Melinda Gates shares her own story of gender assumptions and unpaid work

April 11, 20192 minute read

Melissa Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has written an essay in the Wall Street Journal titled “Equality for Women Must Start at Home (Even the Gates Home).”

In identifying the problem, she writes, “Unpaid work is the often invisible labor that keeps households running—tasks like cooking, cleaning and caretaking. Everywhere in the world, women do more of it than men do. In the U.S., women spend an average of four hours a day on unpaid work, while men spend about two and a half. Women in India spend an average of six hours a day on unpaid work, while men spend less than one.”

She goes on to say that she didn’t have to go as far as India and Tanzania (although she did travel there to study “the household burdens of the world’s poorest women”) to find examples. She only had to look at her own life. Early in her marriage to Bill Gates, she found herself taking on more and more of household responsibilities and said she felt “a loss of self.”

She had stopped working outside the home when she and Bill started a family. She writes, “…even with every advantage in the world and the best support we could hope for—Bill and I have fallen into the trap of assuming that some categories of work around the house should automatically belong to me.”

At that point, she explains, they began their “long climb to an equal partnership.” For example, her husband began driving the children to school several days a week and other families began to take notice. One of the other moms told Melinda, “When we saw Bill driving, we went home and said to our husbands, ‘Bill Gates is driving his child to school; you can, too.’”

She also gives examples of how women in countries like India and Tanzania are taking steps to change their own lives and the gender assumptions that keep them doing unpaid work.

Her essay is adapted from her new book, “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World,” which is due to be released on April 23.