October, 2017: As I begin my fourth year as CEO of The Women’s Foundation of California, I know I’m not alone in having conflicting emotions about the state of the world, and specifically the lives of women and girls, LGBTQIA+ people, immigrants, and people of color. Like you, perhaps, I am so sad for all those who have lost so much in the wildfires across California. I am grateful for the firefighters, many of whom are incarcerated people. And I’m outraged by the daily and even hourly attacks on our community, yet amidst all these challenges, I still find reasons for hope.
This is certainly in part because I have the great honor of leading a powerful Foundation that works daily to resist these attacks and find solutions to the challenges our communities face. And it is also because the vision, resilience, and drive of our partners in our multi-issue movement relentlessly sets a bold agenda that refuses to stand down. In October, the Governor signed three of our Women’s Policy Institute bills. These groundbreaking pieces of legislation will increase access to child care and renewable energy funds for low-income communities and expand rights for transgender people.
When other parts of the country are fending off unyielding attacks on basic rights, we in California are advancing significant change and keeping pace with the march of progress.
I am encouraged that, over this past year, the Foundation team and Board took time to reflect deeply on our core strengths, both to bolster us all during this current political moment and to strengthen our position for the years ahead.
As a result, we have a refined program strategy, focused on the three things we do best: invest, train, and connect. These three pillars will be our strategic focus in the years ahead, and I’m excited to describe how we are activating around them—but first, let me share the larger context within which this work is being done.
You may already know that women’s foundations play an essential role in the global philanthropic and social change landscape. Yet, there remain many gains to be made, and incessant headwinds that work to push us backwards. Women continue to earn less than men, experience disproportionate discrimination and gender-based violence, and struggle to find adequate health care.
Even as headlines decry the rank unfairness of the “old boys club” from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, it’s not only the business sector where women are held back. Women are as acutely underrepresented in positions of public leadership as we are in the private sector. Consider how these disparities of who is at the table effect how decisions and policy are made. Now compound this equation for queer and transgender people and communities of color. Indeed, our activism, nestled in a proud legacy, is as crucial today as ever.
Women’s foundations, like women everywhere, achieve great things with a dearth of support. The underfunding of women’s rights and gender justice organizations remains a stubborn hurdle. In the 1970s, when the women’s funding movement began, only 1% of all philanthropic dollars were going to specifically fund women and girls. Shockingly, four decades later, only 4% of all U.S. foundation support goes specifically to women and girls—and even less to support queer and transgender people. This is not nearly enough progress to redress the gender inequities and misogyny our communities experience every day in this country.
While many foundations have made recent commitments to addressing racial and economic inequity, the philanthropic sector must also make a commitment to foreground gender justice. You can be assured that the Women’s Foundation of California will continue to address all forms of gender, economic, and racial injustice and the compounded challenges faced by women and transgender people. And here are three pillars we will use to get there: Invest | Train | Connect.