The Atlantic

Melinda Gates: The Tech Industry Needs to Fix Its Gender Problem—Now

“If we don't have women in the tech space, we won't even be asking ourselves some of the right questions.”
Source: Kris Connor / Getty

Long before Melinda Gates was famous for her philanthropic work, she was yet another woman trying to make it in the male-dominated tech world.

Gates started working at Microsoft in 1987, when it was still a small, scrappy company. But even for a woman with a degree in computer science and technical skills in her blood (Gates’ father was an engineer) she still had trouble figuring out precisely how she fit into the male-dominated industry.

Thirty years later, many women are still asking themselves that question. Women make up an even smaller share of computer-science majors than they did when she graduated, having fallen to 18 percent from 37 percent in 1984.

With the formation of her own company, Pivotal Ventures, Gates is joining the bevy of voices in tech who are calling for change. I spoke with her about her experience at Microsoft, how she is approaching the issue of gender diversity in the industry, and why creating more inclusive companies is critical for the future.

The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity.

Gillian White: Our latest cover story delves into problems with gender diversity in the tech industry by asking, why is Silicon Valley so awful to women? How would you would answer that?

Melinda Gates: It hasn’t been welcoming to women now for more than a decade. So it’s something that’s actually been going on for a long time and I don’t think you see it being worked on in a systemic way and I think it needs to be worked on in a systemic way. If that doesn’t get reversed, you’re not going to have young women wanting to go into the field.

White: So why choose this moment to weigh in?

Gates: I’ve always been concerned about this. I think about where we’re going to go with computer science, where we’re going to go with technology. I see machine learning and what it’s doing in different sectors and

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