Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation is a compilation of stories about women’s representation in politics, on boards, in sports and entertainment, in judicial offices and in the private sector in the U.S. and around the world—with a little gardening and goodwill mixed in for refreshment!
“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.”—Melinda French Gates in 2019
Amidst the recent news about the divorce proceedings between Bill and Melinda French Gates, there have been a number of interesting articles about the potential transformational impact of investments in the field of women’s equality. This piece on GeekWire by Lisa Stiffler discusses the role of Pivotal Ventures which is a supporter of CAWP, ReflectUS, The Ascend Fund, The League, Women’s Public Leadership Network, RepresentWomen and many other worthy endeavors:
Melinda French Gates created Pivotal Ventures in January 2015 with so little fanfare that news of the effort came out after GeekWire accidentally stumbled upon its website. At the time, a spokesperson for the Kirkland, Wash.-based company described it as “a vehicle, when the time comes, to help explore potential other initiatives that don’t fit naturally or neatly within the [Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s] program areas.”
It seems that time may have come.
Following her split with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, observers are now eager to see where French Gates will take Pivotal, an organization promoting initiatives that empower women and families. Given her resources, drive and expertise, French Gates — who revived her maiden name in the wake of the divorce announcement earlier this month — could be a game-changing force in female-focused venture capital and philanthropic efforts.
“There is so much research about how difficult it is for women to raise funding for venture capital,” said Emily Cox Pahnke, an associate professor with the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.
“What Pivotal could potentially do is shift the calculus where it’s not a liability to be a female,” she said. “That has transformational potential.”
When the teams of divorce lawyers are done divvying up the almost unimaginable wealth acquired by the Gateses during their 27-year marriage, both will walk away with tremendous sums. One can’t split $146 billion, using some measure of fairness, without that being the case.
And while the couple says they’ll continue working peaceably at the Gates Foundation, their roles unchanged at what many call the world’s most important philanthropy, both have independent passion projects launched years ago.
Before news of the divorce broke, Bill Gates was drawing headlines for his work on climate change, which he’s tackling through his Breakthrough Energy organization and a book on the topic.
Less attention has been paid to Pivotal, the investment and incubation company that’s French Gates’ primary side gig. French Gates has already made women’s equity a key focus at the Gates Foundation and experts say the organization is one of the most powerful players in the space. But Pivotal is hers alone to direct and includes the VC element for exploring broader avenues for impact.
Jacki Zehner, leading financial consultant and co-founder of Women Moving Millions profiles Melinda French Gates, Laurene Powell Jobs and Mackenzie Scott in her just-launched monthly newsletter SheInvests:
Let’s start with Ms. French Gates. A graduate of Duke University, French Gates worked for Microsoft for nearly a decade, eventually leaving in 1996. In 2000, she co-founded The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband, now the world’s largest private charitable organization with about $37 billion in assets. She currently serves as the Foundation’s co-chair, and in 2019, she released her first book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.
For years, she has been an outspoken and public advocate of gender equity, and to date has amassed a Twitter following of 2.5 million. She writes regularly on platforms like this one, LinkedIn, and has been interviewed more times than I can count. She has also pushed the conversation about the wellbeing of women and girls in to spaces primarily inhabited by rich and powerful male leaders, which I would put on a list of her major accomplishments. In Gloria Steinem’s famous words, “when humans are ranked instead of linked everyone loses”—so let’s just agree that it is fair to say that few women have done more to advance gender equity in the philanthropic context than Melinda French Gates. Yes, it is about the money, but she also fully leaned into her leadership, which includes using her voice and her influence to champion for what she believes to be true. It all matters.
What is also public record is that in 2015, she founded Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company that uses both philanthropic and investment capital to advance social progress in the U.S. According to their website, Pivotal Ventures takes two approaches to investing:
1) Seeding innovation by investing in early stage companies and funds, and
2) Advancing the field by building capacity and collaboration amongst leaders, stakeholders, and ecosystems.
Also of note is the fact that Pivotal’s website states that this is a company founded by Melinda French Gates, not Melinda Gates. As far as I can tell, it was never just Melinda Gates. Finally, according to the publicly available information that I could find, Pivotal has so far invested in four companies, four funds, and made contributions to a handful of nonprofits. This is almost certainly not the full scope of their investment activities, but it is all that I could squeeze out of the Internet, as I am not, after all, an investigative journalist. More personally, Pivotal has come up many times in funding conversations with both start-ups and female founded funds that I have talked to in terms of potential funders, and I am pretty sure we are co-invested in at least one company.When I jumped over to check their profile on LinkedIn, it shows 94 employees, which also indicates a lot more activity.
