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PARADOX PROFILE: MELINDA GATES

by Hannah Warner 5 min read

PARADOX PROFILE: MELINDA GATES - Paradox

The last name “Gates” holds power in our everyday speech. Initially, our thoughts go to Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and the second wealthiest person in the world. Perhaps we even think of The Gates Foundation, a foundation that has donated billions of dollars to philanthropists causes. Nevertheless, while Bill Gates remains an important figure in our society,  Melinda Gates deserves a spotlight in her own right. 

Melinda Gates has not only sponsored several projects in the name of female equity in the workplace, but has also initiated a movement towards changing the unjust stereotypes and treatment of women and their education worldwide. In a world where 49.6% are women yet only 26% of computing jobs are held by females, we look to Melinda Gates, a powerful pioneer of gender equality, as an inspiration for closing this divide. 

(Melinda Gates on Instagram, @melindafrenchgates)

In her early life, Gates’s father, Raymond French, had a large impact on her future interest in technology and computer science. At a young age, he introduced her to Apple II, an 8-bit home computer designed in 1977. Using and understanding the features of this computer inspired Gates’ interest in computer games and the BASIC programming language, skills that she mastered and later went on to apply in the workplace. She grew up in a conventional family for her time - her mother Elaine Amerland was a domestic homemaker and Gates fell second of four children. Despite her traditional origins, Gates eventually became one of the most influential philanthropists in the name of female empowerment. 

Gates received a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and Economics at Duke University, then continued her education at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business to receive her Master’s in Business Administration. Gates noticed the lack of women taking similar courses of education, realizing the inequality in educational expectations between men and women. In future interviews, she states that “Bill and I believe that education is the great equalizer.” She believed that the root of differing treatment among men and women came from the restrictions against widespread women’s education. A degree in computer science helped her receive a job offer from IBM, which she turned down for Microsoft. 

(Melinda Gates on Instagram, @melindafrenchgates)

Before Gates began to work at Microsoft, her first job was tutoring math and computer programming to children. Even from the start,  Gates’s primary goal was to spread access to education in the name of equality for all. She started working at Microsoft as a marketing manager. For this role, she developed multimedia products, including Cinemania, Encarta, Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft Bob, Money, Macintosh Works, Microsoft Word, and Expedia. While this may sound like a monotonous list of indistinguishable projects, her work greatly improved the functioning and powering capabilities of Microsoft as a whole. 

"When we come together, we rise. Equality can't wait. Empowering women now is the lift we all need."

- Melinda Gates, Gates Foundation

Gates was then promoted to general manager of information products. Through her work, she experienced much of the issues she spent her life’s work and savings to combat. As a female in a male-dominated workplace, Gates realized the necessity to encourage more women to work in the computing field. She stated her belief that women should spend more time performing paid work, creating businesses, and contributing to the economy;  the societal prejudices and obstacles in place were holding not only the women, but entire communities back from further development. By holding an upper-management position in Microsoft, Gates gained a unique perspective on the challenges that women will continue to face in technology industries if no societal shifts were to be enacted. 

(Melinda Gates on Instagram, @melindafrenchgates)

While serving as the head of several projects in the Gates Foundation, Gates used her continued to pursue her mission to equalize women. For the first six years of operation, she helmed the foundation virtually on her own. Even when in cooperation with Bill, she established Pivotal Ventures, a separate, independent organization to develop and implement solutions to solve problems affecting women and their families. Within Pivotal Ventures, she initiated a $50 million project to transform technology hubs into more inclusive places for women and partnered with BreakThrough Tech, which works to increase the number of women graduating from American universities with computing degrees. 

She also began several other initiatives. One was the  Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities initiative, which works to increase the number of women working in technology in three large cities over the next five years and works with SecondMuse, an organization that builds innovation ecosystems and has a diversity goal to help find funding for women entrepreneurs. Another was the  Giving Pledge, which encourages billionaires to donate at least half of their wealth to charitable causes during their lifetime or in their will. 

As such, Gates demonstrated her humanity by using her work to change the flaws she found within society. Such efforts likewise inspired others to use their voices and promote change. 

(Melinda Gates on Instagram, @melindafrenchgates)

She did not stop there. With the London Summit on Family Planning, Gates delivered contraceptives to 120 million women in developing countries, and with the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, she continues to provide financial support to students of color pursuing undergraduate degrees by selecting 1,000 new scholars each year, an overall $1.6 billion going towards the program. Most importantly, Gates continues to raise awareness about an issue she calls “time poverty.” This concept considers the idea that household chores that women are socially “expected” to do rob women of their potential, causing girls in many countries to fall behind in their education century after century. 

Melinda Gates is an inspiration to all, women and men alike. In her book,The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, she highlights the failure of society to acknowledge women’s unpaid work and documented systemic and societal challenges that women face everyday. She believes that, not only is the societal expectation for women to assume domestic “duties” restricting each individual woman’s educational development, but it also inhibits our entire community’s capabilities for technological progression. Through all her experience,  Gates hopes to continue to focus on gender equity as a path to meaningful change, an effort that we should look to as inspiration for a brighter future for all. 

(Melinda Gates on Instagram, @melindafrenchgates)

As a brand, Paradox stands for female empowerment. Hence, we work to highlight strong, inspirational women on our  blog and our various platforms. Be sure to check out our  Paradox Profile series and follow us on Instagram  @paradox. If another strong woman comes to mind for us to highlight, let us know in the comments below!

Hannah Warner
Hannah Warner


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