Going forward, our blog will occasionally spotlight standout books, podcasts, panels and even documentaries or movies that we think are meaningful, impactful or predictive -- particularly as the subject or matter relates to technology or the tech industry.
We’re kicking off our spotlight on Melinda Gates’ new book, “The Moment of Lift.” The book tells the story and circuitous journey behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. What initially started as a side project distributing free software and computers to public libraries, the Foundation later evolved into distributing vaccines to combat diseases and illnesses in developing countries. Since its founding almost two decades ago, the Gates Foundation has donated billions in aid toward disease eradication, education, health and agricultural advancements in under-developed, poverty-stricken countries. The Gates Foundation recalibrated its focus to undertake a global initiative to advance women’s equality and empowerment. “The Moment of Lift,” tells a story through real-world initiatives and hard data on why the Gates Foundation revised its charter after witnessing first-hand how barriers of outdated practices and inequalities were holding women back around the globe.
From its onset, the Gates Foundation has been heavily focused on data that drives its investments and decision-making. One data pattern continued to appear and was glaringly clear: poverty thrived where women were limited. Systemic barriers around women’s choices, access to education, contraception for family planning, work and even marriage proved to be the real barriers of progress for the poorest of nations. Meanwhile, their data showed prosperity reigned where women were more empowered. This data led the Gates Foundation to invest in women to help stem the ongoing tide of poverty and oppression.
While these barriers bloomed in under-developed countries, one would think that the U.S. is light years ahead of these outdated social norms. Right? Unfortunately, the U.S. is still mired in backward challenges of gender equality in the workforce -- from gender pay gaps to diversity at the executive level to gender biases for promotions. For example, offering parental leave, not just for women (paid maternity) but also for men is critical as it erases unintended consequences of gender and hiring biases. Out of 193 countries in the United Nations, only a handful do not have a national paid parental leave law: New Guinea, Suriname, a few South Pacific island nations and the United States.
In the tech industry, current data findings around gender equality are persistently dismal -- both in promoting multiple women to leadership positions as well as to investing in female-led startups. Consider this gloomy metric: only 11% of VCs are women, with 71% of VC firms having no female partners. According to AllRaise, an organization dedicated to accelerating the success of female founders and funders, only 12% of funding goes to teams with at least one female founder. According to a First Round Capital study, companies with a woman on the founding team outperform their all-male peers by 63 percent. Yet when it comes to venture capital, female CEOs get only 2.7% of all venture funding.
According to a 2018 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study, the data behind women-owned startups shows that they could be a better bet. The BCG study found when women business owners pitch their ideas to investors for early-stage funding, they receive significantly less than men; on average more than $1 million less. However, startups founded by women ultimately deliver higher revenue—more than 2x per dollar invested—than those founded by men, making women-owned companies better investments for venture capitalists and other investors.
The numbers speak for themselves: there is a clear unconscious or hidden bias in investment decisions, favoring male entrepreneurs over female-led entrepreneurs. For the benefit of our global entrepreneurial community, Silicon Valley and the tech industry must demonstrate leadership and correct this long-standing imbalance. We can do much better! There is progress -- albeit slow; since 2015, Salesforce is trailblazing a leadership path by enacting an equal pay commitment. The company is also paving the way with a plan to eliminate bias throughout virtually all stages of the employee journey.
Tech companies, particularly the biggest ones (and they know who they are), should take a page from Salesforce’s commitment to equal pay and equal opportunity. The tech industry’s annual report card reflects little to no progress in diversity in hiring for the industry’s biggest players. Following Salesforce’s leadership, the biggest tech companies must continue investing in better hiring programs, developing improved retention initiatives, and get everyone, from the top-down to the bottom-up, to value and commit to diverse and inclusive workforces.
Melinda Gates’ work abroad in countries that systematically marginalize women broadened her perspective on the continued gender biases in today’s workplace. She calls for women and men to join forces and end the biases working against women. The biggest message from “The Moment of Lift” is that when countries begin to empower women, these women often make the best choices for their families and communities, resulting in better communities for all.
“As we bring gender bias out from behind its disguises, more and more men and women will see bias where they hadn't suspected it and will stand against it. That's how we change the norms that hide the biases we were blind to. We see them, and we end them.” ― Melinda Gates