When Melinda Gates quietly established a new organization last year called Pivotal Ventures, she was expected to further her work on gender inequity and women’s empowerment. In a new interview with Backchannel, Gates gets into more detail about why her goal is to get more women into tech.
Along with her husband, Gates has helped the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation advance a wide range of philanthropic initiatives around the world. She said that in working in the developing world, she learned about issues facing women and girls. She told Backchannel that her belief that women transform societies caused her to ask herself how far the U.S. has come on issues of its own. The answer was not far enough.
As a 1987 graduate of Duke University, Gates was part of an era in which just over a third of undergraduate computer science degrees went to women. Nearly 30 years later, fewer than one in five of those degrees go to women. And that’s spurring Gates’ efforts.
“To me, the tech industry is one of the best places to work right now. If I was working again, I would work in biological science or tech or the combination. Every company needs technology, and yet we’re graduating fewer women technologists. That is not good for society. We have to change it.”
Gates says she’s in a learning mode right now, looking at what investments need to be made where in order to address the problem. Areas of further understanding and focus could include:
- The “leaky pipeline” that causes girls and young women to lose interest in and abandon a STEM education.
- The correlation between whether the rise of a male-centric gaming industry caused women to drop out of computer science pursuits.
- The need to present girls with effective women-in-tech role models.
- The need to finance the collection of data illustrating the problem.
- Artificial intelligence and making sure the needs of women are part of the conversation.
- Solid family leave policies at federal, state, and private-sector level.