Melinda Gates has made one of her first public appearances since her shock divorce announcement from Bill to reveal the Gates Foundation will spend $2.1 billion on gender equality work – weeks after her husband was accused of preying on female Microsoft staff.
Melinda, 56, appeared on stage at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris Wednesday to call for the need to ‘lift up women’ and make one of the largest single commitments the foundation has made in more than two decades.
Dressed head to toe in white and with her wedding ring notably absent from her left hand, Melinda appeared to be sending a clear message to her estranged husband.
Melinda has long pushed for gender equality to be a key priority for the Seattle-based foundation, while Microsoft founder Bill, 65, has instead prioritized polio eradication and the development of vaccines in recent years.
The 56-year-old’s renewed push for women’s rights comes as Bill has been rocked by numerous claims he behaved inappropriately toward female employees during his time at Microsoft, ever since the couple announced early May that they are divorcing after 27 years and three children together.
Multiple reports have surfaced claiming the billionaire pursued extramarital affairs, while questions have also arisen over his friendship with late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Melinda Gates appeared without her wedding ring at an event in Paris weeks after her divorce announcement from Bill
Melinda revealed at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris Wednesday the Gates Foundation will spend $2.1 billion on gender equality over a five year period
‘What I know is that if you lift up women, if we lift up women and make sure they can use the voices they already have in all places of power and they have their full power and influence in the world those women and girls will lift up everybody else,’ she told the audience Wednesday.
‘Women should not only have a seat at the table, they should be in every single room where policy and decisions are being made.’
Melinda said the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will direct $2.1 billion over the next five years to advancing global gender equality, working out at around $420 million each year.
The pledge includes $1.4 billion for health and family planning, $100 million for helping women get into positions of power in government and the workplace and $650 million to focus on economic empowerment.
In a statement ahead of her appearance at the event, Melinda said ‘the world has been fighting for gender equality for decades, but progress has been slow.’
She added that it was time to ‘reignite a movement and deliver real change.’
Several donors are expected to make similar pledges and commitments to gender equality at the event.
Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke at the event via video link as she insisted that the US will ‘fight alongside’ women who do not have the freedom of speech or the freedom to vote.
The Gates Foundation donates about $5 billion a year to different causes through its philanthropic work but the focus of its future commitments had been unclear following the split of the power couple.
Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman told the Wall Street Journal the new spending on gender equality had been approved by both Bill and Melinda.
Melinda and Bill seen after receiving the Commander of the Legion of Honor in Paris in 2017. The couple announced they were getting divorced in May
The couple are pictured with their three kids Jennifer (center), Rory (right) and Phoebe (left) in 2019. Since news of the split broke, Gates has been rocked by claims of inappropriate behavior during his time at Microsoft
While Melinda is the ‘primary face and voice’ of the foundation’s gender-equality work, ‘Bill is very deeply engaged as well,’ he said.
‘This is an issue which has been growing and growing in importance for us.’
Gates doubled down on his commitment to the cause in a statement to the Journal.
‘Prioritizing gender equality is not only the right thing to do, it is essential to fighting poverty and preventable disease,’ he said.
However, the pledge comes as Bill’s treatment of and behavior toward women has increasingly fallen under the spotlight since Melinda filed for divorce last month.
Maria Klawe, a former Microsoft board member from 2009 to 2015, told Business Insider this week that diversity was not something Bill ‘was interested in hearing about’.
When female executives would suggest initiatives to improve diversity at the company, he would allegedly respond: ‘Are you trying to effing destroy the company?’
A spokesperson for the Microsoft founder told Insider Klawe’s allegations are a ‘gross mischaracterization.’
The latest allegations come after Bill confessed last month that he had an affair with a female Microsoft worker back in 2000 while he was married to Melinda.
A report from the Wall Street Journal claimed he had an ‘inappropriate’ sexual relationship with a female staff member in 2000.
Bill was CEO of the company at the time. It is not clear what position or level of seniority the employee was.
Melinda called for the need to ‘lift up women’ as she appeared alongside Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin (center) and French businesswoman and politician Elisabeth Moreno (right)
Melinda’s commitment to women’s rights and gender equality comes as Bill continues to be rocked by claims he behaved inappropriately toward female employees during his time at Microsoft
The affair stayed a secret until 2019 when the employee wrote a letter to the board detailing what had happened and allegedly asking that Melinda read it.
The company opened an investigation into the claims.
While the investigation was still ongoing in March 2020, Bill shocked the business world by announcing he was resigning from his position on the company board.
The same day Bill stood down from the board of Berkshire Hathaway, run by his friend Warren Buffet.
Last week, Buffet announced he was resigning from the board of the Gates Foundation.
Bill’s spokeswoman confirmed he had an affair almost 20 years ago with a staff member and that the relationship ended ‘amicably.’ She denied the affair was connected in any way to his abrupt departure from the board.
Meanwhile, two female Microsoft employees also claimed he asked them out on dates and was known to have pursued several women at the tech giant during his marriage.
The New York Times reported two separate instances where he asked female employees out on dates.
In one case, he is said to have asked out a Microsoft employee in 2006 after watching her make a presentation.
‘If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened,’ Gates emailed the employee, according to the Times.
A couple of years later, Bill then asked out an employee with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Her wedding ring was notably absent from her left hand, following the Gates’ announcement in early May that they are divorcing after 27 years together
Melinda has long pushed gender equality to be a key priority for the Seattle-based Gates Foundation, which donates about $5 billion a year to different causes through its philanthropic work
French businesswoman and politician Elisabeth Moreno (right) listens to Melinda as she announced the pledge Wednesday
The pair were in New York for a work trip, when he told her: ‘I want to see you. Will you have dinner with me?’
The woman told the Times the approach made her feel uncomfortable, but she laughed it off.
There was no expectation that the women would suffer professional repercussions for spurning his advances, the Times reported.
It’s not clear whether Melinda was aware of her husband’s advances on other women.
However, she was aware of and unhappy with the handling of sexual harassment allegations against Michael Larson, one of Bill’s key lieutenants and the manager of his personal fortune, the report said.
In 2017, a person wrote to Bill and Melinda to complain that Larson was harassing a female staff member at a bicycle shop part-owned by a venture capital firm Rally Capital, owned by the former married couple.
The woman reached a settlement in 2018, signing a non-disclosure agreement and receiving a payout.
Bill’s spokeswoman denied Gates ever mistreated employees in a statement to the Times.
However, Melinda was reportedly unhappy with the outcome and ordered an independent investigation.
According to the New York Times, Larson was placed on leave during the investigation but was reinstated and still looks after Gates’ vast fortune.
Bill’s friendship with billionaire pedophile Epstein has also increasingly come under the spotlight in recent weeks.
The two men’s friendship began in 2011, three years after Epstein had pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution from a minor.
There is no suggestion that Gates did anything wrong.