Melinda Gates almost left Microsoft due to male dominated culture, now promoting women in tech

Kip Kniskern

Melinda Gates

Melinda Gates is pushing diversity in tech, and she knows a thing or two about the problems women face in the technology workforce, because she was in it herself.

According to a recent interview she gave to the Seattle Times, Gates almost quit Microsoft because of the cultural problems she faced there:

When Dallas native Melinda French joined Microsoft in 1987, she loved the work but not the acerbic, male-dominated culture. “I almost left because of that,” she recalled. But she found that by treating people well, she was able to create one of the most sought-after groups within the young company.

Today, Gates — who married the boss in 1994 — wants women to have as much access as men to rewarding, and lucrative, tech jobs. Diverse teams also create better, more appropriate products, she said.

Through her work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she has seen first hand the discrimination and obstacles that women, especially poor women from developing countries, face. She’s beginning to work on some of those issues not only in poor countries, but back here in the US as well.

“Less than 5 percent of companies that get VC funding are led by women, and that’s a problem,” according to Gates, and she’s contemplating setting up her own venture capital firm, for female entrepreneurs.

Gates is calling for women coming to the Seattle area to work at tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft to help to diversify:

“Look around you, look in your group and ask yourself: How many women are on your team? If it’s less than two, that’s probably too few.”

Calling the education system that produces far more tech field men than women a “leaky pipeline that starts at kindergarten and goes all the way through university and through industry,” Gates is calling for more help for girls and women who have less experience and confidence than men in computer related fields. The Gates Foundation has been working on a number of education related initiatives around the world, but Melinda Gates may be soon working on problems of diversity much closer to home, in Microsoft’s back yard.