The organized struggle for women’s equity has been going on in the U.S. for about as long as we’ve been a country. Even with important progress—from women being admitted to higher education institutions, to suffrage, to the Violence Against Women Act, to the near-election of a woman president, to the #MeToo movement—our society still treats women unjustly in many ways, while some forces continually seek to roll back gender-equity gains. Additional barriers persist for women of color, women who are poor, women who are differently-abled or ill, mothers, women who are transgender or gender nonconforming, and other sub-communities.

Today, a growing number of givers are working harder than ever to ensure that gender equity continues to advance. Funders are backing a range of efforts to create fairer workplaces and a safer world for women and girls—including to stop sexual harassment and domestic violence, increase women’s representation in male-dominated fields, ensure equal pay, and strengthen economic and social supports for working women.

Much of this work is playing out at the local level and spearheaded by women’s foundations. One such initiative, the 100% Project, is underway at the Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW). The organization says it is “an all-out, all-in, coordinated effort to increase women’s economic security and put an end to gender bias in metropolitan Chicago within a generation.”

The project began with a series of community conversations in 2015. The foundation has set goals for 2018, 2020, and 2030 that focus on diverse factors such as school culture and gender norms, workplace equity, health care, economic opportunity, family life, and other realms relevant to women and girls.

What role can men play in gender equity?

One interesting part of this endeavor is called Champions of Change. It calls upon male leaders in the private and public sector to work “within their spheres of influence to change norms, cultures, and policies” to advance gender equity.

CFW believes men can be powerful advocates for women and girls, and it’s not alone. As we’ve reported, sexual assault is an area where men are being asked to play a greater role in prevention and advocacy. Funders like the New York Women’s Foundation, NoVo, and Verizon are backing the nonprofit A Call to Men. It provides training to engage men and boys in the prevention of domestic violence, sexual abuse, harassment, and assault and “educating them on healthy, respectful manhood.” It runs programs in schools, businesses, community organizations, college campuses, and other settings in the U.S. and around the world.

Ted Bunch, the chief development officer of A Call to Men and one of its co-founders, has said it’s important to recognize that men who harass or abuse women are not inherently different, “other,” or apart from the rest of society, but reflecting embedded norms, such as the beliefs that women are “less valuable” or are “objects.” This is a key idea for initiatives like A Call to Men and Champions of Change. As we’ve written, the creators of these programs believe unearthing these norms and transforming men’s attitudes is critical to improving women’s experiences in the world and promoting equity.


For the men who’ve signed on to become Champions of Change, self-inquiry is often an important step to becoming gender-equity leaders. Carter Murray, CEO of the advertising agency network FCB, was one of the first executives to get involved with Champion of Change. His company has initiated leadership trainings in implicit bias. Murray told CFW:

The implicit bias exercises I did with the team opened my eyes further and led to me better understand the scale of the problem, my role within it, and even more importantly, why I was so passionate about it… Absurdly, I do hear men and male leaders saying that this is no longer an issue. By accepting this, I am proudly admitting in a very public setting that I do not think it is fixed and we all have a role to play.

CFW provides a supportive roadmap to the Champions and asks them to share their goals publicly, engage internal communities and stakeholders, measure their progress, provide the foundation with examples of their pro-women policies, and encourage more men to become involved.

“CFW is here to help Champions develop their unique goals based on best practices and connect them with the resources they need to achieve them,” Kyle Ann Sebastian, CFW manager of communications, told Inside Philanthropy.

Among its recommendations, CFW suggests companies use gender-blind applicant screenings and support evaluators and hiring managers in overcoming biases. The foundation also suggests sponsoring negotiation training for high school, college, and professional women. In part, these efforts address the issue that women are often brought up to be less self-advocating and confrontational than men, and are often seen as aggressive when they are ambitious, or even competent and confident. Making salary ranges publicly available can help women fight for fair pay. And, employers can offer paid family leave, child care, and flexibility in the workplace, and emphasize results over schedules. CFW also encourages those in power to actively recruit women to leadership roles and include them on senior search committees.

Along with the obvious human and civil rights arguments for achieving equity for women and girls, diverse teams and leadership have been shown to correlate with increased profitability. CFW states, “Gender bias hurts growth. Illinois could increase GDP by 7 percent, or $60 billion, over the next decade, if we empower women and girls to reach their full economic potential.”

CFW’s Sebastian said the organization currently has Champions in a variety of industries, government agencies, and education. “Part of the 100% Project is a commitment to develop new and unusual partnerships and collaborations,” she said. (Chicago-area readers and male leaders interested in becoming Champions of Change can contact Emily Dreke at

There is still much ground to cover on the road to true gender equity. While some headway will be made via policy and law, men and women’s conscious decisions to alter their attitudes and conduct will be essential. All people, especially men, need to own the responsibility to promote gender equity in their daily professional and interpersonal choices. Backing locally-focused initiatives like Champions of Change is one way that philanthropy can help advance this shifting of norms.

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