Over the course of my career in philanthropy and government, I’ve been fortunate to participate in many high-level meetings where key decisions have been made.  All too often, I was the only woman in these rooms—whether I was at the table or in a supporting role.

It’s hard to believe that it’s necessary to make the point that women need to be in equal roles at all decision-making tables, whether in their home, their work, or their government. But too many recent headlines remind us how that’s not been the case, and how it’s continuing to affect our lives.

Data has shown that women are more likely to be resilient, solution-oriented leaders, and whether they are leading startupsstate legislaturesnational governments, or on the frontlines of COVID-19 response, the impacts have been shown time and time again. When we invest in women, economies grow, and societies become stronger, safer, healthier, more educated, and inclusive.

Despite this, the path to gender parity in the US is much longer than many realize.

  • More than 50 years after pay discrimination became illegal in the US, the “average” woman still makes only 83 cents for every dollar men earn, and women of color experience even greater gaps. At this rate, we will not achieve pay equity until 2093. You, your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren will all live in a world where women make less than men.
  • The COVID pandemic had a devastating impact on women’s employment. McKinsey reported that one in four women were considering leaving the workforce or “downshifting their careers.” And losses for women impact everyone: as a 2020 report warned, “the risk of mothers leaving the labor force and reducing work hours in order to assume caretaking responsibilities amounts to $64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity.”
  • Despite 2018 being dubbed “the year of the woman” in the US when 103 women were elected to the House of Representatives, that milestone only brought women up to 24% of members of the House. Nationally, while women make up 51% of the population, they occupy less than 30% of elected positions.

Wage disparities, women leaving the workforce, incremental political progress—these issues can sound overwhelming. However, there are many terrific organizations working to close these gaps, who are making impressive progress despite small budgets.

Today, there is very limited philanthropic investment in women and girls’ causes. In the US, only 1.6% of all philanthropic giving goes to these areas. For women of color, this number is even less, with only 0.5% of philanthropic funding reaching this vital group of changemakers.

Four years ago, Panorama created The Ascend Fund (Ascend) to support organizations dedicated to getting to gender parity in elected office.  While everyone I met was doing impressive work, they were all doing it on a shoestring, with the largest organizations averaging an annual budget of $1 million.

We know that when women run for office, they win, but the challenge is often convincing them to run.  Ascend funds a dozen national organizations to support women as they consider running for office.  We were thrilled that of the women who trained with our partners and ran for office in 2021, 68% won their general election—that’s almost twice the national average for women candidates.

Read the full article about investing in women by Gabrielle Fitzgerald at The Center for Family Philanthropy.