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How Melinda Gates Plans to Save the World

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ach week, we present an influential woman whose career and style has inspired the Silkarmour team to aim higher and dress better. This week’s Silkarmour woman is businesswoman and philanthropist, Melinda Gates.

Being the “Billionaire Crusader” of technology, gender equality and international health has put Gates on a pedestal for women in each of these fields. Yet like any humbled leader of a cause, she started from the bottom. Joining Microsoft after earning her BA and MBA from Duke University in 1986, Gates worked her way up the ranks to host several significant roles in development of Microsoft programmes, including Publisher, Encarta, Expedia and Microsoft Bob. Unsurprisingly, she is now considered one of the ‘First Ladies’ in tackling technology’s blatant sexism: “Companies need to look level-by-level at what they are doing inside their own employee base and say, 'Are we making a level playing field pay-wise?’" she said in a debate about boosting female employment rates, "you've got to get more women in technology because those are the high-paying jobs." Her efforts don’t stop here however. Coining the phrase ‘the slacker partner’, Gates also argues how sexism at work starts at home, rallying the support of Lena Dunham’s platform ‘Lenny’ to promote her cause. The typically ‘female’ role of homemaker, she argues, needs just as much credit as the man who goes to work every day; if anything, down to the hours of manual labour put in.

As a philanthropist, Gates’s work with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a force to be reckoned with. Before it was responsible for $44.2 billion worth of poverty aid, this juggernaut of a company was the product of a merger of three different charities, originally founded by her husband to combat the essential issues of the developing world. Re-named after her and her husband in 2000, Gates’s led the internal restructuring of the company herself. Having collectively donated more than $30billion to the charity with her husband, the foundation now leads some of the most fundamental research projects to combat global poverty, health and education, including developing vaccines for malaria and HIV, designing better condoms and developing better lavatories.

Shop the look: Cashmere jacket by EmmaJane Knight | Cashmere pencil skirt by EmmaJane Knight, White Silk shirt by Sophie Cameron Davies | Grey Strung necklace by ORA | Black Python pouch by ALLEGRA LONDON | Grey Brilliant Earrings by ORA

However, what is most inspiring is how Gates has always maintained enough of a distance from her joint-ventures with her famous husband at Microsoft in order to work on an issue far greater than technology; global gender equality. Founding Pivotal Ventures back in 2015 to support her work outside of the foundation, Gates now balances the responsibilities of her previous role alongside waging a war on the Vatican’s suppression of contraceptives in developing countries, arguing the simple point that “200 million women want this around the world”. She considers this mission her “life’s work” and regularly travels to India and the poorest parts of Africa to distribute resources and manage projects herself. Women’s bodies, according to Gates, have become a battleground with multiple unnecessary and irrelevant influencers, noting how now the suppression religion has on family planning is not fit for the modern age as “82% of Catholics say contraception is morally acceptable”. Concerning the Vatican, she wants the men in power to step out of the debate and “let the women in Africa decide” how to protect their reproductive rights as “the choice is up to them”. But Gates doesn’t throw around weighty statements on delicate issues for show. She openly used contraception herself whilst being a practising Catholic and insists that it is one of the ultimate tools for a woman’s independence, enabling them to space the births of their children as she did.

In paving the way for change for future generations of women, Gates’s is a firm believer in facing reality. Besides the widely publicised reports of denying their children any kind of ‘pay-day’ inheritance cheque, Gates’s has raised them to understand the illusion of ‘having it all’. “What I always tell my daughters is that I hope they will do both” she said when discussing the balance between work and family. Like any other woman (or man for that matter) her children will have to “figure out how to balance a family life and how to balance the work” like anyone else. Coming from a woman who arguably does have it all, she is doing everything in her power to fight for the women who have nothing. She has seen single mothers in Tanzania pool their money together to start their own businesses in the middle of the desert yet remains unafraid about the amount of progress that still needs to be made: “If we match these women’s commitment with ours, really incredible things are possible.”

Career Golden Nuggets

  • Helps others during your ascension: “If you are successful, it is because somewhere, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped”
  • Find your voice: “A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult”
  • Do what you love: “Go to a company you’re passionate about. But if it happens to be on the cutting edge of something, that’s where it’s really fun”
  • Speak up for other women: "Women speaking up for themselves and for those around them are the strongest force we have to change the world"

 

 

Woman of the Week

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