When businesswoman and philanthropist Melinda Gates was fresh out of college in the 1980s, she had just gotten her dream tech job at Microsoft and thought she had it all figured out. But she soon realized that being a woman in a male-dominated field with all-male managers meant having no role models on how she should manage. The “more aggressive, less collaborative” management style of her male peers wasn’t working. It got so bad that she even considered quitting.
“I thought that in order to succeed, I’d need to act more like them. But when I tried it, I hated it,” Gates wrote in her opinion editorial for Fortune on Tuesday about what advice she would give women college graduates in computer science.
It wasn’t until she learned how to manage in a way that felt authentic to herself that her career started changing for the better.
“It turned out there was room for my leadership style, too. Nothing made me prouder than when colleagues started asking to be reassigned to my team,” Gates wrote. Learning how to be true to yourself is the one piece of advice she emphasized to new grads.
Be true to yourself
Learning your strengths and weaknesses and managing the discomfort of that discovery process is advice Gates has talked about before. It’s what she also told Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in 2016 about what she wish she had known on her first day at Microsoft: “You have to get uncomfortable getting comfortable.”
My friend Sheryl Sandberg and I talked about my career advice for young women—and what I wish I’d known on my first day at Microsoft.
Posted by Melinda Gates on Tuesday, November 1, 2016
“I thought I was going to leave after two years until I just decided, well, maybe, I’ll try being myself,” Gates told Sandberg about her time at Microsoft. “I started to learn to be myself, and the more I did that and just leaned into it, as uncomfortable as it was…you build that muscle.”
In her op-ed, Gates recognized that being yourself as a woman in computer science isn’t easy when no one looks like you, citing the gender gap “of being the only woman in a room full of ‘brogrammers'” as a problem. The lack of diversity in technology careers is a problem with far-reaching consequences that persists to this day. Recently, the Labor Department announced that it’s investigating Google over an “extreme” gender pay gap and a female Facebook engineer alleged that women engineers at Facebook face more scrutiny over their code than men.
The world needs less sameness
But despite these uphill battles, Gates said she was writing this editorial to keep women encouraged about computer science as a viable career path where you can make an “outsized impact on the world.”
“If you ever find yourself feeling out of place, I hope you’ll bear in mind that the last thing tech needs is more people who look and think the same,” Gates concluded in her op-ed. “Innovation requires new insights and new perspectives—and that’s exactly what you have to offer.”