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Monday, March 27, 2023

Melinda Gates' New Research Reveals Alarming Diversity Numbers

Executives at tech companies say gender diversity matters. They opine that there aren’t enough women in tech, and express outrage and frustration that just 11 percent of senior tech leaders are women. But in reality they spend very little of their philanthropic dollars attempting to close this gender and race gap, according to new research released today by Melinda Gates in partnership with McKinsey & Company.

Last year, according to the report, only 5 percent of companies’ philanthropic giving went to programs that focused explicitly on women and girls in tech. And less than 0.1 percent of their grants went to programming for women of color—a group whose representation in tech is getting worse. Over the past decade, the ratio of black, Latina, and Native American women receiving computing degrees has dropped by a third, from 6 percent to just four percent.


The companies investigated found that last figure so alarming that twelve of the 32 participants are taking immediate action. They’re uniting to form the Reboot Recognition Tech Coalition, a joint effort by companies like Microsoft, Qualcomm, and LinkedIn to close the gender gap for women of color in tech. They aim to double the number of underrepresented women of color graduating with computer science degrees by 2025, and they’re collectively pledging $12 million toward this goal over three years. This group will coordinate to direct their giving collectively, with the twin goals of creating a set of guidelines that will revamp the computer science major to appeal more to women of color and while building dedicated communities that will support these women within the industry, among other things.

Gates has long contended that collecting data is critical to addressing the social challenges she has spent the second part of her career tackling as a philanthropist; companies may say they care deeply about problems, but until the research exists to show them exactly what the problem looks like, how it’s changing, and what measures have been shown to be effective in addressing it, not much changes. It’s the same insight Tracy Chou had when, as a programmer at Pinterest in 2013, she published a Medium post asking her peers to contribute the number and percentage of female engineers they employed.


The report arrives two years after Gates announced plans to build up a personal office, Pivotal Ventures, to dedicate resources and attention to supporting women in tech—in addition to the work she does with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. When we spoke about it then, she voiced the need for more research. “I can’t go convince governments to work on female issues unless I have data,” she said, adding, “Transparency is one of the first things that makes change.”

Entitled “Reboot Representation: Using CSR and Philanthropy to Close the Gender Gap in Tech,” the report reviews how 32 large tech companies, including Google, eBay and Salesforce have worked internally to support women and close the gender gap. Taken together, these companies brought in $500 billion in sales last year, and they spent more than $500 million on philanthropy. Of that, $24 million went to support programming for women and girls and just $335,000 targeted at programs aimed at women of color.

In addition to surveying companies about their existing strategies, researchers spoke with more than 100 leaders in the field to determine what strategies were proving effective. The resulting research forms a playbook for companies interested in promoting and supporting gender diversity more effectively. It includes tips for what makes programs successful, advice on how to pick and set a strategy that is in line with a company’s business objectives, and a self-assessment to help companies figure out whether their efforts are working.

Researchers discovered that companies often didn’t spend their money in data-driven research-underlined ways: Two-thirds of the the companies surveyed concentrated their funding on programs for kids between kindergarten and 12th grade, while research suggests that programs targeting college-age women to bolster their enthusiasm for the field before they choose majors and commit to a career, were more effective. “Few invest philanthropically earlier in higher education to build the cohort they will ultimately recruit from,” write the reports’ authors.

What’s more, companies rarely coordinate these philanthropic efforts. Within an institution, there are often multiple people working on gender and racial parity, within in human resources, diversity and inclusion teams, or as part of a corporate social responsibility strategy. Yet there’s rarely one person overseeing it all.

The most important things companies can do, according to Gates, is coordinate these efforts. That’s why she’s excited about the potential of the coalition. As she blogged today, “By working together, they will be able to reach more young women.” The answer to the everyone-in-hoodies problem is not a silver bullet, but a concentrated, industry-wide effort to solve problems the way computer scientists solve problems: methodically, by collecting data, understanding the issues, and testing strategies until the problem is solved.

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