Melinda Gates Takes On Harassment And Discrimination In Silicon Valley And Beyond In Powerful Op-Ed

"By raising our voices, we protect each other."

In an op-ed for Time, Melinda Gates — the co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and wife of Bill Gates — gets candid about her own experiences with sexual harassment in the tech industry, but she goes far beyond that as well. Gates, who has traveled the globe improving equity for others, also stands in solidarity with victims of sexual harassment and assault, and encourages them to continue to speak out.

After touching on the tech industry's own major sexual harassment problem, Gates looks past Silicon Valley and Hollywood and mentions a startling observation she's made throughout her travels around the world. "I've spent the last 20 years talking to women all over the globe, and I hear these stories everywhere I go," she declared. "From boardrooms to presidential palaces to mats spread on the ground in the world's poorest villages, the message from women is the same: Me too. Me too. Me too."

Gates argues the root of the problem is that women in all areas of the world have been "taught that being born female comes with a cost," including being conditioned to think that "if we are the victims of harassment or discrimination or violence, it's somehow our fault." Furthermore, Gates declares the inequality this mindset creates is damaging not just to women but to the entire world. "How many great thinkers, leaders, innovators, entertainers, disruptors have we all missed out on because the doors to these industries have been guarded by abusive men?" she asks.

Gates continues, "Discrimination, harassment and rape have never been acceptable. They've just been accepted. For most of history, women haven't had an equal say in the norms that shape a society, or an equal number of seats at the tables where decisions are made. We haven't had an equal chance to determine what kind of world we live in."

However, what has changed in 2017, according to Gates, is that people worldwide are now listening to these stories of discrimination and harassment, and many are making a concerted effort to change. Still, Gates also makes the important distinction that had women of all professions and backgrounds not come forward with their stories in the first place, none of this reflection or change would even be possible.  

"We have launched a movement bent on shattering the glass ceiling for all women: women of color, disabled women, immigrant women, poor women, older women," she declares, adding this inclusive movement makes her feel hopeful. "A movement about rejecting the roles that society has assigned to us, and to our daughters, and demanding the power to choose our own roles."

In conclusion, Gates calls for the continued solidarity we've seen so much of thus far, because that's the only way we can truly enact change. "By raising our voices, we protect each other. Each woman who speaks up about her own experience is making it easier for other women to do the same," she says. "And because of the strength in our numbers, the institutions that have enabled systemic sexism and discrimination are starting to act — to fire, to expel, to ostracize, to pass laws. To change."

Much of what Gates wrote, especially the call for solidarity amongst women and allies, is reminiscent of a larger call for cohesion and an impassioned speech actress Rose McGowan gave at the Women's Convention in Detroit last month. In that speech, McGowan told women, in part, "We are free. We are strong. We are one massive collective voice. No more will we be shunted to the side. No more will we be hurt. It's time to be whole. It's time to rise. It's time to be brave."

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