Melinda Gates has devoted much of her life’s work to understanding the barriers to gender equality.
As head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates brings education, family planning services and vaccines to the world’s poorest women. She frequently speaks on how best to empower women and achieve gender equality, and she earned a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her efforts.
In her work, Gates noticed “unpaid labor” — or cooking, cleaning, childcare, and other household tasks — holds women back the most from achieving their dreams. On average, the time women spend performing unpaid labor amounts to seven more years than men. That’s the time it takes to complete a bachelor’s and master’s degree.
While caregiving can be meaningful, Gates told Business Insider US Editor-in-Chief Alyson Shontell that male economists have overlooked unpaid household labor when accounting for productive work.
When female economist Marilyn Waring studied unpaid work in the 1980s, she found that it would be the biggest sector of the global economy — if only it counted.
Unpaid work would be the biggest sector of the global economy — if only it counted.
“Men won’t easily give up a system in which half the world’s population works for next to nothing, precisely because that half works for so little, it may have no energy left to fight for anything else,” Waring wrote.
Paid work is what gives women greater independence, Gates notes in her book, “ Moment of Lift.” The time women spend tending to the home holds them back from getting an education, earning income, becoming politically active, and socializing with others.
“I think it’s far time we changed that and have the real conversation about this 90 minutes extra of work that women do at home in the United States [each week],” Gates told Business Insider.
Gates and her husband, Bill, have addressed unpaid labor in their own home.
The two agreed to divide up household chores, like washing the dishes, evenly among the family. Melinda noticed she spent 15 extra minutes clearing the table after dinner by herself. One day, hands on her hips, she told her family, “Nobody leaves the kitchen until I leave the kitchen!”
With the help of five people instead of one, the 15 minutes of cleaning Gates spent by herself turned into 5 minutes.
“I think we just have to sometimes name these extra invisible things that people don’t even see that we do as women,” Gates told Business Insider