White: Prior to that choice, to try being yourself, how were you altering your behavior to fit in?
Gates: I felt like I had to be argumentative all the time. I can go toe-to-toe, I can win arguments. I know how to do that, I know how to play that game, but I didn’t want to live there all the time. And so I learned that there were other ways where we could put the intellectual rigor up front, but we didn’t have to constantly have an argument.
White: You mentioned being an undergrad and feeling like gender equity would increase in the world of computer science. Why do you think that, in large part, hasn’t happened?
Gates: I don’t think anyone knows for sure. We know there are these gaps—what I call loss points—that start all the way at the kindergarten level. Then you see it again at elementary, you see it in middle school, high school, college, and then going into industry. And when you have any kind of pipeline that’s leaky in so many places, you can’t plug just one piece of it. So I think we have to do certain things at each of those.
Part of it is that there’s a bias in schools. I see it even with my kids in school. People might assume that the boys might be good at programming and the girls might not. You have to work on it at each level, middle school, high school. The entry point of computer science at college is a big loss point and I don’t think it’s the silver bullet, but there are points of light where you see certain of those computer-science classes doing a really good job. At Stanford, 90 percent of undergraduates take that class [computer science] now, because they've made changes. Or Harvey Mudd, they’ve made changes. I think in the industry, if women come out of computer science, and they're successful but they don’t feel welcomed, that’s another place you have a huge loss point. Or they’ll go in but they don’t stay in very long.
White: And there’s the funding piece, too right? Where women struggle to get their companies funded at the same level as men.
Gates: Why is it that only 3 percent of startups that get venture-backed funding are run by women? So just the fact that money isn’t flowing and you’re not getting women who are having startups it is, there is a problem there too.
White: So would you consider investing in venture capital?
Gates: I’m certainly looking at it, again it’s not the silver bullet solution. It’s one solution and I think there has to be a whole host of funders that make sure the money is opened to women entrepreneurs. So I’m looking at whether or not that could make a difference and if there’s some investments I would put down. I haven’t made any definitive decisions. One of the things is, I’m really on a learning journey to find out, where are the loss points? We know where they are, but where do we actually have good data, where do we not, and then to test some interventions. To think about places that are having success attracting women in that CS degree in the opening class, how do we spread their best practices to other universities so it’s not just an elite set of maybe half a dozen that are doing really well.