Melinda Gates gives US$50 million for women in tech

Melinda Gates

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is putting US$50 million into creating more tech opportunities for women.

Melinda Gates last October pledged US$1 billion towards expanding women’s power and influence over the next decade. On Tuesday (local time), Melinda Gates’ investment and incubation company Pivotal Ventures said that US$50 million of her pledge will go towards creating “inclusive tech hubs” in Chicago and two other yet-to-be-named cities over the next five years.

She explained her decision in a post on LinkedIn:

“How do we make Silicon Valley more inclusive? Maybe the answer is to start somewhere else.

“It’s no secret that the technology sector is overwhelmingly white and male. Women graduate with only 19% of computing degrees, hold only 26% of roles in computing-related fields, and leave the industry at rates twice as high as men. Despite accounting for 16% of the general population, African American, Latin, and Native American women hold only around 4% of roles in the computing workforce. Last year, only 2.8% of venture capital funding in the US went to companies started by all-women founding teams.

“My company, Pivotal Ventures, is committed to building new pathways into the innovation economy – including tech, entrepreneurship, and investing – for women of all backgrounds. As part of that commitment, today, together with our partners Break Through Tech and SecondMuse, we are announcing the launch of “Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities,” a new initiative to develop inclusive tech hubs in three US cities over the next five years.

“As the tech industry continues to expand beyond Silicon Valley to other areas across the country, we have the opportunity to reimagine what the sector could look like. If these emerging tech hubs are supported to prioritise women’s representation and inclusion as they grow, they will be better positioned to tap into the full range of local talent, while also helping create a blueprint for closing the industry’s gender gap nationwide.

“The GET Cities initiative will bring together key stakeholders across academia, government, venture capital, business, and the non-profit sector. By aligning resources, these stakeholders can advance shared goals like supporting women interested in computing to pursue degrees and career opportunities, helping companies and startups shape inclusive workplaces, and connecting female founders to local sources of capital.

“GET Cities will kick off in January 2020 in Chicago – the Midwest destination for many large technology companies and home to an increasing number of VC firms – with the goal of refining a model there that can be replicated elsewhere.

“There is every reason to believe that the next innovation to sweep Silicon Valley could originate 2,000 miles away with a woman in America’s heartland. This is a chance to start investing in that woman today.”

The investment supports Melinda Gates’ commitment “to fast-track women in high-impact sectors like tech and ensure that all women (not just white women or women from elite backgrounds) are able to enter and advance in these fields,” as she recently told Fortune.

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Pivotal chose Chicago for its current tech, venture, and larger-business ecosystem, together with its “attractive cost of living,” said Renee Wittemyer, Pivotal’s director of program strategy and investment.

“We also believe that Chicago’s rich diversity is an untapped competitive advantage,” Wittemyer told Fortune. “Tech continues to have an outsize influence on society, but women, and women of color in particular are being systemically left behind.”

Pivotal plans to choose the second of its three cities within the next year.

After Gates made her US$1 billion pledge in October, Pivotal Ventures has made related investments of undisclosed amounts in a Techstars accelerator focused on elderly care and in a fund focused on creating more opportunities for American women to run for political office. Tuesday’s announcement is the first time that Pivotal is disclosing the specific amount it is committing to a part of Gates’ gender-equality pledge.

“This is just the start of what it will take, and we can’t do it alone,” said Wittemyer. “We really want to use this to crowd in other funders …. to help us set the example of what a vibrant and inclusive tech hub could look like.”

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