One of Melinda’s first challenges came in the harsh, male-dominated techie culture at Microsoft. “It was just so brash, so argumentative and competitive, with people fighting to the end on every point,” she writes. She began thinking about quitting.
Then she found a woman colleague, Charlotte Guyman, who felt the same. “It’s not O.K. for women to cry at work, but it’s O.K. for men to yell at work?” Guyman once asked. With other women employees, they began to create oases in Microsoft where courtesy was not seen as a sign of weakness. A critical mass of women employees helped civilize the company.
Yet while women were 35 percent of the computer science graduates in the U.S. in 1987, when Melinda graduated from Duke with such a degree, the share has now dropped to 19 percent. Only 2 percent of venture capital partners in America are women. Much of the United States workplace remains tilted against women, especially moms.
“We’re sending our daughters into a workplace that was designed for our dads — set up on the assumption that employees had partners who would stay home to do the unpaid work of caring for family,” Melinda writes. She notes that the U.S. is a rare country that does not mandate some paid parental leave.
“We’re quick to criticize gender injustice when we see it around the world,” Melinda observes. “We also need to see it where most of us feel it and can do something about it — in the places where we work.”
After the marriage, in 1994, Melinda still struggled, and one flash point was the annual letter that Bill had been writing for the foundation they had established. Melinda was co-chair of the foundation and wanted to write it with him in 2013. Bill didn’t like the idea. “We both got angry,” Melinda writes, adding: “I thought we were going to kill each other. I felt, ‘Well, this just might end the marriage right here.’”
In the end, Bill wrote the letter for 2013 but included a section by Melinda. In 2014, it became a joint letter, but mostly written by Bill. Finally, in 2015 it morphed into a truly balanced letter.