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Melinda Gates
The Hollywood Reporter’s 2015 Women in Entertainment Breakfast
Los Angeles, California
December 9, 2015
AS PREPARED


I am so honored to be here with you this morning. And I’m thrilled that my daughter Phoebe and her friend Sophia could be here, too.

Because this is a room to behold. You are the women they aspire to be.

When I was Phoebe’s age, I didn’t know too many women who worked outside the home or who had careers you might call powerful.

Growing up in the 1970s in Dallas, Texas, I didn’t have a lot of chances to see what that path looked like.

When I was young, my favorite shows were “Little House on the Prairie” and “Leave it to Beaver.”

Both shows revolved around perfect families, presided over by perfect moms.

Frankly, all that perfectionism was intimidating. And it definitely wasn’t me.

When I got a little older, “Dallas” and “Dynasty” were must-see TV in our house.

The families on those shows were certainly less than perfect. But I loved them, anyway.

The character who really captured my imagination was Alexis Carrington, the conniving CEO of an oil company on “Dynasty”.

In a lot of ways, she might seem like an unusual favorite. Her character was not very likeable… to say the least.

A few years ago, when TV Guide released its list of the 60 Nastiest Villains of All Time, she was number 7.

But what hooked me was that Alexis had a job, and she was serious about it.
As imperfect as she was, she was one of the few examples of a woman senior executive that I could look to.

That was important to me.

Because I knew I wanted to be a great mom like June Cleaver, and I also knew I wanted to work outside the home… although I planned on being much less nasty than Alexis Carrington.

I wanted to do both.

But there really wasn’t anyone to show me how.

That’s why I love seeing this room through the eyes of my daughter.

This room full of powerful women: executives and directors and VPs and showrunners and actresses and storytellers.

A room that would have seemed extraordinary to me when I was Phoebe’s age.

A room that, to her, probably doesn’t even seem like that big of a deal.

I’m pretty sure she’s over there thinking, “Of course, Mom, women can be powerful. Duh. You tell me that all the time.” And I hope she’s thinking, “I can be powerful, too.”

In so many ways, that’s a testament to the work you’ve done.

You’ve created roles for complex, powerful women both on screen and beyond.

You’ve helped so many young women imagine what’s possible for themselves—as great moms, great spouses, great bosses, and great executives.

You’ve done that for Phoebe and Sophia. And you’ve done that for millions of women and girls like them.

It is such a privilege to be here this morning to celebrate you.

Phoebe turned 13 this year. I have two other teenagers, so I have some idea of what’s in store for us in the next chapter of her life.

Her world will start to get bigger. She’ll be thinking about what she wants to study, where she wants to go to college, and what she wants to be when she grows up.

She’ll get a driver’s license. She’ll try new things. We’ll probably have a disagreement or two about outfits or texting.

She’ll probably keep telling me my attempts at the Whip and the Nae Nae are pathetic.

I say all this not to embarrass Phoebe, but to underscore how extraordinarily lucky I feel that my daughter has these years ahead of her for discovery and exploration.

For many girls around the world, adolescence is something very different. Instead of being a time of possibility, it’s a time when their worlds begin to contract.

One in 3 girls in developing countries is married before she turns 18. One in 9 is married before she turns 15.

And married or not, teenage girls all over the world find themselves facing a growing set of household responsibilities that keep them from their schoolwork or getting a job outside the home.

Hauling water long distances, collecting firewood, grinding grain with a mortar and pestle, caring for children. The list goes on.

In the fifteen years since Bill and I started our foundation, I’ve done a lot of traveling to the world’s poorest places to meet the girls who live these realities.

In Tanzania last year, I met a fourteen-year-old girl named Grace who was falling behind her twin brother in school because she was expected to do chores while he was free to study.

By the time she finished each night, it was dark outside—and their house had no electricity. She asked me to leave my flashlight, so she could use it to do homework.

When I was in India in April, I met young girls who had been taken out of school and forced into marriage because their parents couldn’t afford to feed them.

Some of them already had babies of their own on their laps.

Every one of those girls is as precious to their parents as Phoebe is to me. We can’t accept less for any of the world’s girls than we would for our own daughters.

Yet, in every country and on every continent, women and girls continue to be left behind.

They’re more likely to live in poverty. They’re less likely to complete their education. They aren’t making as much money. They aren’t rising as high in government or leadership or executive roles.

Even their time is considered less valuable.

There isn’t a single country on Earth, including the US, where women don’t shoulder the burden of household chores more than a boy or a man.

Around the globe, women do an average of 4.5 hours of unpaid work every single day. In the poorest countries, that number can be as high as 8 hours.

The sum of all these statistics is this: All around the world—even right here in this country—systemic inequities mean that women and girls are living and dying with their potential completely unmet.

That’s not just bad news for women and girls. It’s bad news for everyone. Because it means we’re using only half our collective resources to create better societies.

We know, for instance, that when women can access economic opportunities, they plow 90 percent of each dollar they make back into their family.

Think about what that does for the health and education of their children—and ultimately what it does for society.

We know that societies where women are empowered are healthier and more prosperous.

And we know that, when women and girls have a voice in their lives and their futures, they push the world in the right direction.

But even though women are exactly the people who can do the most to build a better future… today, they have the least power and influence with which to do it.

For my part, I’m determined to do as much as I possibly can to change that.

I turned 50 last year. And I made a promise to myself that I will spend the rest of my life working to lift up women and girls.

I’m focusing my attention on them not only because succeeding in this effort is so important—but because it’s so possible.

In fact, it’s beginning to happen already. It's uneven. It's not everywhere, yet. But things are undeniably starting to change.

For the first time in history, nearly as many girls as boys are going to primary school—and the gender gap is beginning to narrow for secondary school, too.

More women are participating in the workforce, making their voices heard in more industries and more places every day.

Almost everywhere on the planet, women are living longer, healthier, fuller lives than ever before—and society as a whole is better off because of it.

Not only do I see progress on the ground—I also see that women and girls are finally on the global agenda.

The world is talking about women and girls from the United Nations to the White House… to the cover of the New York Times Magazine, which just last month took on the gender gap in this industry.

We have greater opportunity than ever before to unlock the potential of women and girls around the world. We also have greater urgency.

So how do we seize this moment?

As Shonda Rhimes reminded everyone so powerfully at this breakfast last year, cracking a glass ceiling always takes a group effort.

We all have a role to play. And your role is a particularly big one.

As you know, the entertainment industry has an outsized impact on shaping society. The worlds you create onscreen help expand possibilities for the one we live in.

You have the ability to do more than reflect the world around you. You’re the ones who can project us into a better, more equal future.

There is a lot of work to be done. But so many of you are already pushing us in the right direction.

Every single time you insist on a strong female lead… or on hiring the most qualified person, even if she doesn’t come with a Y chromosome… or on giving a woman a seat at the table… or a chair that says director…

Every time you insist that a better future starts with you… you are moving us closer to our goals for women and girls around the world.

So many of you have spent your careers fighting and winning battles for equality.

When you multiply your determination by the millions of lives your work touches… you see why we can’t do this without you.

Already, Phoebe’s world is so different than mine was. But what will her daughter’s future look like?

And what about the daughters of the girls I meet around the globe? What will their future look like?

That’s the question that keeps me up at night.

Will society still whisper in their ears that they should aim a little lower?

Or will girls everywhere finally have the same opportunities to grow and explore and imagine themselves as mothers and as executives and everything in between?

I’m rooting for that second version of the future. I’m asking us to step up and create a society that tells every girl, “Go get it!”

And I’m here in Los Angeles today because you’re exactly the ones who can greenlight it.

Thank you.

 

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