Closing The Gap

Melinda Gates on the gendered questions she receives about her work with Bill

Bill and Melinda Gates in Paris last April.
Frederic Stevens | Getty Images
Bill and Melinda Gates in Paris last April.

Bill and Melinda Gates have a long history of working together, so it comes as no surprise that the billionaires occasionally disagree.

However, in their 2018 annual letter, Melinda notes that she receives questions about how the couple deals with disagreements much more frequently than her husband.

"Sometimes, it's from journalists hinting that Bill must be the one making the decisions," she writes. "Other times, it's from women philanthropists asking advice about how to work more effectively with their husbands."

The couple has spearheaded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for 18 years. But during the non-profit's early years, Melinda says she felt that gender disparity was to blame for her treatment.

Bill had just come from Microsoft where he was used to being in charge, whereas she was restarting her career after having kids.

In meetings, she was reserved while Bill was more talkative. She'd even notice the person they were meeting with would only pay attention to Bill and not glance her way.

Bill adds that because he's a man who has been a public figure for a long time, people often assume he's the one making all the decisions. That's not the case.

"Some people see Melinda as the heart of our foundation, the emotional core," writes the Microsoft co-founder. "But just as she knows I'm more emotional than people realize, I know she's more analytical than people realize."

The couple admits that they rarely disagree. But when they do, they make sure to save any workplace critique for the home.

"It's always been important to us that we are equal partners in our foundation's work," writes Melinda. "We've learned over time to give each other feedback at home about times in the office when we didn't meet that goal."

Bill adds, "And we're better off for it."

For the most part, the couple manages to avoid disagreements because they have two things going for them, says Melinda: They share the same common values and Bill is "very open-minded."

"[Bill] has a kind heart, listens to other people and lets himself be moved by what they say," she writes. "He doesn't doubt the reality of my experiences or the soundness of my judgment."

The two also balance each other out. Bill writes that when he's overly enthusiastic about something, he can count on her to reel him in and make sure he's being realistic.

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His wife also has a knack for bringing together the right people to solve a problem and will let him know when to push their team harder and when to back off.

Still, both acknowledge that working together as a married couple has its challenges. Although they generally agree on the big issues, these days their disagreements are over tactics. "This is a balance that married couples, and co-workers, all over the world are always trying to strike," says Melinda.

But even with a disagreement here and there, working together has also made their journey a fun one. "We are partners in both senses that people use the word these days," writes Bill, "at home and at work."

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See also:

Why the secret to your success is who you marry

3 ways your significant other may be holding you back from success

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