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

Professional portraits of four women of color founders working with Pivotal Ventures.

Four Women of Color Contributing to a More Equal World

By Dr. Renee Wittemyer, Vice President, Program Strategy, Pivotal Ventures
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“How can we better support the progression and advancement of people of color in the workplace?” This question was at the heart of a study I led at a tech company seven years ago, in which I sat down with hundreds of colleagues across the organization to hear about their experiences and challenges.

As a South Asian woman, I thought I knew what it was like to navigate the workplace as a person of color. I was wrong. I quickly realized that my Black, Latina, and Native colleagues faced higher barriers to their success than I did. And if we wanted them to thrive, we’d have to tailor our approaches.

Renee Wittemyer, Senior Director of Program Strategy at Pivotal Ventures, seated in a corporate meeting room.

I joined Pivotal Ventures only a few months later, and I was heartened to see that our team was already on its own racial equity learning journey and looking at all of our strategic work through that lens. Pivotal Ventures has long believed that if we want to expand women’s power and influence and improve the well-being of all people in the United States, then we must address the unique needs and aspirations of women and girls of color.


Here are four of our partners who are doing just that.

Professional headshot of Dwana Franklin-Davis, the CEO of Reboot Representation, and a Pivotal Ventures partner.

Dwana Franklin-Davis, CEO of Reboot Representation: Tackling the Race and Gender Gap in Tech

No matter how you look at it, programs for women and girls of color are chronically underfunded, receiving only 0.5 percent of all philanthropic giving in the United States. A few years ago, Pivotal partnered with McKinsey & Company to research the state of corporate support for gender and tech, and the findings showed a lot of room for improvement: Only 5 percent of corporate philanthropic dollars were going to programs focused on women and girls in tech—and programs centering women of color received less than 0.1 percent of companies’ philanthropic grants.

Alarmed by this data, we worked with major tech companies to form the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition, which aims to double the number of Black, Latina, and Native American (BLNA) women earning computing degrees by 2025. They’re also working to ensure those graduates can succeed in the workforce. Their new report, “System Upgrade: Rebooting Corporate Policies for Impact,” recommends nine policies that can help companies retain BLNA women in the technical workforce.
Read the report

“When Black, Latina, and Native American women are well-represented in tech, we will see more innovation, more strategic initiatives,” Reboot’s CEO, Dwana Franklin-Davis told us. “We will see stronger communities being built, and that’s both communities inside of a corporation, which lead to retention, as well as the communities where the employees live, work, serve, and thrive.”

Graphic of assorted headlines from TechCrunch, Forbes, Crain's, McKinsey & Company, and TechHQ, on the topic of women in the tech workforce.

Professional headshot of Samara Hernandez, founding partner and jefa of Chingona Ventures, and a Pivotal Ventures partner.

Photo courtesy of Chingona Ventures by Stephanie Bassos Photography

Samara Hernandez, Founding Partner of Chingona Ventures: Seeding Innovation Through Diversity

Just as philanthropy tends to overlook women of color, so, too, does venture capital: Startups founded by Latinas and Black women receive less than 1 percent of venture capital funds. “While the venture capital industry brands itself as investing on the leading edge of innovation, the truth is that many of the start-ups that get funded look the same—same industries, same business models, and same founder backgrounds,” Samara Hernandez, the founding partner of Chingona Ventures, explains.

Chingona is an early-stage fund that invests in a wide array of companies and industries. Notably, 80 percent of CEOs in their portfolio are women or minority. Hernandez says this isn’t because they’ve explicitly sought out people of color; instead, they look for people with different views and experiences, which has led to a diverse portfolio that is taking on tough problems with innovative solutions. One of the companies that Chingona has funded is helping to close the education gap for underserved students, while another is focused on improving the health outcomes for Black mothers.

Animated data visualization graphic depicting startups founded by Latinas and Black women receive less than 1 percent of venture capital funds.

Professional headshot of Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and Executive Director of IllumiNative, and a Pivotal Ventures partner.

Photo courtesy of IllumiNative by Wes Cunningham

Crystal Echo Hawk, Founder of IllumiNative: Reclaiming Native Narratives

The way marginalized groups are represented in media and cultural narratives has a significant impact on how they are perceived more broadly. The stories and images that we’re exposed to in film, television, and media can either promote harmful stereotypes or disrupt them. This is one of the key reasons we partner with IllumiNative, founded by Crystal Echo Hawk, in their efforts to combat the erasure and misrepresentation of Native peoples.

Crystal founded IllumiNative after research she led discovered that 78 percent of Americans “know little to nothing about Native peoples.” In addition to grassroots organizing and advancing research for and about Native peoples, IllumiNative is transforming how they’re represented in entertainment and pop culture. They offer helpful resources on myth busting and “what’s in and what’s out” in Native representation. Their American Genocide Podcast is also taking a deep and important look at the crimes of Native American boarding schools.

“Changing the story and changing the future for Native peoples is essential to changing the future of America,” Crystal told us. “The leadership, knowledge, and solutions of the original peoples of this land is fundamental to creating a just, inclusive, and equitable society in America, our homeland."

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  • An Indigenous man participating at a NODAPL protest with a camera in the background.

    Photo courtesy of IllumiNative by Josué Rivas/INDÍGENA

    Dallas Goldtooth at a NODAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) protest on the Standing Rock Reservation.

  • An Indigenous elder and young child smile warmly at each other.

    Photo courtesy of IllumiNative by Paul Wilson

    Indigenous joy shared between elders and youth

  • A brightly dressed Indigenous woman stands on the street outside a busy souvenir store.

    Photo courtesy of IllumiNative by Gabriella Norte. Dancer: Stormie Perdash.

    IllumiNative is Indigenizing Hollywood!

Professional headshot of Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, AAKOMA Project founder, and a Pivotal Ventures partner.

Photo courtesy of The AAKOMA Project by Clark Bailey Photo

Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, Founder of The AAKOMA Project: Getting Youth of Color the Support They Need

While there is growing awareness of the mental health crisis facing young people, there is little research on the unique mental health challenges faced by youth of color. That’s where The AAKOMA Project comes in. Their State of Mental Health for Youth of Color 2022 report was a first-of-its kind study, shedding light on how racial trauma and cultural stigma affect mental health and create barriers to getting help.

“I think one of the biggest obstacles is this idea that there’s nothing unique about Black people and people of color, and our mental health,” AAKOMA founder Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble said recently. “I think that contributes to internalized stigma [and] how the field of mental health has failed to keep up with the needs of a diverse population.”

A Career of Humanity

I recently spent time in Washington, D.C., where I was able to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. It’s filled with so many inspiring quotes, but this one stood out to me: "Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in."

I can’t think of a better way to describe the work that these leaders are doing. They’ve made a career of humanity—and are helping to create a finer world for all of us to live in.

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