Earlier this year, Washington, DC ,Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a three-year, $20 million investment targeting “the most urgent and persistent challenges” to realizing the potential of black men and boys in DC. Certainly a worthwhile initiative and one for which the Mayor should be applauded. But, when I looked for a similar focus on the needs of inner-city women and girls, I couldn’t find one. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a DC oversight. It exists nationally and shows up across our social, economic and business sectors.
Consider the biotechnology field, for example.
Venture capitalists – arguably the starting point for inventions, discoveries and new businesses in biotech – are more likely to fund white males over non-white minorities and females. According to recent findings by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, companies headed by male executives received 98% of all investments, while companies run by female executives received only 1% of the funding. And women-led start-up companies received only 7% of all venture capital funding in the United States.
The challenges women face and the disparity between funding for programs advancing men and women – particularly women of color – is documented in a report from the Open Society Foundations and the Foundation Center, showing that in 2011 foundations awarded more than $40-million in grants to support black boys and men, up from $29 million the previous year. Despite the overwhelming data that girls of color face the same and at times compounded set of obstacles as their male counterparts, no big foundations yet have major grant-making efforts that address their race- and gender-specific needs.
In 2012, just 5.4% of all foundation funding went to programs focused on women and girls, and less than 1% to programs focused on Black women and girls.
Over recent years, a number of initiatives have emerged to support boys and young men of color, with some two dozen foundations involved. But there have been few new efforts aimed at improving the lives of girls and young women of color, which begs the question: If support for boys and men of color is a priority, why are women and girls of color not an equal priority?
Of course, the answer is “they are”…or at least should be.
In my estimation, we need to do a few things to provide higher levels of funding to develop programs for girls and women with the same energy and urgency as we now do for disadvantaged boys and young men.
We need to recognize that girls and young women need the same kinds of role models now increasingly being provided to boys and young men. Women who have “made it” or are on the way up need to reach back to those who are following by becoming mentors and sponsors for young women who are searching for that resource and need trusted guidance and support.
We need to introduce young women and girls to business sectors and opportunities they might not otherwise have considered, and provide them with the skills and experience to compete in male-dominated fields, such as those making up the STEM business sectors.
There is some movement in that direction, but it is not growing quickly enough.
Last year, Booz Allen Hamilton created an initiative called STEM Girls 4 Social Good (SG4SG). It is an effort to bring together professionals and university summer interns with STEM backgrounds to work on some of today’s greatest societal challenges. During the kickoff week, Booz Allen joined Polaris and Girls Inc. of the Washington, DC, Metro Area for its annual six-week STEM camp. Booz Allen hosted 40 girls for a week-long focus on data science and its every day applications. With the support of talented mentors at Booz Allen, the Girls Inc. DC Metro Area girls learned ways that data science can improve the quality of life and, in this instance, help address the problem of human trafficking.
More initiatives like that are needed, as are partnerships with organizations like Girls Inc. of the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Area, exposing girls to opportunities they might not have dreamt possible and helping them build the confidence to pursue those dreams. As one 12 year old in Washington, DC’s, Girls Inc. program told us: “When I wake up, I see someone who is willing to do anything to achieve my dream.”
In addition to developing an overlooked resource our country sorely needs, - i.e. the talents of girls and women - there’s another, more personal, reason to invest time, mentoring, sharing skills and experiences with disadvantaged girls…it just feels good!
Jan Molino is the CEO & Managing Partner of Aspire Ascend, a service provider and member-based organization, that helps women advance toward leadership. She is an experienced speaker and facilitated numerous forums and panel discussions on this subject. Jan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.