With her latest philanthropic campaign, Melinda Gates is trying to bring more women into the tech industry by helping to build a better pipeline. Gender diversity is an issue the former Microsoft executive knows well, which makes her advice especially valuable.
Gates had a long, successful career at Microsoft, but it took her a while to find her way at the company. "When I started, I loved the industry and what we were building, but I didn’t love the [corporate culture]. So I finally decided to quit," Gates said at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in November. "But then I thought, I’ll just try to be myself for a while [at Microsoft] and see what happens. And I started becoming a lot more successful. I was a manager by then, and people [were] flocking to work in my area. It turned out they were people who wanted to have their voices heard [too]."
Some of the Gates Foundation’s most successful campaigns—such as an effort to rethink how to get birth control to women in the developing world—couldn’t have happened without a female point of view. "If we didn’t have women working on it, we wouldn’t [have found the solution]. Men don’t see it as a problem; birth control is not their issue. That’s exactly why we want women saying, ‘I’m going to work on [applying] tech and innovation and science toward humanitarian problems—whether they affect women or men.’ "
At the foundation, Gates makes a point of speaking up in support of female colleagues in situations where, say, a man restates something that a woman already said or talks over her at a meeting. And Gates is equally eager to correct herself when she makes the same errors. "It’s important for all of us who have a seat at the table—men or women—to stand up and say what we see. We have to be transparent about it and realize that we all make mistakes."
A version of this article appeared in the February 2017 issue of Fast Company magazine.