Melinda Gates is known for her work to improve the lives of women in the developing world, but the billionaire philanthropist sees plenty to fix here at home in the U.S.
"As I traveled the world, I had to ask myself 'Is there anywhere in the world where we have true equality for women?'" says Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in an interview with Squawk Box Anchor Becky Quick on Tuesday. "And the true answer is 'No' — not even in the United States."
The former tech executive — who married Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in 1994 — founded Pivotal Ventures to fund startups led by women and people of color in 2015. According to PitchBook, less than two percent of venture capital dollars spent in 2017 went to women-led companies, and less than one percent to companies led by women of color.
"That's crazy!" says Gates. "I think that's more a symptom of the funders, not the founders."
Tech and venture capital became a "boys' network" early on, says Gates. Less than 8 percent of partners at venture capital firms were women in 2017, according to Crunchbase.
Among Pivotal Ventures' partners are Aspect Ventures, Defy Ventures and Founders Fund. "Their funds absolutely expect a return — I expect a good return, but they over-index for women's businesses," says Gates. Pivotal Ventures is also studying gender gaps in industries that have an outsize impact on society, including tech, and looking for ways to invest and act as a catalyst for change, says Gates.
Women hold fewer computing jobs today then they did 25 years ago and the share of black, Latina and Native American women graduating with degrees in computing has dropped by a third over the past decade, according to a report published by Pivotal Ventures and McKinsey & Co. in September.
"Women are so underrepresented in the technology sector in the United States, and yet tech is pervasive," Gates says, emphasizing the importance of getting girls at the high school level interested in technology. "That first computer science class in college is too late," she says.
Women in technical roles make up a tiny fraction of the workforce at big tech companies. Google and Facebook disclosed in their 2018 Annual Diversity Reports that in 2017, women accounted for 21.4 percent and 22 percent of technical workers at their companies, respectively. Apple and Microsoft in their 2017 Annual Diversity reports showed that in 2016, women accounted for 23 and 19 percent of technical roles, respectively (Amazon does not break out female workers in technical roles.)
"[Tech] is changing our lives," says Gates, "and so women have to be able to have their great ideas come forward, not just have a seat at the table, but have their great ideas come forward to help change society."