America continues to face a critical challenge to end persistent inequality that’s holding far too many people behind, and undercutting the nation’s promise and potential.

Racism must be erased from law enforcement, education, finance and other institutions, as current protests are highlighting.

Gender inequality must also be confronted in the U.S. and across the world, which continues to undervalue half its talent pool because of systemic sexism.

A new program to advance gender equality, announced this week by Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos, provides a welcome boost.

The philanthropists are giving $30 million to launch the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge “to advance bold solutions” expanding women’s power and influence, particularly women of color, in the U.S. by 2030.

Grants will be made to nonprofit organizations or coalitions with proposals to dismantle barriers holding women back, calling society to action and fast-tracking women in sectors like government, technology and entrepreneurship.

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“The entrenched inequalities that divide America — race, gender, class — will not go away without systems-wide change,” Gates said in the announcement.

The challenge is part of a tremendous $1 billion pledge Gates made last year to advance gender equality. It also complements work she and her husband do through their foundation to increase women’s economic empowerment globally.

Progress on gender equality continues, but it’s still far too slow.

At the current pace, it will take the U.S. 208 years to achieve gender equality, according to a World Economic Forum analysis last year. It ranked the U.S. 51st of 149 countries, trailing Nordic countries that have done the most to close gender gaps but also developing nations like Mozambique and Bangladesh. That’s unacceptable.

Breaking it down, the U.S. does better on providing economic participation and opportunity to women, ranking 19th in the analysis. But it’s 46th in education attainment, 71st in women’s health and survival, and 98th in political empowerment.

Addressing those shortcomings and accelerating progress is the overarching goal of the grant program.

This noble work is something the Puget Sound region can take pride in. The region helped the Gates and Bezos families build companies — Microsoft and Amazon — and fortunes that are being used to address societal problems and improve millions of lives.

Equality Can’t Wait also presents a challenge, to speed progress toward equality, that everyone should address as they can.