Also, very notably, in October 2019, Ms. French Gates created a $1B pledge to expand women and girls’ power and influence in the United States, most of which will be allocated through Pivotal. As part of this pledge, she has already launched the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, a $40M donation that will go towards three yet-to-be-announced nonprofit organizations that are advancing equity.
Interestingly, this initiative is also supported by MacKenzie Scott and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies (#sisteringup). Ms. French Gates has also founded the GET Cities Initiative, which is focusing on accelerating the representation and leadership of women in tech through the development of “inclusive tech hubs” across the U.S., starting with Chicago and D.C. If I were the praying type, and I am, my hope is that Salt Lake City might one day be added to the list. If it happens, I am all in! Pivotal is leading both of these initiatives, and will be responsible for deploying all associated grants and investments.
Melinda French Gates has long been a powerful advocate for equity, and with this pledge, she has made it abundantly clear that she means to continue to use her considerable wealth not just to marginally improve the existing landscape for women and girls, but to change that landscape completely.
As noted above, Melinda French Gates, via Pivotal Ventures, has also made a large investment in the work for passage of paid leave and other policies that center women in the economic recovery and address deeply-rooted inequities. Read more about Vicki Shabo and her work on paid leave.
Deseret News has a good report on the Biden administration’s American Families Plan that includes paid leave, universal child care, and expanded child tax credits—all of which also impact women’s ability to run for and serve effectively in elected office:
Being a parent is hard. It’s harder in the United States than other rich countries because American public policy fails to provide even the most basic supports for families. American families struggled meeting their needs pre-pandemic — a problem exacerbated by stagnated wages and a government run according to a radical notion of self-reliance, virtually nonexistent in the politics of other high-income liberal democracies.
As we begin to dig out from the darkest depths of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s necessary to evaluate how the United States can better support families and provide all of America’s children with the opportunity to succeed. President Biden’s American Families Plan, the most consequential piece of family policy legislation in American history, begins to provide such supports. Three plan provisions are most critical: subsidized universal child care, guaranteed paid family and medical leave, and expanded child tax credits.
The AFP helps families using childcare limiting costs to 7% of income for families using services and providing expanded tax credits to help pay for these critical services. Disadvantaged families stand to benefit the most. Poor and working-class households frequently spend more than a tenth of their income on child care alone. Launched in 1996, Québec’s universal child care program has positive effects on both family finances and the provincial economy.
In the United States, the pandemic has highlighted the need for child care. Many women have voluntarily left the workforce to school and care for homebound children. Introducing child care supports is foundational to both helping the economy recover from COVID-19 and for future, post-pandemic economic growth. Critically, low-income Québécois children have reaped substantial developmental benefits from these programs, as well.
Congratulations to longtime women’s representation ally Kristin Hayden on the launch of her new podcast Our Money Power which is focused on encouraging women to make smart, value-driven investments. The first episode features Tracy Gray:
Tracy Gray is poised to be the first black woman to raise $100 Million for her Venture Fund called the 22 Fund, despite the persistent challenges and obstacles for women and BIPOC founders to raise capital. On this episode of Our Money Power, Tracy Gray shares how she went from NASA engineer to venture capitalist and all she is doing to ensure more women founders get funded and more women begin investing, and investing with their values!
Tracy Gray is a former NASA engineer turned Venture Capitalist. Currently the Founder & Managing Partner of the 22 Fund, Tracy is a multifaceted leader in social and economic equity in finance with extensive expertise in international business and export promotion, impact investing, economic development policy, and technology. Tracy is also the founder of We Are Enough, a nonprofit educating women on why and how to invest with a gender lens.
Investing in policy reforms that advance women’s equality and data-driven strategies to increase women’s political power in the coming year (like the Fair Representation Act) is important because it’s possible that women will lose seats in the House in the 2022 midterm elections according to this analysis from Larry Sabato. As a reminder, the party not holding the presidency has gained seats in the midterms in all but two elections since the end of WWII.
While it’s possible that the Republican party will elect even more women in the upcoming cycle, many of the Democratic women elected in 2020 are considered “toss ups” in 2022, and that’s before the new district lines are drawn:
House Democrats are facing twin challenges next year: The overall consequences of reapportionment and redistricting, as well as midterm history. The combination of the two will be difficult for Democrats to overcome. But what if they only had to overcome one of these challenges? What if no district lines were changing? Could Democrats hold the House under the current map?
What follows is hypothetical Crystal Ball House ratings of all 435 House districts under the current maps and with the same apportionment as last decade.
Just so we’re clear: These are not real House ratings. We have not rated any 2022 House races yet this year, and we won’t until we start getting finalized maps.
