Melinda Gates – the women in tech- is taking time from her philanthropic work to build out a personal team dedicated to helping increase the number of women in technology-related jobs. Gates, who co-chairs the world’s largest philanthropic foundation with her husband and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, says the issue is close to her heart. She graduated from Duke University in 1987 with a degree in computer science (as well as an MBA and a bachelor’s degree in economics) and joined Microsoft shortly thereafter, where she worked for more than a decade.
The newly launched initiative lays focus on females. It’ll be separate from the well-known Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which addresses issues ranging from the prevention of infectious diseases to sustainability and beyond. What this new venture will look like is still uncertain.
In an interview given to Backchannel, Gates very clearly told that she is still in a learning mode. Once she has learnt then only she can figure out exactly what investments need to be made. She is very well aware of the areas she wants to focus on, expressing interest in research, for instance, citing the exploration of just when and how women became less interested in technology.
After all, in the ’80s, 37 percent of computer science majors were women. These days, that number is closer to 18 percent. One theory is that the computer and gaming industries, including their marketing strategies, became very male-oriented, causing a dip in interest from young women.
Gates finds this data troubling, and she’s dedicated to putting resources toward figuring out how to both increase and maintain female representation in STEM fields. It’s unclear what form this initiative will take, and what the interplay between this new project and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will look like.
Areas of interest she’s pinpointed include problems in the education pipeline that push girls away from STEM subjects, adequate role models for young girls interested in tech, and perception problems with male-dominated fields like the game industry. To this she gives the title the “leaky pipeline,” which is the various points in a woman’s educational career where she might decide to leave computer science behind.
Beyond education, Gates is looking at broader structural problems making it more difficult for women to pursue careers in technology. Gates calls out corporate blind spots, like Apple having once left out a menstruation feature in their health-tracking app, and the pitfalls with artificial intelligence and the rise of female-voiced assistants. She’s also trying to tackle issues with parental leave policies. These are all topics Gates feels would be aided by having female voices in the industry — and not just one or two, but a collective.
Gates has spoken out about issues like this before. Just last week she talked with CNNMoney about why poverty is sexist. She’s also discussed the pitfalls of data in reflecting the challenges women face in education, health, politics and more.
In the words of Melinda Gate- “If we don’t look at those root inequities and we don’t talk about them and make them transparent, we won’t move forward as a society.”