Leadership

Melinda Gates says this is the No. 1 thing we must do to find the next Bill Gates

Bill and Melinda Gates at Stanford's graduation ceremony, June 15, 2014
Justin Sullivan / Staff | Getty Images News
Bill and Melinda Gates at Stanford's graduation ceremony, June 15, 2014

If we want to discover the world's next Bill Gates, it's crucial that we start funding inclusive and diverse businesses, according to Melinda Gates in a recent LinkedIn post.

"There's a strong chance the next Bill Gates isn't going to look anything like the last one," she writes. "So I'm interested in finding solutions that will help ensure we recognize her when we see her."

Her comments come amid an influx of news detailing the abuse women suffer at the hands of powerful men in the workplace. Though many reports have focused on Hollywood and the media industry, Gates explains this is also an issue in the tech industry and has a long-lasting economic impact.

"The data makes clear that diversity is good for business," she writes. "Companies across industries are more innovative, more profitable, and less likely to take dangerous risks when women and minorities are more equally represented in their ranks."

"When a woman or a person of color — or a woman who is a person of color — doesn't have a seat at the table, it has consequences for companies, their shareholders, and society at large," she adds.

The venture capital industry, which invests in startup companies and small businesses, could play a pivotal role in driving progress if they increase diversity, she writes. But until that happens, it will continue to impede advancements in achieving equality. Here's how.

According to a Linkedin survey, only three percent of venture capitalists rated diversity as one of their top concerns and an increasing number of respondents believe that the media "spends too much time discussing diversity issues facing the tech industry."

This is problematic, says Gates, because startups and small businesses that are founded by women or people of color are being overlooked by venture capitalists, which deeply hinders their growth.

"Men are almost always the ones who get to decide who will have a shot at success — and they tend to pick people who look, speak, and act like them," she writes. That begs the question, "How many talented women and underrepresented minorities are funds overlooking, leaving behind, or pushing out?"

As more men are toppled from positions of power, Gates writes that it's time we take a "hard look" at the economic costs of keeping so many women from reaching their full potential in the workplace.

According to diversity expert and author Frans Johansson, the economic effects could be widespread. "Diversity drives innovation," he tells CNBC Make It. "Diverse teams can make things happen faster and with less resources."

On the flip side and echoing Gates' earlier sentiments, he adds: "You're at a competitive disadvantage if you're not diverse. So those that push for it early on will succeed much more quickly."

Johansson acknowledges that a growing number of businesses are making diversity an integral part of their financial strategy — and it shows in their bottom line. He points to Nike and IBM: The latter started addressing diversity in the 90s and has been so innovative because of this, he says.

Other companies, however, have more work to do. Twitter, he says, desperately needs to innovate. The social media giant's leadership team has long been lacking for women and people of color, although that has changed in recent months.

Even still, the company was initially slow to incorporate diversity, which is why Twitter has struggled to make a profit, according to Johansson. "Twitter is not particularly inclusive for a company with a global audience and will have better returns if they bring in more diversity," he explains.

The tech industry is a prime sector for promoting diverse hires and diverse thoughts, he adds. Since venture capitalists work heavily in this startup space, they wield power based on the companies in which they invest.

Like Gates, Johansson agrees that we are seeing an increase in female leadership, although it's happening slowly. "I do see more genuine efforts to incorporate more women," he says, 'but it still needs to be accelerated because companies are designed for men in the workplace."

In her blog post, Gates calls on other business leaders to join her efforts in diversifying the talent pool.

"As more women finally have the chance to reach their full potential, we'll all reap the rewards," she writes. "More innovative ideas, more disruptive products, more transformative products, and a better future for us all."

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