening human security, shaping sustainable peace and identifying new solutions to shifting populations.

Some of the recommendations resulting from that Bellagio forum have been implemented—and the connections, personally and professionally, have been sustained. While a core group of the first forum’s leaders are returning, we will grow the global community of women leaders with new participants for the 2019 forum convening in Bellagio on April 23.

We know that when women lead, organizations are more collaborative and sustainable; businesses do better from every measurement; governments and communities tend to be more caring, compassionate and just.

We need to activate and connect women leaders because connected women leaders will leverage their constituencies, communities and networks and accelerate progress towards full equality.

Many of you may have tweeted about #EqualPayDay, which this year fell on April 2. It’s the day that represents the average number of days American women must work into a new year to achieve the same pay that white men accrued the year before. Researchers say that if we continue at the slow pace pay equity has progressed over the past 50 years, it will take another 40 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity. For women of color, the rate of change is even slower: Hispanic women will have to wait until 2224, and Black women will wait until 2119.

According to researchers, women won’t reach parity in electoral politics until 2121. The Washington Post notes this is the same year that others predict humans will set up colonies on the moon.

The share of women sitting on the boards of Fortune 500 companies has more than doubled in the past 20 years, rising from a paltry 10 percent in 1995 to 22 percent in 2017. Fabrizio Freda, president and CEO of the Estée Lauder Companies, told McKinsey Quarterly that the conviction is there, but the sense of urgency isn’t. “People believe we are going to get there eventually,” Freda explained, “but that is not enough; it’s too slow. The real obstacle is the lack of urgency.”

It needs to be intentional. There needs to be a plan.

I believe there is great potential in leveraging and further activating the networks, communities and constituencies of women represented at the Bellagio forum and around the world. I look forward to sharing the outcomes and recommendations that move us all towards a reality that Coach McGraw expressed impatience for—when women leading anywhere and everywhere is the norm and not the exception, and women leaders (and men who stand with us) are working together for the benefit of all.

This post originally appeared on


Pat Mitchell is the editorial director of TEDWomen. Throughout her career as a journalist, Emmy-winning producer and pioneering executive, she has focused on sharing women’s stories. She is chair of the Sundance Institute Board, the chair emerita of the Women’s Media Center board, and a trustee of the VDAY movement, the Skoll Foundation and The Woodruff Arts Center. She is an advisor to Participant Media and served as a congressional appointment to the American Museum of Women’s History Advisory Council.