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Why Melinda Gates Is Betting $50 Million That Chicago Is The Next Silicon Valley for Women

I'm still not sure billionaires should exist. But if they do, I think they should invest lots of money in righting some of the gender-based inequalities that capitalism—you know, that system that let them become billionaires in the first place—supports. Like systematically locking women out of tech jobs and VC funding for startups.


Therefore, I'm very much into Melinda Gates pledging $1 billion towards "expanding women's power and influence" over the next decade, starting with a $50 million investment in Chicago and two yet-to-be-disclosed cities to develop inclusive tech hubs and support women in tech.

Specific areas of investment will include:

  • Partnering with Break Through Tech to increase the number of women graduating from American universities with computer science degrees, starting with the University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Working with SecondMuse to align startups and investors focused on funding women entrepreneurs

Pivotal Ventures, Gates's company focused on finding innovative solutions to problems affecting U.S. women and families, launched the Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities project this week, highlighting some strong-emotion-inducing statistics on their new website:

  • We are still 208 years away from gender equality in the U.S. (cue: rage)
  • The percentage of women getting computing degrees actually decreased through the early 2000s, resulting in a 2011 low of 16% and not growing past 19% since (cue: frustration)
  • Achieving gender equality in tech would be worth $320-390 billion dollars in total market value (cue: hope, followed by me breaking my piggy bank and sending its contents to all the women in Computer Science 101)

Chicago was chosen as the first GET City because of its developing tech and VC scene, and its pool of diverse talent, said Pivotal Ventures.

Gates's investment purposefully focuses on metropolitan hubs outside of the top five tech cities—Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and San Diego—and comes in the form of money invested in local efforts and encouragement for other funders to follow suit.

While the next two cities won't be announced for a while, Pivotal Ventures did share their rubric, which includes:

  • current and future sources of diverse talent to computing degree programs and industry
  • access to capital
  • strength of local business and employer community
  • and the regulatory and political environment

I'm taking bets on what cities will be next. Maybe Detroit, another affordable, diverse Midwestern city with its own share of startup buzz? Denver or Salt Lake City, western hubs with lots of tech investment? Atlanta, mecca of talented new grads and creativity?

We'll have to wait and see.

For now, Pivotal Ventures will keep building infrastructure in Chicago and learning what works well and doesn't, moving quickly as they go. Gates shared in a Time op-ed at the end of last year that she wanted to build on the #MeToo movement before it became a thing of the past:

"Here's what keeps me up at night: I imagine waking up one morning to find that the country has moved on. That the media has stopped reporting on systemic inequalities. That diversity remains something companies talk about instead of prioritizing. That all of this energy and attention has amounted to a temporary swell instead of a sea change.

There is too much at stake to allow that to happen. Too many people—women and men—have worked too hard to get us this far. And there are too many possible solutions we haven't tried yet.

That's why, over the next ten years, I am committing $1 billion to expanding women's power and influence in the United States."

This first $50 million investment is part of Gates's overall pledge, which will go towards creating more pipelines for women in tech and other major sectors like media and public office; fighting barriers to women's professional advancement like sexual harassment and insufficient childcare options; and putting pressure on companies and organizations in need of reform by providing more data on the experiences of women and especially women of color.

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Which cities do you think should be next? Let us know in the comments!

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How These Companies Are Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

According to a recent study, anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 150% since the pandemic started. But these acts of violence are not new — they are part of a much larger history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S.

That makes celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (which was named a month-long celebration in May by Congress in 1992 "to coincide with two important milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: the arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843 and contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad, completed May 10, 1869") this year all the more important.

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How to Approach Career Development in a Remote Environment: Insight from Facebook’s Syamla Bandla

Most people have one home town. Syamla Bandla has 13.

With a father serving in the Indian army, Syamla got used to adapting to a new environment every time his role changed and her family moved to a new city.

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How This Analyst Learned to Serve — and Lead — at NGA

Anne Do was recently visiting her cousin in San Francisco, California, for less than 48 hours. In that time, she made two cakes and a dozen French macarons.

"I told my family, 'You won't be seeing me for a while!' and packed up what I could for their freezer," says Anne, smiling.

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[VIDEO ▶️ ] Diversity at Work: Procore’s Approach

💎 What does a recruiting process with "diversity at work" in mind look like?

📼 Press PLAY to hear some insights from a recruiter at Procore into what it's like to work at a company that encourages diversity. Cynthia Griffin, Senior Talent Operations Specialist at Procore, shares some tips and tricks to stand out in the recruitment process at Procore.

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5 Tips for Career Switchers: Insight from Work & Co’s Sarah Mogin on Making Use of Your Past Lives

Sarah Mogin never used to like writing open-ended essays in school. She found herself much more motivated by tangible problems.

Calculus had some of those—she never had trouble with her math homework—but when she was in school she never envisioned just how much she could incorporate that love of solution-finding into her daily work, much less that she would have a career as a developer one day.

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