These ratings also mix an alternate reality, in which no redistricting is occurring, with our actual reality, in which redistricting is occurring. This means we are taking into account developments that have happened in the real world that might not have happened in a world where no redistricting was happening. For instance, Reps. Charlie Crist (D, FL-13) and Tim Ryan (D, OH-13) have both announced statewide bids, and both of their seats are Toss-ups as open seats. It may be that the prospect of their districts being made more competitive (Crist) or being eliminated altogether (Ryan) is part of why these two members decided to run statewide. In an alternate reality with no redistricting, they would have nothing to fear from redistricting, so perhaps they would both be running for reelection instead of opting for statewide runs — in which case we would not have their districts as Toss-ups (both would probably be in the Leans or Likely Democratic columns). Redistricting may also be playing a role in what recent reporting has described as likely Senate bids by Reps. Val Demings (D, FL-10) and Stephanie Murphy (D, FL-7) in Florida and Rep. Conor Lamb (D, PA-17) in Pennsylvania. We took these likely bids for higher office into account when formulating these ratings (as open seats, FL-10 is Safe Democratic as currently drawn, while PA-17 is listed as a Toss-up and FL-7 as Likely Democratic).
With those caveats out of the way, here’s Table 1, our ratings for the House if no districts were changing. As per usual, the vast majority of the 435 House seats are not really competitive in general elections. Those districts not listed are rated safe for the incumbent party.
The overall takeaway from these hypothetical ratings is this: The Democrats would be underdogs to hold the House under the current district lines.
What stands out here is the tiny number of Republicans in the Toss-up column, just two, versus the large number of Democrats there (19).
The Democratic seats held by incumbents in the Toss-up column were all decided by four points or less with just one exception: Rep. Elaine Luria (D, VA-2) won by about half a dozen points in her swingy Hampton Roads seat. However, she has drawn a potentially strong challenger: state Sen. Jen Kiggans (R), who won a competitive state Senate race in 2019. The open FL-13 and OH-13 were mentioned above: Crist won by six points and Ryan won by eight. Several of the incumbents here did not face well-regarded challengers in 2020 but still had close races. Given that most of the members listed here won by roughly two-to-four points in 2020, they can’t afford much slippage, but it has been common in recent years for members of the presidential party to perform worse in a midterm compared to the previous presidential election year. Also included here as a Toss-up is IL-17, a Donald Trump-won district from which former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos is retiring. It’s hard to know how redistricting may have played into her thinking: a Democratic gerrymander could have helped her, although she also may not have gotten much help. In this scenario, IL-17 probably would be a Toss-up even if Bustos was running for reelection: Army reservist Esther Joy King (R), who held Bustos to a four-point win in 2020, appeared poised to challenge her in a rematch and officially entered the race immediately after Bustos retired.
This week Chile confirmed that people in established democracies can wield enormous power and ensure gender-balanced decision making processes as evidenced by this guest essay in The New York Times by Ariel Dorfman who writes:
Over the weekend, the people of Chile voted in a historic election to select the members of a body tasked with drafting a new Constitution to replace the one written in 1980 under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
The final tally dealt a severe blow to the followers of General Pinochet, many of whom make up the center-right and right-wing coalition Chile Vamos, backed by the current president, Sebastián Piñera, which won just 37 of the 155 seats for the Constitutional Convention. Chileans, especially the young, also rejected the traditional center-left parties as insufficiently responsive to people’s craving for a more egalitarian society and overly compromised with the status quo…
Two provisions already exist in the electoral process.
One stipulates that gender parity be achieved in the apportionment of the 155 delegates, so that women will not be greatly outnumbered by men in the halls of power. A majority of the 77 women elected, along with their male allies, can now fight successfully for reproductive rights in a country where abortion has traditionally been restricted and criminalized.
The other provision reserves 17 of the seats at the convention for Indigenous peoples, who form 9 percent of Chile’s 19 million people. Chile can henceforth proclaim itself a plurinational, multilingual republic. It is a historic triumph for the original inhabitants of that land like the Mapuche, who have faced oppression since the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. The conflicts with the Mapuche, especially over ancestral land rights, have recently led to a series of often violent skirmishes in the south of the country.
Other reforms seem likely: reining in police violence; a reformulation of economic and social rights that reduces the dominance of an obscenely rich elite; increased protection of the environment; the rooting out of endemic corruption; and the end of discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. people.
Just as crucial is the vigorous national conversation that will ensue, open to the citizenry and attentive to the input from those who spearheaded the revolt. A return to a Chile where the profits of the few mattered more than the well-being of the many will not be acceptable.
Ireland is also grappling with the over-representation of men and employing gender quotas to advance women’s representation and leadership in the Dáil Éireann according this compelling article in the Irish Examiner:
By the time Dáil Éireann celebrated 100 years in 2019, just 114 women had been elected as TDs. In the same period, around 1,190 men had taken a seat in our national parliament.
