Kristl Hathaway, Ph.D.
Having females leading in the C-suite makes all the difference. Leadership starts at the top. Role modeling transforms organizations. My experience informs me that the “rule of three” is magic: One female leader is not enough to change the culture. Three begins the process.
Female leadership is perhaps one of the only areas where the concept of trickle-down economics works.
Mill Valley, Calif.
This article could have been written about any industry or professional group. I despair sometimes of living to see the day when men get their heads on straight and recognize that our greatest natural resource is our people. Surely refusing to allow half of that resource to reach its full potential is foolishness carried to the extreme.
Fixing Tech’s “Loss Points”
Prompted by the April cover story, The Atlantic’s Gillian B. White interviewed Melinda Gates about women in technology. Here are portions of their conversation. To read the full Q&A, visit TheAtlantic.com.
White: What’s at risk if more women don’t get incorporated into computer science and tech?
Gates: I think we’ll have so much hidden bias coded into the system that we won’t even realize all the places that we have it. If you don’t have a diverse workforce programming artificial intelligence and thinking about the data sets to feed in, and how to look at a particular program, you’re going to have so much bias in the system, you’re going to have a hard time rolling it back later or taking it out.
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 …
I think in the industry, if women come out of computer-science [majors], and they’re successful but they don’t feel welcomed, that’s another place you have a huge loss point.
White: Sometimes claims about gender discrimination or leaks about the way women are talked about in the industry make me wonder whether male leaders are really committed to change, or if that’s just public-facing rhetoric. Do you think they are?
Gates: I don’t work in all those companies, but I can say this: I know some of the larger companies are very committed to it. I mean, Microsoft, Facebook—they want great technical women and they are making changes … They’re all going after a very small pool of computer-science women. They know their products will be better if they have women on those teams. They want a more diverse team. They also know that once they recruit them, retaining them is hard, because not only is another place trying to recruit them away but they also are learning that those women, if they’re the only [woman] on the team, will report not feeling great about their work.
White: How are you thinking about intersectionality as you pursue gender diversity? Computer science seems like one of these areas where there could be the danger of moving the needle for affluent women, or white and Asian women who are already in the space in higher numbers, but leaving out black women, Latinas, and those who don’t come from backgrounds where computer science is as easily accessible.
Gates: I think we have to reach people where they are. If we only go to the elite institutions that are doing a good job of pulling in computer-science majors, you’re right, you’re going to get a certain type of woman coming in. But if you make sure it spreads to all institutions, institutions that have a very diverse student body, then I think you’ll get diversity more across the board.
White: You’ve become most well known for the significant humanitarian work that the Gates Foundation does. Why is gender diversity in tech an issue that’s critical enough to divert some of your attention?
Gates: Tech underlies everything we do. It’s game-changing in every single field across the board. It’s almost like asking yourself the question of, well, what if we didn’t have any women scientists in biology? Well, I can tell you we wouldn’t be studying women’s health if we didn’t have amazing women biologists. If we don’t have women in the tech space, we won’t even be asking ourselves some of the right questions. I can’t imagine a world without women in tech.
In the March issue, Jonathan Rauch argued that while Donald Trump might try to govern as an authoritarian, civil society’s response would determine his success. He noted a decline in support for democracy in America (and around the world), but pointed to encouraging signs—such as the creation of groups like After Trump—that the public will hold government accountable.