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WOMEN+POWER 2023: Melinda French Gates

Melinda French Gates has been an outspoken, public advocate of gender equity for decades — and now, the billionaire philanthropist is dedicating her time, wealth and resources to changing four major sectors that she believes are at the heart of the fight for equality.

In 2019, French Gates announced that she would be committing $1 billion of her own money to Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation firm French Gates founded in 2015 to support initiatives that empower women and families. Her estimated net worth stands at $10.2 billion, according to Bloomberg.

French Gates has revealed more details for where, exactly, that $1 billion will be going in a new interview with Fortune published in late 2022.

Pivotal, French Gates told Fortune, is “about how we can get women and people of color further along in the United States, faster. For me, this really comes down to looking at key areas: tech, finance, media, politics. You get more equity in those four industries and you will change all of society.”

That’s because these four sectors, which have seen women’s representation steadily grow over the past five years, have an outsized impact on our society, Gates argued, and yet traditional pipelines into these industries work best for men.

“All over the world we’ve set up these social norms, these barriers that hold women back, sometimes that are designed to hold women back,” French Gates said. “Women have to figure out ways to push through these structural barriers.”

This isn’t the first time Gates has made a public, sweeping commitment to advance gender equality, either: In 2021, she and ex-husband Bill Gates announced that the Gates Foundation, of which they are both co-chairs, would be committing $2.1 billion to advancing gender equality globally over the next five years. That same year, French Gates partnered with MacKenzie Scott to give away $40 million to four organizations that promote gender equality.

Already, Pivotal has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in more than 150 organizations, Fortune reports, both through donations and venture capital.

That list includes Magnify Ventures, a female-founded early-stage venture capital firm; Genius Guild, a venture fund that helps companies led by Black entrepreneurs; and Gender Equality in Tech Cities, an initiative designed to increase women’s leadership and representation in cities’ tech economies throughout the U.S.

“To re-create Silicon Valley or to change it would be incredibly hard,” French Gates told Fortune. “But when you’re starting fresh and new, if you start with a model in this perspective, then I don’t think you’ll replicate the old one we had in Silicon Valley.”

She also acknowledged a new sense of urgency to get more women in politics in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, removing nearly 50 years of federal protections for abortion.

“We have to get more funding for female politicians at all levels, and we have to look at the barriers that keep them from getting there,” she told Fortune. “Until we get women represented in all seats of power, you’re not going to have representation of society on the Supreme Court … because if you look at how Americans actually feel about Roe v. Wade, no matter which side of the aisle they’re on, what was done doesn’t represent what people believe.”

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