Melinda French Gates spotlights five women who inspire her on International Women’s Day

March 8, 2023, 1:29 PM UTC
Nisha Dua, Melinda French Gates and Fatima Gross Graves.

Good morning Broadsheet readers! In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re handing over today’s Broadsheet to Melinda French Gates, who shares the microphone with five women who inspire her and are pushing for gender equity.

– 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 childcare 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 and cofounders, 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 health care, the future of work, caregiving, and personal finance. Ultimately, we envisioned driving more capital to female founders over time: a virtuous cycle toward 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 startups 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.

Nisha Dua, Melinda French Gates and Fatima Gross Graves.

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 levels 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 (1,584 Democrats, 806 Republicans, 26 other)—a 5x increase since 1971! However, although women make up 51% of the population, women still only hold 32.7% 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. 

Melinda French Gates

For more International Women’s Day content inspired by French Gates’ piece, tune into LinkedIn Live to hear from the Broadsheet’s Emma Hinchliffe and BBG Ventures’ Nisha Dua. Join the conversation today at 12 p.m. EST/9 a.m. PST by going to this link.

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Today’s edition was curated by Kinsey Crowley. Subscribe here.


- Bestowing the power. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is introducing legislation to give Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo new powers that would allow her to take measures as drastic as banning TikTok in the name of national security. The group proposing the bill includes Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Reuters

- WeightWatchers deal. WeightWatchers parent company led by CEO Sima Sistani is acquiring Sequence, a telehealth company that provides weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, which have soared in popularity. The $106 million deal will allow WW to market Sequence's service to its users, says Sistani. Wall Street Journal

- 2024 VP. Former President Donald Trump is reportedly considering four women to be his running mate in 2024 as he tries to up his appeal among white, suburban women. Kari Lake is on the list. She fulfills Trump's top criteria: She's fiercely loyal to him and continues to deny the 2020 election results. Axios

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Gail Berman and Jen Wong have joined the Imax board of directors. 


- A year later. A year after President Joe Biden signed a law making it easier for victims of workplace sexual harassment to receive protections awarded by the justice system, advocate Gretchen Carlson is proud but recognizes there is still work to do. The burden remains on employees to know their rights and know when their employers are violating them. Fortune

- Ace investment. CVC Capital Partners added women's tennis to its portfolio of sports with a $150 million investment in the Women's Tennis Association. The WTA lost revenue from suspended tournaments in China after the public outcry over missing tennis star Peng Shuai. Bloomberg

- Settled. Moira Donegan, creator of the viral 'media men' spreadsheet that listed men accused of sexual misconduct, has settled a defamation case brought by author Stephen Elliott. He was named alongside 70 others when the crowdsourced spreadsheet caught steam in the early days of the #MeToo movement and said the settlement is in the six-figure range. New York Times


No one tells you the full truth about pregnancy and childbirth Jezebel

The surprising effects of remote work The Atlantic

The biting, witty melancholy of Nora Ephron’s Heartburn Vox

Jenna Ortega is watching you Elle


“People can be made to feel inferior by difference. I was made to feel difference was pretty cool.”

Priscilla Sims Brown, CEO of Amalgamated Bank on her unique upbringing

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