Gender quotas are not a perfect solution. Since their adoption, they have resulted in party spats, token candidates, and last-minute additions to some tickets, but they have increased the number of women in the Dáil.
From 2023, the gender quota, which was set at 30% for last year’s general elections, will rise to 40%, placing further pressure on political parties who risk losing funding if they don’t reach the threshold.
The pinch will be particularly felt by the three main parties as, unlike the smaller parties, they will have an existing rump of TDs to take into consideration…
“Overall, a gender-balanced and diverse parliament would go a long way to ensuring a gendered perspective is brought to bear on policy making that considers the needs and experiences of both women and men, but also recognises the differential gendered impacts of policy decisions on women and men,” said Fiona Buckley of UCC’s Department of Government and Politics.
But, she said, gender quotas should be understood as “the start rather than the culmination of efforts” to achieve gender equality in Irish politics, and should be seen as “one aspect of a suite of measures” that are required.
“Since the adoption of legislative gender quotas, Ireland has seen a 44% increase in the number of women elected to Dáil Éireann, rising from 25 in 2011 to 36 in 2020,” said Dr Buckley.
The gender quota has accelerated the pace of increase — what the gender quota has achieved in one electoral cycle across five years, previously took four electoral cycles across 22 years to achieve.
There is an update to my previous mention of the election of Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and the potential for her to become the first woman leader of Samoa—according to this article in The Diplomat it looks like action by the Supreme Court has cleared the way for her to assume the roll of prime minister:
Samoa appeared set to get its first woman leader after the nation’s top court on Monday reinstated the results of a knife-edge election last month.
Two decisions by the Supreme Court have paved the way for Fiame Naomi Mata’afa to become prime minister of the small island nation.
Her ascent is a milestone for the South Pacific, which has had few female leaders. Samoa and its neighbors tend to be Christian and traditional.
An advocate for women’s equality, Fiame, who was born in 1957, broke new ground during her campaign by going on the road and robustly criticizing the incumbent, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who had been in power for 22 years.
The court’s decisions appeared to end what most people viewed as an attempt by Tuilaepa to cling to power. Fiame had served as his deputy before they had a bitter split.
Win the race. ✅— USA Triathlon (@usatriathlon) May 17, 2021
Qualify for the Olympics. ✅
Make history. ✅
At 23-years-old, Taylor Knibb is the youngest woman to ever make the U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team. 🇺🇸
Highlights/photos courtesy of @worldtriathlon pic.twitter.com/wWTYy8Erce
My daughter’s high school class mate Taylor Knibb has become the youngest woman (!!!) to qualify for the Olympics in the triathlon according to this post on the U.S. Team site:
Taylor Knibb wasn’t about to leave it to chance.
Needing a top-three finish to secure an Olympic berth in triathlon, the 23-year-old put together a dominant bike leg and then held off teammate Summer Rappaport in the run to finish first at the World Triathlon Championship Series race Saturday in Yokohama, Japan.
The result makes Knibb the second U.S. triathlete to qualify for this summer’s Tokyo Games, joining Rappaport, who clinched her berth by being the top American within the top eight at an August 2019 Olympic qualifying event in Tokyo.
The U.S. is expected to secure the maximum three women’s and three men’s spots for the Tokyo Games. The first U.S. man could qualify for the Olympic triathlon team with a top-eight finish later Saturday in Yokohama. Two U.S. men could earn berths if both finish on the podium…
The daughter of an Ironman triathlete mom, Knibb raced her first triathlon as a kid and has enjoyed a steady rise since then. Also a runner and later swimmer at Cornell, Knibb has proven to be most successful when combining those sports with her specialty: cycling. A two-time junior world champion in triathlon, Knibb also won the U-23 world title in 2018. One year earlier, at age 19, her silver medal at the World Triathlon Series race in Edmonton, Alberta, made her the youngest medalist on that series.
She’s now the youngest American woman to qualify for the Olympics in triathlon.
I have ben participating in the U.S. State Department’s Community Solutions Program summit of international women’s representation experts and advocates which was supposed to take place last year in the Philippines. While I am sad not to see these amazing people in person it has been an amazing weeklong virtual gathering! And this year the program turns 10 so it’s been great to see old friends from the program at the alumni reunions.
Remember to check out this week’s suggested reading from the team at RepresentWomen!
The anemones are blooming in my garden. These are one of my mother’s (many) favorite flowers—it’s so nice to share this virtual connection with her to ground my busy days.
Fragrant JFK roses are blooming too, signaling that summer has arrived in Washington, D.C.
That’s all for this week,