- REUTERS/Mike Theiler
- Melinda Gates says that gaming is a big reason for a decrease in the number of women in tech in the last three to four decades, she told Molly Wood in an interview with Marketplace.
- More specifically, she said, it was the types of games that were released in the early years of personal computers when PC games became big: shooting and war games, for example.
- Gates is focused on reversing the trend, and founded Pivotal Ventures – an organization that funds venture capitalists who invest in women and minorities – to help her cause.
Melinda Gates says that a big reason for the decrease in the number of women getting undergraduate degrees in computer science was the emergence of video games on the PC.
Gates, a computer science graduate with an MBA herself, worked at Microsoft as a project manager and worked her way up to become the general manager of information products. Having been at the company – which was in many ways at the heart of the tech industry – in the 80s and 90s, she witnessed the evolution of the male-to-female ratio within the industry firsthand.
“I’ve gone back to look at the data, what has been collected, on why we’ve lost so many women getting computer science degrees at the undergraduate level and nobody truly knows the answer,” the co-chair of nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation told Marketplace’s Molly Wood in an interview. “But the belief is from when you look at when that peak happened, which was about at the time I was in computer science, the industry became a few years after that very gamified.”
More specifically, she added, it was the type of games that were being released. Gaming was the new big thing on PCs in that era, yes, but computer games had existed before that – they had just been more gender-neutral in the past.
“A lot of [the first PC games] were sort of shoot-em-up games, war kinds of things. And when you used to have Pac-Man or the adventure kinds of games, girls were interested in those things, women were interested in those things. The more, sort of, social or neutral games.”
As PC games became more “male-focused,” girls in computer science uninterested in the genre started to leave the field, and the cycle began: As fewer women entered the industry, girls found it harder to see role models in the engineers of the world.
Gates is focused on trying to help reverse this trend. She founded a for-profit organization called Pivotal Ventures that funds venture capitalists who invest in entrepreneurs who are women or minorities.
“Women will talk a lot about bias. They’ll talk about a professor who turned them off. They’ll talk about no teamwork, and [how] it felt so individual and ‘I couldn’t find anybody like me,'” she said. “Well, we need to make sure that we create multiple pathways for young women into the tech sector.”