People

In tech’s billionaire boys’ club, Melinda Gates staked her claim by standing up for women

The couple has billions of dollars to divide in their divorce, but it's clear what Melinda will use her half for.

In tech’s billionaire boys’ club, Melinda Gates staked her claim by standing up for women

Melinda Gates has spent decades uplifting and standing up for women.

Photo: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Scott, split, no one knew quite how Scott, who would soon become the richest woman in the world, would spend her personal fortune. Neither she nor her ex-husband had yet become the philanthropists they are today, and Scott had been a relatively private person for most of their 25-year marriage.

As Melinda Gates and Bill Gates announced their divorce Monday, there was no need to wonder the same about how Melinda would spend her money. If history serves, she'll spend it uplifting women.

In the male-dominated early computing era and the billionaire boys' club that sprung out of it, Melinda has been a singular figure. Unlike other spouses of Big Tech billionaires — with some exceptions, like Laurene Powell Jobs — she has not shied away from the spotlight. Instead, through her writing, her philanthropy and her investments, she's become a globally-recognized figure in her own right, using her wealth and her platform to train that spotlight on the needs of women and girls around the world. As she charts her own course apart from Bill, there's no reason to believe she'll stop now.

"Here's what keeps me up at night: I imagine waking up one morning to find that the country has moved on. That the media has stopped reporting on systemic inequalities. That diversity remains something companies talk about instead of prioritizing. That all of this energy and attention has amounted to a temporary swell instead of a sea change," she wrote for Time, after the #MeToo movement when she announced a $1 billion pledge to invest in women. "There is too much at stake to allow that to happen. Too many people — women and men — have worked too hard to get us this far. And there are too many possible solutions we haven't tried yet."

It was Melinda, Bill once said, who was responsible for the couple's philanthropic endeavors. "I don't think it would be fun to do on my own, and I don't think I'd do as much of it," he told Fortune in 2008.

While the couple was jointly involved in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and are best known for their work funding global health and vaccine development, Melinda also struck out on her own in 2015 and started Pivotal Ventures, an investment company and incubator dedicated to increasing women's power and influence.

Part of that work has involved funding innovation outside of Silicon Valley. "How do we make Silicon Valley more inclusive? Maybe the answer is to start somewhere else," Melinda Gates wrote when she announced that her company would invest $50 million in creating a new generation of tech hubs in places like Chicago and Washington, D.C.

But she's working to change Silicon Valley, too. Pivotal Ventures was one of the first backers of All Raise, a nonprofit that's trying to increase the number of female founders and female funders in the tech industry. Pivotal also partnered with design company IDEO to launch The Holding Co., an incubator and investment arm to "redesign how we care for each other in the 21st century."

Pivotal Ventures also regularly backs startups and nonprofits, often led by female founders or people of color. Last week, a nonprofit founded by Uber alumni announced it had raised $250,000 from Melinda Gates's organization for its "Uber Eats for food banks" to connect food banks with people in need. Kathryn Finney's Genius Guild also recently raised money from Pivotal Ventures to support Black founders who are building solutions to end racism.

Whatever the apparent challenges in the Gates marriage, Melinda also at times turned to her relationship with Bill to illustrate the pressures working mothers are under and the unpaid labor they're forced to take on. In her book, "The Moment of Lift," she wrote about how she and Bill divided their own labor while raising their kids.

"If as men and women we don't look at the amount of labor women do, the 90 extra minutes in our homes in the U.S., we don't even start to realize what women are tasked with," Melinda told Wired in an interview when the book was published. "But I think when we start to make that change, you start to look at these other pieces in society, in community, in your workplace. And so then men and women start to make changes."

For now, the couple said they will remain committed to their joint foundation, and Pivotal Ventures told Protocol that Melinda would also continue her work as founder of the organization. It's still unclear how the Gateses will divide their estimated $130 billion fortune in the divorce, but how Melinda will put the money to use won't be much of a question.

Theranos’ investor pitches go on trial

Prosecutors in the Elizabeth Holmes fraud case are now highlighting allegations the company sought to mislead investors.

The fresh details of unproven claims made about the viability of Theranos' blood tests and efforts to conceal errors when demonstrating testing equipment added to the evidence against Holmes, who is accused of fraud in her role leading the company.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Theranos trial continued this week with testimony from Daniel Edlin, a former product manager at the blood-testing startup, and Shane Weber, a scientist from Pfizer. Their testimonies appeared to bolster the government's argument that Holmes intentionally defrauded investors and patients.

The fresh details about audacious and unproven claims made about the viability of Theranos' blood tests and efforts to conceal errors when demonstrating testing equipment added to the evidence against Holmes, who is accused of fraud in her role leading the company.

Keep Reading Show less
Aisha Counts

Aisha Counts (@aishacounts) is a reporting fellow at Protocol, based out of Los Angeles. Previously, she worked for Ernst & Young, where she researched and wrote about the future of work, emerging technologies and startups. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California, where she studied business and philosophy. She can be reached at acounts@protocol.com.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | Policy

8 takeaways from states’ new filing against Google

New details have been unsealed in the states' antitrust suit against Google for anticompetitive behavior in the ads market.

Google is facing complaints by government competition enforcers on several fronts.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Up to 22%: That's the fee Google charges publishers for sales on its online ad exchanges, according to newly unredacted details in a complaint by several state attorneys general.

The figure is just one of the many details that a court allowed the states to unveil Friday. Many had more or less remained secrets inside Google and the online publishing industry, even through prior legal complaints and eager public interest.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Protocol | Workplace

This tech founder uses a converted Sprinter van as an office on wheels

The CEO of productivity startup Rock likes to work on the road. Here's how he does it — starting with three different WiFi hotspots.

Kenzo Fong, founder and CEO of the 20-person productivity software startup Rock, has been working out of his converted Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van since the pandemic began.

Photo: Kenzo Fong/Rock

Plenty of techies have started companies in garages. Try running a startup from a van.

In San Francisco, one software company founder has been using a converted Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van — picture an Amazon delivery vehicle — as a mobile office.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Policy

Most Americans want AI regulation — and they want it yesterday

In a poll, people said they wanted to see artificial intelligence technologies develop in the U.S. — alongside rules governing their use.

U.S. lawmakers have only just begun the long process of regulating the use of AI.

Photo: Louis Velazquez/Unsplash

Nearly two-thirds of Americans want the U.S to regulate the development and use of artificial intelligence in the next year or sooner — with half saying that regulation should have begun yesterday, according to a Morning Consult poll. Another 13% say that regulation should start in the next year.

"You can thread this together," Austin Carson, founder of new nonprofit group SeedAI and former government relations lead for Nvidia, said in an email. "Half or more Americans want to address all of these things, split pretty evenly along ideological lines."

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

ai
Latest Stories