Melinda Gates Joins Comedians in Natasha Lyonne-Directed 'Equality Can't Wait' Video Campaign

"I think comedians can sometimes speak the truth to society about the things that are truly going on and that we don’t want to face," says Gates. "By bringing humor they kind of open people’s eyes, but they also hit you squarely between the eyes."

In response to the World Economic Forum's projection that the gender gap will not be closed for another 208 years, a group of comedians have come together with The Moment of Lift author Melinda Gates to raise awareness of this startling figure in an Equality Can't Wait video campaign.

In the video, sponsored by Pivotal Ventures and directed by Natasha Lyonne, comedians including John Mulaney, Margaret Cho, Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen, Nick Kroll and Sarah Silverman emphasize that this is "No joke."

“The statistics are abysmal; the best entry point to tackle an absurdity this profound is to come at it sideways, through comedy — because what else can you do?" said Lyonne in an email to THR. "I wanted to create a buoyancy as an antidote to the depressing facts — something that would lift us up, activate, unify and motivate rather than give up under the weight."

The director went on to say, "Some of our great feminists and allies are men so there was never a question that I wanted to work with both men and women on this. We’re all in this together and need each other to stay engined and to effect change."

The campaign builds upon Gates' call to action for men and women to come together and change their surroundings for the betterment of society. "Melinda Gates is inspirational in many ways," said Lyonne, "including that she is so deeply invested in enacting immediate change. She has dedicated her life to follow-through and activism and I’m so proud for us to be aligned with her in this cause to try to make the world a better, more equitable place for the next generation of young women to have a fighting chance."

Ahead of the campaign's Aug 6 launch, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Gates about how equality can be accelerated and how simple steps can be implemented in the home and workplace. "I think comedians can sometimes speak the truth to society about the things that are truly going on and that we don’t want to face," she tells THR, "and by bringing humor they kind of open people’s eyes, but they also hit you squarely between the eyes: ‘This is actually what’s happening.’ I think it’s a potential good approach to open that door to the conversation."

As the video campaign points out, no woman currently living will see gender equality in her lifetime. As a philanthropist, how do you envision worldwide progress being accelerated?

I think we need to look at the barriers that hold women back in their workplaces, homes and communities. We need to decide that we’re going to collect good data on that and we’re going to fund groups and come together as a collective force to change it.

The campaign encourages viewers to initiate conversations about gender inequality within their home. How can that dialogue be taken a step further to affect small change in a neighborhood?

As families, we all divvy up the chores that need to get done: Who mows the lawn? Who unloads the dishwasher? Who cooks the meals? Who helps the kids with their lunch boxes and homework? Who tucks them in at night? Looking at that list of chores and caring issues, who is doing what in the household and why, and having a realistic assessment of that. So often I think we don’t even realize that what chores are done by whom is gendered. In general, men take out the garbage, men tend to do the yard work. In general, women tend to help the kids with their homework and do the cooking and the cleanup after meals. And yet those things take differing amounts of time and on different days. So that is a fabulous place to start: unpaid labor in your own home.

In my book, The Moment of Lift, I even talk about, with [husband] Bill, we had to look at: our first daughter is going to go to school, who’s going to drive her every day? It was a 30-minute commute. And when we re-split up the distribution of labor on who drove her to school, we not only freed up some of my time, but inadvertently we created social change because in the classroom, two weeks into the school year, women came up to me and said, "Do you notice anything different?" And I said, "Yeah, seems like more dads are driving." And they’re like, "Yeah, we went home and said, 'If Bill Gates can drive his kids to school, so can you.'" So, the simple discussion at home of me standing up for what I wanted allowed Bill to respond and shift, which obviously seems for me a very loving thing, so that was positive for our relationship. We ended up creating more connection with him and our daughter, and we caused a shift with other dads in the classroom, so you never know the ripple effects.

How can workplaces incorporate simple equality and empowerment practices into their daily schedule and include participation across all positions?

They could collect the data — most of them already have it — and publish it openly, about what the numbers are for women and people of color versus men throughout the company at all levels. They could publish their pay across all positions. And they could commit to making sure that every woman and person of color has the same access to a sponsor inside their company as a man does. We know that men have far, far, far greater opportunities to have a sponsor — somebody who mentors you and helps champion your career for your next job. Women tend to, only when they feel they have 100 percent of the job characteristics do they apply; a man looks at a job listing and if he has 60 percent of the characteristics, he jumps for it. So having a sponsor who reminds you that you can do it — that type of network and sponsorship is something that companies can do absolutely immediately. Not hard at all.

What are some strategies that the entertainment industry can employ to empower women in new ways?

I think looking at who’s telling the stories, making sure the stories that are told are very representative of women’s differing kinds of roles in society, making sure that movies or scripts or TV shows or what appears online not only have different representations of women, but that those projects actually get funded and move forward. Making sure that it’s not just great female actress leads but fabulous directors and scriptwriters — that, at all levels, you have good representation not just from women, but from people of color as well.

How can journalists continue to push everything forward toward equality and empowerment?

Name what’s really going on in society and then link that to how hard it is for a woman who works in any type of service industry and is alone with somebody who might harass her. So, take any issue in Hollywood that grabs your audience’s attention, shine a light on that and link it to another issue for a woman in a different industry. Because that linking and that transparency is what creates change. And that creates pressure for society to change, because there are all these norms we’ve gotten used to that don’t have to be true norms anymore. Hollywood is one of the places people look at for storytelling. I look at what Shonda Rhimes did starting with Grey’s Anatomy and then her other shows, and the diversity of characters she put on — because in her everyday life she wasn’t seeing white women and white men, she was seeing a mix of society, so she made sure her shows had that [included]. Wow. How is it that we even had shows that were all white characters? Think about shows in the past, the way harassment was portrayed not as harassment, but now the societal norms have changed. You wouldn’t put Archie Bunker on anymore I don’t think, with the way he spoke to his daughter and his son-in-law and his wife. So, people do look to storytelling for role modeling.

The other thing I would say Hollywood could do — I’ve heard Trevor Noah speak on a diversity panel where he said that when he came from South Africa to Comedy Central, he noticed that most of his writers were white and male. He started asking questions: Why is that? And people started to say, well, it’s very hard to find African American writers. And he said, let’s go the extra mile. And they [responded], "Oh, well we might have to lower the bar." And he said that’s not the right way to think about this. People of color don’t have access to the same networks of power that allow them to get that first internship or opportunity. So reframing the problem can name what’s truly going on and then specifically taking action — that’s something Hollywood can do in force.

What was the specific impetus in writing the book?

I think it's the culmination of so many stories of women in the developing world and what they were facing. And to be honest, that dichotomy of voices and stories animated me in my life to action and look at equality in my own life. I wanted their stories to call others to action. When the #MeToo movement came along, not just in the U.S., but I was traveling the world and seeing how alight people were on this conversation, I thought: this is the moment. We have to make sure this moment doesn’t pass us by. You know, I lived through the Anita Hill hearings and we thought that would shift things and it didn’t. I saw that window close. And given all of my travels and everything I’ve learned, I thought, we’ve got to keep this window open and kick through this door. And that’s why I’m following up with this campaign; because I want people to understand how bad it is and start to come together with a plan to do something about it.

Do you have a personal definition of equality?

When a woman has her full voice and her full decision-making authority in every place: her home, workplace and her community, then she is fully empowered. This [change] is going to take not just women, but men to create and promote this change. What I didn’t understand until I was on the book tour is how much men also want to see this change in their lifetimes. We need them as part of this change. We live in a fact-based society, so we need a mix of storytelling with facts that’s going to help men help women move society forward.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.