Founded by Melinda French Gates, Pivotal Ventures accelerates social progress by removing barriers that hold people back.

Amanda Nguyen, Founder of Rise walking from a United Nations Townhall

Photo courtesy of Rise

Amanda Nguyen, Founder of Rise, walks from a United Nations Townhall

5 Women Showing What Progress Looks Like

Melinda French Gates
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What progress looks like.

I think of myself as an “impatient optimist.” To me, the term captures the delicate balance I try to strike in my work: outraged by a pace of progress that’s much too slow—and yet committed to the belief that we can work together to accelerate it. 

When it comes to gender equity, I am constantly reminded that progress is not just a byproduct of the passage of time. It is the direct result of people demanding change—activists, advocates, visionaries, leaders, survivors, and innovators. They are the reason why life has steadily improved for women and girls around the world. Now, it’s up to us to build on that progress and ensure it extends to include more women of all backgrounds. 

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I asked five women who are putting these ideals into action to share their thoughts about what’s working to accelerate the pace of change. They report that their daily work is full of reasons for optimism—even as they remind us that continued progress depends on doubling down on our commitment to removing the barriers that continue to hold women and girls back. 

Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO, NWLC 

Title IX became law the same year the National Women’s Law Center was founded, 1972. In the 50 years since, entire fields of work have been opened up to women, including academia, engineering, and medicine. Before Title IX, quotas still limited places for women in law schools. Last April, a Supreme Court that for more than 190 years consisted only of men confirmed its first Black woman Justice, bringing the total number of women on the Court to four. 

We must hold the deep tension that while we celebrate victories—including, in the past year, the historic passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and unprecedented child care funding—we are also reeling from the devastation created by Dobbs. But even there, in every state where abortion rights were on the ballot, people around the country voted to affirm them, proving that progress—not despite pain, but alongside it—is always within our reach. 

Susan Lyne and Nisha Dua, Managing Partners & Co-Founders, BBG Ventures 

Our thesis when we launched BBG Ventures in 2014 was that venture capital could be an accelerator – that by backing female founders building transformative companies, we could drive outsize venture returns and inspire a generation of women to take on the biggest drivers of inequality across healthcare, the future of work, caregiving, and personal finance. Ultimately, we envisioned driving more capital to female founders over time: a virtuous cycle towards gender parity. 

Fast forward eight years, and we’re still waiting on the ecosystem-level changes we hope to see. While more dollars are going to start-ups with at least one female founder (from $10 billion in 2014 to $42.6 billion in 2022), the percentage going to women-led companies has plateaued at less than 2%, and the percentage to underrepresented women is infinitesimal. But it is now undeniable that female founders can and do build myriad game-changing companies that deliver massive revenue, including companies in our portfolio like double unicorn Spring Health, Zola, KiwiCo, and Chief. Innovation – and progress – are fed by diverse viewpoints, this we know for sure. When access to venture capital broadens, we all win. 

Amanda Nguyen, Founder, Rise 

The other day, I received a letter from a fellow survivor of sexual violence, thanking the team at Rise for believing in her story and her ability to effect change. It reminded me of myself, a decade ago, when the justice system betrayed me, and I had no other option than to change the law. 

I have had the privilege of working with glass-shattering women at Rise who have fought for their rights as survivors of sexual violence at the international, national and state level and successfully won rights for over 25 million survivors. 

So many women know from personal experience that sexual violence is an obstacle that can prevent us from becoming our best and fullest selves. But with these efforts, we are marching closer to a reality where our gender and our bodies will no longer be used against us. Where women will have access to the justice we deserve, regardless of our geographic location. Where women can feel safe, valued, heard. Where the obstacles to our best and fullest selves are removed, so that the whole world can see what’s possible when women thrive. 

Erin Vilardi, Founder, VoteRunLead 

Vote Run Lead and our new are helping achieve gender equality by teaching barrier-breaking women how to run for political office and win. There are 2,416 women in state legislatures nationwide (1,584D, 806R, 26 other) — a 5x increase since 1971! However, although women make up 51 percent of the population, women still only hold 32.7 percent of state legislative seats. There should be equal representation.

We created the Run/51 initiative to pursue fair gender representation in every state. Nevada was first to reach this milestone in 2018, with 52.4% female lawmakers (60.3% in 2023). Women now hold equal or majority power in the Arizona Senate, Colorado House, New Hampshire Senate, and New Mexico House. Vote Run Lead believes our democracy must reflect the full range of our voices and experiences—and achieving parity across all 50 state legislatures is an important step toward the government we all deserve.

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