Melinda French Gates wants a Silicon Valley alternative for women

Melinda French Gates wants a Silicon Valley alternative for women

Melinda French Gates wants to shake up the tech industry, starting with Silicon Valley.

The billionaire philanthropist told Fortune this week that the goal of her venture capital firm Pivotal Ventures isn’t just to get more women into big business. Instead, she wants to help foster a whole new community of female-led startups that can thrive independently of Silicon Valley.

“Recreating Silicon Valley or changing it would be incredibly difficult,” said French Gates. “But when you start fresh and new, if you start with a model from that perspective, then I don’t think you’ll replicate the old one that we had in Silicon Valley.”

For French Gates, who has a net worth of $6.3 billion as of Wednesday afternoon, it starts with funding projects to reform the way women in tech move up the career ladder, improving their access to opportunity. and their influence on decision-making. The idea is that a wider and fairer range of voices in a conference room equals more ideas, which improves technology, French Gates added.

French Gates committed $1 billion of his own money to Pivotal in 2019, four years after the company launched. Since then, Pivotal has donated and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in over 150 for-profit and non-profit organizations.

These include several women-led venture capital firms, startup accelerators, and educational programs designed to teach skills ranging from leadership to machine learning and artificial intelligence. In early 2020, Pivotal invested $50 million in the Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities initiative to increase opportunities for women in burgeoning innovation hubs, like Chicago.

French Gates has been stressing the need for more female and diverse tech leaders for years. In 2018, she told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that tech “became a boy network very early on.”

“Women are so underrepresented in America’s tech industry, and yet technology is everywhere – it’s changing our lives,” French Gates said. “Women need to be able to bring their big ideas forward, not just have a seat at the table…to help change society.”

At the time, only 2.3% of venture capital funds went to women-led businesses. A year later, it reached 2.6%, but fell again during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, funding in women-led businesses hovered at 2%, the lowest percentage since 2016, according to PitchBook.

When French Gates was hired as a product manager at Microsoft in 1987, she was the only woman in her class, she writes in her 2019 book “The Elevator Moment: How Empowering Women is Changing the World.” She loved the job, but almost quit after two years because the culture was “so brash, so argumentative and competitive,” she added.

She told Fortune that the key to achieving equity is having more women and people of color leading tech companies, opening the door to more creativity, products and innovation in technology. technology.

“[Pivotal is] about how we can move women and people of color forward in the United States, faster,” French Gates said. “For me, it really comes down to looking at key areas: technology, finance, media, politics. You get more equity in these four industries and you will change the whole society.”

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