Melinda Gates speaks out about sexism in tech

"Moving money is what will move the industry for women," Melinda Gates said at a business event Sept. 20.
sexism in tech

Melinda Gates speaks at the CNNMoney American Opportunity breakfast Sept. 20. The topic: gender bias in the tech sector. Photo via YouTube

Yes, Melinda Gates has experienced sexism. She talked about it – and other diversity issues – during the CNNMoney American Opportunity breakfast Sept. 20 in New York City.

Gates was one of the few female coders as an undergraduate at Duke University. She experienced sexism there from her peers and professors, she told CNNMoney’s Poppy Harlow in an interview at the event.

Gates left Duke University in 1987 with a computer science degree and a master’s in business administration. It wouldn’t be long before she joined Microsoft. She told CNNMoney she did not experience sexism within Microsoft, but she ran into it out in the larger industry when she went out to represent Microsoft at tech conferences.

These days, she is left both “outraged” about the state of the tech industry, she said, and “a little bit optimistic.”

“We know that the number of computer science graduates has gone down since I was in college. It’s 18 percent. At the time that I was in college it was at 37 percent. We were on the rise.”

“Women are saying, ‘I don’t want to go into that field.' So, it means there are problems and we need to fix it,” she said.

Gates traces the change in Silicon Valley culture when “all of a sudden games started to be genderized."

“You started to see this huge falling off of women wanting to go into computer science because the games were all shoot ‘em up, tough and NFL football,” she said. “So, they started to back out.”

Most of the money for venture capital is held in the hands of men – young men – and it reinforces itself, she said. Today only 6 percent of VC partners are women, she notes, adding that of all companies that get funded out of VC industry, only 3 percent of female-led companies get funded. Moreover, less than 1 percent of people of color get funding from the VC industry.

Three former employees of Google recently filed a suit charging the search engine giant they were assigned to positions that paid them less than their male colleagues and accusing the search giant of discriminating against them based on gender.

[Also: Google slapped with gender-based discrimination suit.]

Today, Gates is working to eliminate disparities. So, is Ellen Pao, who sued her former employer venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins for discrimination. She lost the case but raised awareness of widespread gender bias in the industry. Pao’s just-released book “Reset,” describes the trial and the sexism she asserts prompted her to file suit.

One aspect Gates is taking on as she tries to do her part to improve the situation is to plug what she calls the “leaky pipeline” – from K through 12, working on pathways for women to get into computer science.

“I’m working on some of the environmental issues, using my voice about the environment for women,” she said. “How do we make that right? I can use my resources. I can look for smart business opportunities. I think moving money is what will move the industry for women.”

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