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Melinda Gates
Melinda Gates. (Flicker Photo / @WorldBank)

Her own husband was a self-professed workaholic in his early days at Microsoft, but in a new essay on LinkedIn, Melinda Gates writes about the danger of assuming that today’s hard-charging workplace mentality is appropriate for today’s workforce.

Gates writes about how the American workplace was essentially set up around the notion that employees had partners who would stay home and do the (unpaid) work of caring for children and the household, etc. While that wasn’t always the case 50 years ago, it’s certainly less so now as more households are made up of dual income earners or single parents.

And while workers are struggling in those circumstances to find the right work-life balance, more companies are asking employees to work more hours. The American workweek has soared from less than 40 hours to nearly 50 since 1949, Gates writes. And in a line that should ring a familiar tone to many, she adds: “Technology has made it harder to pull away from our jobs, and easier to wonder whether a night off or a long weekend is damaging our careers.”

All of this hurts women and minorities the most, she argues, because women still shoulder the heavier burden of responsibility at home, even after a long work day, and minorities have less access to the networks and resources that could help them cope with an increased workload at work and at home.

Gates says that companies are held back when their teams lack diverse perspectives and that innovation and economic growth suffer when workers have to struggle to keep their heads above water.

But, much like her husband and partner at the Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates remains optimistic in the face of any struggle. She says that diversity and mentorship programs can open career pathways and pro-family policies like paid family leave do help employees continue to succeed in the prime of their careers.

Gates promises to continue the conversation on LinkedIn with more posts in the coming months.

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