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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.

It’s soul-destroying and it uses DRM, therefore Peloton is tech

"I mean, the pedals go around if you turn off all the tech, but Peloton isn't selling a pedaling product."

Is this tech? Or is it just a bike with a screen?

Image: Peloton and Protocol

One of the breakout hits from the pandemic, besides Taylor Swift's "Folklore," has been Peloton. With upwards of 5.4 million members as of March and nearly $1.3 billion in revenue that quarter, a lot of people are turning in their gym memberships for a bike or a treadmill and a slick-looking app.

But here at Protocol, it's that slick-looking app, plus all the tech that goes into it, that matters. And that's where things got really heated during our chat this week. Is Peloton tech? Or is it just a bike with a giant tablet on it? Can all bikes be tech with a little elbow grease?

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.
Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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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 | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
Power

The video game industry is bracing for its Netflix and Spotify moment

Subscription gaming promises to upend gaming. The jury's out on whether that's a good thing.

It's not clear what might fall through the cracks if most of the biggest game studios transition away from selling individual games and instead embrace a mix of free-to-play and subscription bundling.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Subscription services are coming for the game industry, and the shift could shake up the largest and most lucrative entertainment sector in the world. These services started as small, closed offerings typically available on only a handful of hardware platforms. Now, they're expanding to mobile phones and smart TVs, and promising to radically change the economics of how games are funded, developed and distributed.

Of the biggest companies in gaming today, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nvidia, Sony and Ubisoft all operate some form of game subscription. Far and away the most ambitious of them is Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, featuring more than 100 games for $9.99 a month and including even brand-new titles the day they release. As of January, Game Pass had more than 18 million subscribers, and Microsoft's aggressive investment in a subscription future has become a catalyst for an industrywide reckoning on the likelihood and viability of such a model becoming standard.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
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