Melinda Gates chose Chicago to create the first tech hub with gender equality. Getty
Melinda Gates has a vision of how gender-inclusive tech hubs would function, and her new initiative is attempting to create three of them. The first stop is Chicago.
Gates announced today that Pivotal Ventures, her investment and incubation company will be launching an initiative, Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities, designed to accelerate the representation and leadership of women in tech, through the development of inclusive tech hubs across the United States. Rather than focusing on male-dominated Silicon Valley, this effort is targeting gender equality in up-and-coming tech hubs. Chicago was chosen as the first of three hubs, and additional cities will be selected in the next few years.
Gates explained the rationale for targeting smaller hubs in GET Cities, “As the tech industry continues to expand beyond Silicon Valley to other areas across the country, we have the opportunity to reimagine what the sector could look like. If these emerging tech hubs are supported to prioritize women’s representation and inclusion as they grow, they will be better positioned to tap into the full range of local talent, while also helping create a blueprint for closing the industry’s gender gap nationwide.”
Chicago was chosen as the first GET City after an analysis of tech hubs revealed Chicago had the ideal mix of factors including computing degree programs, access to capital, a strong local business and employer community, diverse talent and a favorable regulatory and political environment.
GET Cities’ Priorities
Pivotal Ventures is teaming up with with Break Through Tech and SecondMuse to launch GET Cities. Their plan for increasing equality in the burgeoning Chicago tech world is three-fold: getting more women interested in pursuing tech careers, creating an inclusive environment which generates opportunities for these women, and ensuring that women of color are provided the same pathways and opportunities. Here are the details of how they are reinventing the tech hub.
1. Building Pathways Into Tech Break Through Tech will partner with higher education institutions, starting with the University of Illinois at Chicago to increase the number of female computing graduates. Break Through Tech already has experience bringing more women into the tech world with a similar program they launched in New York. They plan to help connect female students to each other and to professionals and to help provide female students gain access to internships.
2. Getting Local Tech Ecosystem On Board Led by SecondMuse, a global innovation agency, GET Cities will encourage local startups, venture firms and tech companies to build a more inclusive culture. This includes developing a set of shared goals on hiring and retention of women, increasing the number of women in artificial intelligence jobs, and identifying sources of capital and funding for female entrepreneurs.
3. Ensuring Equal Representation for All Women GET Cities also wants to ensure that women of all backgrounds, particularly women of color, have pathways into tech, innovation, and entrepreneurship. They aim to improve diversity and inclusion in AI, support black and Latinx female startup founders, and to boost the number of black, Latinx, and Native American women graduating with computing degrees.
Gates’ initiative is targeting the lack of women in technology from both the supply and demand side. The program aims to entice more women to pursue tech careers, and then make sure there are opportunities available to these women when they’re looking for work or funding. In addition, they plan to provide support for the women throughout the process.
The statistics on women in technology suggest that a major intervention like GET Cities is certainly warranted. According to Gates, only 19% of computer degrees go to women, and women hold only 26% of computing-related jobs. Last year, a meager 2.8% of venture capital funding in the U.S. went to companies started by all-female teams. Women of color are also hard to find in the computing workforce. Despite accounting for 16% of the general population, African American, Latinx and Native American women hold only about 4% of roles in computing fields. In October, Gates announced that she was committing $1 billion to change these statistics. Currently, $50 million are allocated to the GET Cities project.
Gates is betting that intervening early in the development of the tech hubs will provide an opportunity to steer the culture in a better direction. Let’s hope she’s right.
Inspired by my prior career developing quantitative trading strategies for Morgan Stanley, I’m now trying to solve women’s issues at work—including the wage gap and sexual harassment. I’ve taught courses on gender for eight years at UCLA, have published in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times and have discussed gender issues on Fox News, NPR and BBC. My book, Sex and the Office also dives in to some of the obstacles holding women back. My unique perspective comes from my varied background. I hold a Ph.D. in Psychology from UCLA and two graduate degrees (management and operations research) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and an undergrad degree in mathematics and computer science from Vassar College