Gates: Saudi women vital to economy

The Microsoft chairman said to be truly competitive, an economy can't exclude "half the talent in the country."

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published January 29, 2007 8:30PM (EST)

It shouldn't take an entrepreneur of Bill Gates' standing -- namely being the world's richest person -- to unveil this truth to the public: To be truly competitive on the world stage, a country's economy must make use of women's talents as well as men's. And it doesn't hurt, either.

In a side meeting during the World Economic Forum, Gates told a story about recently speaking at a business seminar in Saudi Arabia, the Associated Press reports. The audience was segregated by gender, with a large panel dividing the fully veiled women -- Gates described it as a "sea of black" -- from the men. A participant asked whether the country could realistically become "one of the world's most competitive economies by 2010." "I said, 'Well, if you're not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you're not going to get too close to the top,'" said Gates. The audience's response was as split as the crowd: "One side loved it," he said.

This comes just days after Saudi Princess Lolwah Al-Faisal publicly voiced her desire to see women given the right to drive in her country. Both statements are more directly connected than just an underlying belief in gender parity, though; without the ability to drive themselves or rely on a chauffeur, women less fortunate than Al-Faisal have very limited access to work.

So, big ups to Bill Gates for voicing what should be the obvious. It's more than enough -- not to mention his out-of-this-world humanitarian work -- to make us pretend we never saw this creepy picture of him sandwiched between Hooters girls.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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