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Melinda French Gates calls for women's parity in political leadership

Melinda French Gates is funding efforts to elect more women to public office through her company, <a href="https://www.pivotalventures.org/">Pivotal Ventures</a>.
©Jason Bell
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©Pivotal Ventures
Melinda French Gates is funding efforts to elect more women to public office through her company, Pivotal Ventures.

Women make up just over half of the U.S. population, but only a quarter of federal lawmakers identify as female. Melinda French Gates is financing efforts to change the tide on these "unacceptable" statistics and get more women elected — through her company, Pivotal Ventures.

"When our government looks like we look like as a populace, they represent us and they make then laws and policies that we all believe in. And we're just not there yet," she told NPR's Michel Martin.

'Stop sending women to a broken system'

Women earned the federally-protected right to vote more than a century ago, in 1920, and yet in today's House of Representatives, there are more men named Mike than there are women chairing committees.

"There are barriers to women running for office," says Gates, a co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an NPR sponsor.

"We need to stop sending women to a broken system and we need to change the system."

One of these barriers is childcare. Through Pivotal, Gates has supported Vote Mama, a group advocating for women to use funds they raised for their campaigns to help pay for childcare. A total of 26 states now have such measures in place, according to Gates.

Gates says her effort differs from other organizations that support women in politics because she is seeking to fund and adapt the entire ecosystem behind a candidate's run.

Her support ranges from groups conducting research and analysis, like the Center for American Women and Politics, to organizations supporting women of color like Higher Heights and Latinas Represent.

"I'm trying to look at the whole chain for women and make sure they run, they get elected and wow, then they govern effectively from day one," Gates explains.

"Women — we know now from good research — govern differently, more collaboratively. And that's why I think we need to support organizations who are help getting women and people of color into our congressional halls."

Gates wants to end the 'inexcusable' trend of women's underrepresentation in politics

Pivotal funds both conservative and liberal groups, with Gates reserving her personal, individual giving on candidates who "represent my values."

One area of focus for Pivotal has been state legislatures, which collectively have more 7,000 seats and control two trillion dollars in spending.

Gates defines success in her efforts as no less than parity — a time when there will be at least as many women as men in power, in order to reverse the "inexcusable" trend of women's underrepresentation in politics.

"The women and men in state legislatures and at the national level, they should look like us. We shouldn't have 16 million Black women in this country and zero Black female senators at the national level. That is inexcusable," she says.

She expects to see near-parity for women in politics during her lifetime and parity during her daughters' lifetime. "We shouldn't expect anything else," she adds.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Olivia Hampton