Melinda Gates launches $50 million initiative to boost women in tech

A new initiative from billionaire Melinda Gates wants to increase the number of women in Chicago tech. And her investment firm is spending $50 million to kickstart the women-in-tech initiative in the Windy City and two other markets.

Gates, through her investment and incubation firm Pivotal Ventures, announced the launch of GET (Gender Equality in Tech) Cities, a $50 million effort over five years to accelerate women’s representation and leadership in the tech industry in Chicago and two yet-to-be-named cities.

The GET Cities initiative chose Chicago for its “growing tech sector, strong academic institutions, and vibrant entrepreneurial and venture ecosystem,” the organization said, and it announced several local partners that it’s working with to create gender equality in Chicago’s tech sector, including the University of Illinois at Chicago’s computer science program and P33, an initiative from Penny Pritzker and CEO Chris Gladwin to make Chicago a “tier 1 tech hub.”

GET Cities said it plans to partner with more location organizations in the future who are working to increase inclusivity in Chicago’s tech industry. The group said it plans to meet with these organizations over the next several months to create a “tangible action plan” to increase the number of women in tech. GET Cities said it plans to host its first event in the first half of 2020.

“By building pathways for women in key industries, such as technology and entrepreneurship, together we can accelerate women’s power and influence and create greater innovation and economic opportunity for more people,” Renee Wittemyer, director of program strategy and Investment at Pivotal Ventures, told Chicago Inno in a statement. “We designed GET Cities to be an innovative approach that brings city-based stakeholders together to collaborate on a replicable model and accelerate the pace of change for women in tech nationally. It’s our goal to create the space for companies, investors, and innovative thinkers to bring ideas that will make this a reality.”

There are a number of initiatives in Chicago to boost diversity in tech, including Chicago Blend, a venture capitalist-led organization that’s focused on boardroom and leadership diversity among the city’s tech companies. The group found that among Chicago startup board seats, just 9.8 percent are held by women. And among executive-level roles at startup companies, 81 percent are held by men.

Chicago tech hub 1871 operates a women-in-tech program that aims to help early-stage female founders launch startups. And on the venture side, newly launched VC firm Chingona Ventures, led by Samara Hernandez, looks to back diverse founders and unique consumer businesses.

Jim Dallke, Chicago Inno

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