As mothers and businesswomen, we know the effect positive female influences have had in our lives. From our own mothers, business mentors, and close friends, the team at Via Seven has been exceptionally fortunate to know and befriend intelligent, driven women for a very long time. We are also keenly aware that the good fortune we’ve had in our lives isn’t necessarily shared by other women and girls in the United States and across the world. That’s why when we created Via Seven, we wanted to create a company that gives back and empowers women and girls in their own lives.
For our very first Women Who Inspire post, we were overwhelmed (in a good way!) with the amount of women we could choose to write about. However, one woman stood out to us as a kindred spirit and incredible woman whose impact on the world is still going strong and will likely endure for centuries.
That woman is Melinda Gates.
If you’re like us, you first became aware of Melinda as “Bill Gates’ wife.” If you left it at that, you’d be missing one of the most passionate and influential women of the 21st Century.
Throughout her life, Melinda Gates (née French) has worn many hats and is a woman of exceptional talent. A native of Dallas, Texas, Melinda graduated valedictorian from her high school, Ursuline Academy of Dallas. Following her successful high school career, Melinda attended college at Duke University. There, she studied computer science and economics, graduating in 1986. She then went on to receive her MBA from Duke in 1988 before joining the Microsoft team.
Career at Microsoft
When she joined Microsoft, Melinda began as a product manager, and eventually rose to the prominent role of General Manager of Information Products. During her time at Microsoft, Melinda helped develop many of Microsoft’s signature multimedia products, including Publisher, Encarta, and Expedia.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
In 2000, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation officially opened its doors after formally combining with Bill’s father, William Sr., foundation. Initially, its objective was to improve education in the United States by placing Microsoft products and computers in libraries nationwide. Since then, however, the mission has broadened not only its scope in domestic education improvement, but it has expanded to include issues of health and poverty issues worldwide. Today, the Foundation is guided by the belief that every life has equal value.
Recognized as the largest private foundation in the world, with an estimated endowment of $44 billion, Melinda has served as co-chair of the organization and has final say in the direction and focus of the organization.
Over the years, Melinda and Bill have been bestowed with numerous prestigious awards and recognition by the international community for the work of the Foundation. Both recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, they have also been recognized as Time magazine people of the year, and the Legion of Honour (the highest French national award) by President François Hollande.
Melinda’s Mission for Women
Throughout her travels with the Gates Foundation, though, Melinda remembers that she “would see so many missed opportunities for women. So many places where women weren't empowered.” [CNN Money] A woman after our own heart!
In a recent article by CNN Money, the author notes that one of Melinda’s “rallying cries” for impoverished women around the world is, “Poverty is sexist.” She then goes on to note that there are more women than men in poverty around the world, partly due in part to the fact that “women do more unpaid labor--the hidden tasks at home we don’t talk about.” These tasks include everything that tends to come with child rearing: feeding and bathing the kids, helping with schoolwork, cooking, and cleaning.
Her goal with this advocacy? To spread the labor of the home around the house. She encourages men to pitch in with household chores, errands, and childcare. In the United States in particular, she is a vocal advocate for paid family leave whenever an employee has a child or adopts.
Women in Technology
When Melinda graduated from college, roughly one third of computer science degrees went to women. According to an interview with Wired, between the time she graduated from Duke until today, the number of computer science degrees conferred to women has dropped from 37% to 18%. To put this in perspective, women have been making steady gains in law degrees and in medicine over the past several decades, but computer science has plummeted. When she learned this, she knew she had to refocus part of the Gates Foundation to address this disparity.
In order to solve this problem, Melinda is building out a separate niche and team whose mission will be to understand why this drop off occurred and how they can reverse it.
Doing so will be no small task, but then again, when she and her husband set out to eliminate AIDs, malaria, and TB in developing countries (a cause of which the foundation donated $750 million to in 2012), that seemed like an impossible feat, but one that is making incredible strides.
Currently, the project is in what she describes as the “learning mode,” where information is collected, experts are consulted, and existing research is reviewed. From here, she admits she doesn’t exactly know what the plan is, but that’s what the learning mode is for. That will inform the areas that need the most attention in order to best address the issue.
Next Up? Whatever it is, We Can’t Wait
As the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation continues to grow its endowment and global reach, its impact will be measured for years to come. Between her efforts to focus on health, clean water, education, and equal footing for women and girls across the world, Melinda Gates is just getting started.
Her influence and impact will resonate and continue to change the lives of millions of people for years and years to come.
Featured Image: By Chatham House, London - https://www.flickr.com/photos/chathamhouse/15848093031/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41810277