Melinda Gates has a message for the tech industry: Change starts with girls.
On Wednesday, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spoke at The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, of the need to close the enormous gap in the field of technology, where women hold only 25% of computing jobs and head up merely 5% of startups.
Gates fell in love with coding early on in her career and joined Microsoft in the 1980s, at a time when the gender gap in tech was even more significant.
“It’s hard to be a woman in technology, so women don’t go into technology, which makes it harder to be a woman in technology,” she said. To stop this vicious cycle, she noted, we need to create more pathways for young girls interested in STEM—and start recognizing their potential.
“It’s time the world starts recognizing that the next Bill Gates might not look anything like the last one,” she said in a powerful call to action. “And that not every great idea comes wrapped in a hoodie. Right now there’s a girl in elementary school whose ideas one day will change the world. It’s time everyone starts seeing it that way.”
The future is a focal point for Gates. Last week, she wrote a Linkedin essay on how the American workplace has evolved since the last century—and how it hasn't. While 47 percent of the workforce is now female, our policies don't seem to reflect the change.
"Astoundingly, we remain a country where just 15 percent of Americans have access to employer-sponsored paid family leave," Gates notes. "When companies assume that the work of caring for a family and maintaining a household is getting done by someone else, it hurts everyone—but it hurts women and minorities the most."
Gates is intent on changing that by highlighting innovative workplace solutions and challenging business leaders to take action.
"When it comes to the future of work, it’s clear that we all have a role to play—from better balancing caregiving responsibilities at home, to reimagining office culture from the ground up," she writes.
On Wednesday, as she stood at the conference podium in Orlando, Gates marked a starting point on her map for change. It all begins with a single girl.
“That girl deserves the chance to rise as high as her talents are going to take her,” Gates said. “The world deserves a chance to see what that girl can do.”
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(Photo Credit: Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images)