During the pandemic, a staggering 4.2 million women across the country had to leave the workforce—a full million more women than men. For one thing, layoffs in hard-hit sectors like the leisure and hospitality fields were more likely to employ women; for another, women have had disproportionate caretaking responsibilities while schools, daycares, and senior centers were closed. But while men have now fully recovered—and even outpaced—their pre-pandemic employment rates, women’s employment is not projected to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. While an impressive 467,000 jobs were added in January, women’s overall unemployment remained the same (and the unemployment rate actually grew for Black women).

What can be done? Long before the pandemic, women’s funds—community foundations created with the goal of accelerating progress for all by investing in the leadership of women and girls, especially Black, Latina, Native American, and other women and girls of color—have been at the forefront of deploying capital to organizations working towards women’s underemployment solutions. But before the pandemic, they weren’t getting the visibility, traction, or funding they deserved.

Unfortunately, ignoring causes that serve women is a well-documented problem in philanthropy. Women and girls make up 51 percent of the world’s population, yet women’s and girls’ organizations receive less than 2 percent of all philanthropic giving. The stats are even worse for funds supporting women and girls of color. Of the $67 billion of charitable donations made by foundations in a single year, less than 0.02 percent was specified as benefiting causes that support Black women and girls.

The women’s funds we support through the Women’s Funding Network have long been on the frontlines fighting for changes like childcare initiatives. The same issues affecting women during the pandemic existed before, of course, even if the scale has been magnified exponentially.

Like many individuals in the communities they serve, women’s funds experienced significant financial challenges at the onset of the pandemic, with almost a third finding themselves in danger of closing in 2020. However, through leveraging investments from larger foundations, government, and other funders, preliminary data suggests that women’s funds not only recovered from these initial losses but, on average, these organizations’ fundraising efforts led to double-digit growth in their operating and grantmaking budgets by 2022 when compared with pre-pandemic levels. Specifically, mid-sized funds with grantmaking budgets between $100k and $1M, saw an average of 43% growth in grantmaking budgets from 2019 to 2022. This influx of new funds allowed them to deepen their focus and work on core issues affecting women during (and before) the pandemic.

Read the full article about women’s funds by Elizabeth Barajas-Román at Stanford Social Innovation Review.