Tech Industry

Melinda Gates wants to do more for women in tech

The well-known philanthropist gets the wheels turning on a push to promote women in the tech industry.

Melinda Gates intends to promote women in tech.
CNBC, NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Melinda Gates is a woman in tech. She has a computer science degree from Duke University and worked at Microsoft for about a decade.

So a new issue of focus for Gates, one of the world's most high-profile philanthropists, is perfectly appropriate: women in tech (or the lack thereof).

Gates said she's launching a new initiative focused on females. It'll be separate from the well-known Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which addresses issues ranging from the prevention of infectious diseases to sustainability and beyond. What this new venture will look like is still uncertain.

"I am in this learning mode. Then I will figure out exactly what investments I will place down," Gates told Backchannel in an interview published Wednesday.

But Gates said she knows the areas she wants to focus on. She expressed interest in research, for instance, citing the exploration of just when and how women became less interested in technology.

After all, in the '80s, 37 percent of computer science majors were women. These days, that number is closer to 18 percent. One theory is that the computer and gaming industries, including their marketing strategies, became very male-oriented, causing a dip in interest from young women.

Another area of concern for Gates is the "leaky pipeline," the various points in a woman's educational career where she might decide to leave computer science behind. For instance, an introductory college-level computer science course geared toward 18-year-old males might not provide a whole lot of encouragement.

The issue of women in technology has been getting an increasing amount of attention. In the past few months, companies like Apple and Google released another round of diversity and inclusion reports. Chipmaker Qualcomm settled a $19.5 million gender discrimination lawsuit in July. Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao lost a case against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins for sexual discrimination in March 2015.

Much of what Gates will be after is data, she said, partly because that's the best way to illustrate there's a problem. When it comes to women's issues, she said, there are fewer interested parties willing to spend money to get the kind of data someone like Gates could take to decision makers in government or at a company.

Gates also talked about family leave, referencing the fact that the US is one of the last countries in the world not to offer paid maternity leave. Already, Gates said she's making investments "behind the scenes" regarding leave for both men and women.

Gates has spoken out about issues like this before. Just last week she talked with CNNMoney about why poverty is sexist. She's also discussed the pitfalls of data in reflecting the challenges women face in education, health, politics and more.

"If we don't look at those root inequities and we don't talk about them and make them transparent," she told Backchannel, "we won't move forward as a society."