From Problems To Opportunities: Fellows Bridging Gender Gaps
According to a Chinese proverb, women hold up half the sky. But in a world where systemic inequalities persist – ones that often disadvantage women and girls – how do we ensure that all people are able to stand firmly on the same ground?
When Fellows look around, they see lots of things that need fixing. For those interested in leveling the playing field among the genders these things run the gamut – from limited access to education, to oppressive gender norms, to archaic prejudices.
But when they really examine the issues and think through these problems, many Fellows actually find opportunity – opportunities to launch new companies, grow their portfolios, or invest in the future of their industry. Below we highlight a number of Fellows using their ventures and their platforms to act on these opportunities with creative solutions and to bridge gaps that others haven’t yet completely addressed.
Many Fellows have taken the opportunity to invest in growing talent and to improve access to social capital. Lisa Skeete Tatum, a Henry Crown Fellow, provided a "personalized playbook" for women at a career crossroads, such as switching jobs or returning to the workforce. Lisa noted that common challenges for women in the job market include a lack of access to informal networks, critical benchmarking information, and personal branding strategies. Landit, Lisa’s Fellowship venture that has now become her company, equips women with the tools to overcome these challenges and to create more opportunities for themselves. This rising tide lifts all ships: Lisa states that raising the labor force participation rate of women to that of men would increase U.S. GDP by about $900B.
Others have built onramps to entrepreneurship for women, like Central America Leadership Initiative Fellow Mercedes Deshon who founded Voces Vitales Nicaragua (now part of the Vital Voices network). Her organization identifies, trains, and mentors women business owners with strong leadership traits to encourage them to reach their full potential. In the first five years, Mercedes's venture directly benefitted over 2,000 women. Like Lisa, Mercedes identified a lack of access to an informal network as a barrier to women pursuing careers in business. Her creation of this network of thousands of female leaders directly addresses that challenge and has an exponential effect on paving the way for thousands more entrepreneurial women.
To promote new ideas, fresh and diverse perspectives are required. China Fellow Sally Shan recognizes this. Sally, a venture capitalist, is a trailblazer whose business acumen is changing the norms of traditionally majority-male venture firms (investors in China's top VC firms are only 17% female). She founded the Shero Fellowship, which seeks to inspire young women to unlock their full potential as leaders for the benefit of themselves and their communities. Dozens of these young women have already established social programs with the goal of becoming significant change-makers over the course of their Fellowship experience. By changing mindsets early, Sally hopes to see a ripple effect in positions of leadership in her sector over time.
This Tecate ad confronts the issue of gender violence head on
Henry Crown Fellow Willy Foote is the founder and CEO of Root Capital, an agricultural impact investor that helps increase incomes and stabilize employment for rural farmers in developing countries. Root Capital identified that women produce more than 50% of the world’s food, but enjoy significantly lower rates of property ownership than their male counterparts. Additionally women do 80% of farm work in sub-Saharan Africa but receive less than 10% of small farm credit available to smallholders. To address this directly, three of Root Capital’s goals for 2016 were to finance 200 gender-inclusive businesses, reach 200,000 female producers, and to build financial management capacity for 100 businesses with woman leadership and/or sizable female employment or membership.
And it’s not just Fellows in the business community making change. Fellows in other sectors have found equally ripe opportunities. A prime example is Liberty Fellow, and McNulty Prize winner, Dr. Amy Crockett, who has worked to decrease rates of preterm birth in South Carolina by improving access to (and developing) sustainable infrastructure for group prenatal care. In the United States, more than 500,000 babies are born preterm every year, translating into roughly $26 billion in lifetime medical costs. By pioneering and demonstrating the success of a group prenatal care program called Centering Pregnancy, Amy has paved the way for a methodology that has shown to reduce South Carolina's rate of preterm birth by almost 50%, while also saving the state over $7 million. Today, 85% of women in South Carolina have access to group prenatal care.
Dr. Amy Crockett's McNulty Prize winning venture: CenteringPregnancy