Melinda French Gates simply will not be put in a box. There is no one-size-fits-all description for this philanthropist, computer scientist, and author—just a few of the many identities this veritable superwoman can call her own. But central to many of French Gates’ pursuits is her consistent dedication to the advancement of women’s and girls' rights around the world. Indeed, this frequent honoree of Forbes’ Most Powerful Women list has dedicated much of her career to promoting gender equity in the United States and abroad.
Of course, success didn’t simply happen overnight for French Gates. After graduating from Duke with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and economics as well as an MBA, she joined Microsoft as a marketing manager. She oversaw the development of several well-known Microsoft programs and products, including Encarta, Microsoft Word, and Expedia, and was ultimately named General Manager of Information Products.
Shortly after she left the company in 1996, she turned her talents to philanthropy. In 2000, French Gates and her then-husband, Bill Gates, cofounded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has become one of the world's largest private charitable organizations. Their work fighting poverty, disease, and inequity around the world has earned them both the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the French Legion of Honour.
Certainly, French Gates knows a thing or two about success, and has on many occasions shared her wisdom on how to achieve your potential and help others do the same—not least in her 2019 book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite Melinda French Gates quotes on doing well and doing good in the workplace and beyond.
- On giving back: “If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.” —Melinda French Gates, high school graduation speech
- On the intersection of diversity and equality: “Diversity is the best way to defend equality. If people from diverse groups are not making those decisions, the burdens and benefits of society will be divided unequally and unfairly—with the people writing the rules ensuring themselves a greater share of the benefits and a lesser share of the burdens of any society. If you are not brought in, you get sold out.” —Melinda French Gates, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
- On the importance of gender diversity: “Gender diversity is not just good for women; it’s good for anyone who wants results.” —Melinda French Gates, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
- On prioritization: “If I didn’t fill my schedule with things I felt were important, other people would fill my schedule with things they felt were important.” —Melinda French Gates, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
- On connecting: “Over the course of your lives, I promise you, you will have many opportunities to use technology to make your world bigger, to meet more different kinds of people, and to keep in touch with more of the people you meet. I want you to connect because I believe it will inspire you to do something, to make a difference in the world.” —Melinda French Gates, Duke commencement speech
- On how to make change: “You can create all kinds of new tools, but if you’re not moving toward equality, you’re not really changing the world. You’re just rearranging it.” —Melinda French Gates, letter with Bill Gates to Warren Buffet
- On wisdom: “Wisdom isn’t about accumulating more facts; it’s about understanding big truths in a deeper way.” —Melinda French Gates, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
- On facing challenges: “The world is full of what seem like intractable problems. Often we let that paralyze us. Instead, let it spur you to action.” —Melinda French Gates, The Real Simple Guide to Real Life: Adulthood Made Easy
- On empathy: “When people can’t agree, it’s often because there is no empathy, no sense of shared experience. If you feel what others feel, you’re more likely to see what they see. Then you can understand one another. Then you can move to the honest and respectful exchange of ideas that is the mark of a successful partnership. That’s the source of progress.” —Melinda French Gates, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
- On optimism: “Optimism is a huge asset. We can always use more of it. But optimism isn’t a belief that things will automatically get better; it’s a conviction that we can make things better.” —Melinda French Gates, letter with Bill Gates to Warren Buffet
- On feminism: “Being a feminist means believing that every woman should be able to use her voice and pursue her potential, and that women and men should all work together to take down the barriers and end the biases that still hold women back.” —Melinda French Gates, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
- On inclusion: “Every society says its outsiders are the problem. But the outsiders are not the problem; the urge to create outsiders is the problem. Overcoming that urge is our greatest challenge and our greatest promise. It will take courage and insight, because the people we push to the margins are the ones who trigger in us the feelings we’re afraid of.” —Melinda French Gates, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
- On fitting in: “What I realized much later, paradoxically, is that by trying to fit in, I was strengthening the culture that made me feel like I didn’t fit in.” —Melinda French Gates, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
- On trusting yourself: “Trust yourself. You probably know more than you think you do… Trust that you can learn anything.” —Melinda French Gates, Facebook Live with Mark Zuckerberg