Real Leaders

Leaders of Hope: Melinda Gates

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

The world has many pressing issues, and the Gates Foundation is actively supporting solutions to many of them. But recently, the challenge closest to the heart of Melinda Gates is gender equality. Following her announcement in October of last year that she is committing $1 billion over the next decade to “expanding women’s power and influence in the United States,” Gates recently announced a teaming up with MacKenzie Bezos in a $30 million gender equality initiative.

 Called the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, Gates and Bezos will provide grants to organizations that show “transformational” plans for boosting gender equality in the United States by 2030. In a June statement about the initiative, Bezos said, “Closing the gap on gender equality will benefit everyone. History keeps teaching us that when a diversity of voices is represented in decisions, the outcome is better for all.”

 “The entrenched inequalities that divide America — race, gender, class — will not go away without systems-wide change,” Gates says. “This Challenge is seeking bold ideas to dismantle the status quo and expand power and influence for women of all backgrounds.”

 In the last 24 months, Melinda Gates has written in several op-eds that she wants to see more women “making decisions and controlling resources.” In a piece she wrote for Time, Gates said, “Women’s potential is worth investing in — and the people and organizations working to improve women’s lives are, too.” 

 Gates is putting her resources into companies who are working specifically to grow the power and influence of women. Her focuses include removing barriers to professional advancement, rapidly advancing women in male-dominated industries and professions, and putting pressure on companies and organizations in need of gender-equality reform.

 In a 2018 Quartz op-ed, she wrote, “When money flows into the hands of women who have the authority to use it, everything changes.” Gates hopes her work will inspire other real leaders to join the effort to address gender equality challenges.

 While climate change and world health will continue to be a focus for the Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates has been deeply touched in recent years by women around the world whose heart-breaking struggles will “not go away on their own.” In her annual letter this year summarizing the activities of the Gates Foundation, she writes of a woman who begged her to take her newborn home with her because the woman had no means to care for him, and a community health volunteer in Ethiopia who described spending the night in a hole to escape her abusive husband — at age 10. Recognizing that these women and girls represent millions more just like them inspired Gates to announce her focus on gender equality.

 “No matter where in the world you are born,” she said in the letter, “your life will be harder if you are born a girl.” Even in the United States, where women earn college and graduate degrees at higher rates than men, Gates says women are often “channeled into less lucrative jobs.” Men are 70 percent more likely to be executives than their female counterparts of the same age, she says. 

 Gates believes the only thing that will significantly move the needle on gender equality is if the real leaders of the world make it a priority. She is calling for “bold attempts at new solutions that will dismantle inequality,” noting that real leaders must make the political and financial commitments necessary to drive real change.

 “If we miss another opportunity, if we let the spotlight sputter out again, we risk contributing to a dangerous narrative that inequality between men and women is inevitable,” she says. “We need to be loud and clear that the reason these problems look unsolvable is that we’ve never put the necessary effort into solving them.

 “And we need to be deliberate about galvanizing a wide range of partners to play a role in changing society’s norms and expectations — not just the activists and advocates who are already leading these conversations, but consumers, shareholders, faith leaders, entertainers, fathers, and husbands,” says Gates.

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