The coming years will also see a female US president and another female British Prime Minister, the philanthropist predicted.
But women will only achieve this by ‘being themselves’, not by imitating men.
‘In previous generations we tried to do it the way a man would, but we actually need to do it the way we see is right, in our own style.
‘When I got to Microsoft I almost left after two years, not because I didn’t have the technical chops or anything like that, but you had to be pretty abrasive in meetings and very out there to get your voice heard. I finally decided to just be who I was, whether people liked it or not, and I just kept moving up and up.’
Gates has recently announced that she will be dedicating the rest of her life to empowering women and girls with her work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She says: ‘Inequality between the sexes is our greatest moral failure.’
‘Why do we have to accept the world the way it is?’ she asked a room full of Hearst editors, who between them reach one in three women in the UK. ‘It’s a worldwide issue and an economic argument. If you empower women, you will improve the GDP of your country. That’s what I tell the presidents and the prime ministers of countries when I meet them.’
Educating men and boys as well as women is key – and she said that she is lucky that her husband Bill Gates, the founder and former CEO of Microsoft, is proud to be called a feminist.
‘The great thing about Bill is that he grew up in a family that had a very strong mother – he grew up in a very maternal family. So it was really interesting, when I had my first daughter. I had been at Microsoft for nine years - I loved my career there, but when I got pregnant I said to him, ‘I’m gonna quit,’ and he was absolutely shocked. Because he knew I loved my work. And I said ‘if we really want the family life we both grew up in, somebody has to be home more.’
‘But he was always nudging me. Sometimes with a little pressure to do something, especially in the first year, because he knew I loved working.’
Supporting ELLE’s recent ‘This Is What A Feminist Looks Like’ campaign, Melinda, who is in the UK to accept the Chatham House Prize in recognition of her tireless work towards improving the lives of women and children globally, called for more men to identify positively with the word: ‘Wives today expect their husbands to come home and participate, pull more weight at home. The more “enlightened men” we have, the more it becomes OK and the more we’re going to get change.’
And Melinda remains optimistic about the future: ‘We’re getting there. But, to me, the reason why it’s so important to have woman at top levels of political leadership, banks, businesses, philanthropies, is that women and girls need to be able to look up and say “I see 20 different styles of female leader, and I don’t want to be like those 10, but maybe those [other] five.” But with men, they have all the styles represented and they can decide which one they want to be like.’
She is exceptionally proud that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has saved six million lives via its vaccination programme – and now wants to see her charity work have the same impact on gender equality.
In an honest and inspiring hour-long Q&A at ELLE HQ, Melinda Gates, 50, talked at length to Lorraine Candy about her private and professional life.
‘Our children are incredibly supportive. The fact that Bill and I are gone a lot has also gotten easier for them because they know the work. But it’s always a juggling act because you never quite know when something unexpected is going to happen.
‘One other thing I’ll say – just a funny thing about our house when Bill was working at Microsoft. He was really busy, right? But on Saturday mornings I wanted him completely engaged with the kids. Friday night was movie night, but Saturday morning was that. I had this science kit and we would fill it with 10 fun science projects that were age-appropriate, and so they would get up on Saturday morning and do science. Each kid got their time with Dad, and some of our most fun family photos are the gigantic mess in the kitchen and the science projects they did with Dad.
‘Bill and I also have this rule in our house that we made up years ago – if you make a guffaw during the day, you have to tell the other person that night before you go to bed and turn out the light. So a lot of times you’ll go to bed and you’ll turn out the lights and then one person will start chuckling. So it’s like, right – turn the light back on, “what did you do today?” And you have to say that mistake you made that was just “ahh!” And trust me, Bill has some that are just huge and I’m like “Oh! I’m embarrassed for you!” And you just get over it and it’s fun, you know? But it helps to tell somebody else.’
Read more about Melinda’s visit to ELLE on the Editor-in-Chief’s blog.
To learn more about Gates’ work to empower women and children or to make a donation, head to betterbyhalf.org.