Having been in the Internet tech industry since its early days, I have seen lists produced by many publications where the top 10, 25, 50, or 100 visionaries, innovators, entrepreneurs, VC’s, startups, apps, etc are touted, highlighted, and held up as examples of our never-ending meritocracy. On a few occasions I have even been included in some, and sometimes I admit being disappointed to not be included on some others.
Although lists might seem silly, as a society we always seem to be interested in who is up and who is down, especially if they are competitors, friends, people we have met, or would like to meet. I am as much a contributor to this behavior as anyone I know, subscribing to this ethos and never really thinking about it twice until now.
Four days ago I found out that I was named to The Daily Beast/Newsweek’s Digital Power Index, winning the ninth spot in the category for “Evangelists.” There were nine other categories like “Innovators,” “Visionaries,” “Angels,” etc. I quickly scanned the list, saw some really amazing names, and said to myself: “Wow, this is cool,” and immediately tweeted a link out thanking The Daily Beast/Newsweek for the recognition. I then enjoyed a few joyful feelings of professional validation and continued on my way.
Then Wednesday, I read Rachel Sklar’s thoughtful piece criticizing not only the way the index was compiled (See my P.S. below, on that) but the whole way that we as an industry and as a society re-enforce behavior that doesn’t give women proper credit. At first I was mortified that I didn’t notice myself that among the 100 names cited on the list, only nine were women. You see, when women are minimized, our perspective is narrowed. I am not suggesting we should look to some formula of what constitutes diversity, rather, we should realize that when we minimize women, we then lose out on the priorities and unique approaches that women bring to solving problems throughout the world, digital or otherwise.
My team and I pride ourselves on the fact that we go out of our way to achieve as much gender balance as possible at our Personal Democracy Forum conference which we produce every year. But now I realize that even by that measure, I am personally and professionally falling way short, if I am not seeing the imbalance naturally. This is not OK for me and not OK for our industry. And it is not OK for our now global connected society either. I want to do something about it!
So I am sending a letter to The Daily Beast/Newsweek, respectfully saying “Thanks, but no thanks,” and asking them to remove me from the list and replace me with a woman I respect in my field who I think is an awesome evangelist, Deanna Zandt, who based on their selection criteria could have been easily listed in several of the other categories too. (By the way, see her great talk at PDF called “Don’t Mess With Our Boobs: Ad-Hoc Networks and Online Power" which could have never been given by a man!)
I am also writing to every single man I know on the list whom I have email addresses for (about 25) and asking them to also name a woman they admire and who should be on “the list.” I will also ask them to connect me with the other men on the current list I don’t know, so I can ask them to join us.
When we are done, I hope to then go back to The Daily Beast/Newsweek and ask them to republish the list with our recommendations with a promise from them that next year, assuming they do it again, they will take gender balance into better consideration. By the way, Newsweek should have known better from the start, particularly after their public mea culpa two years ago publishing a 2000-word essay by Jessica Ellison, Jessica Bennet, and Sarah Ball, chronicling gender discrimination in Newsweek offices, which also reminded everyone of the fact that Newsweek had to deal with a very public lawsuit about the same problem in 1970.
I am not looking to create a new properly balanced list of the digerati. (Even if if we could successfully balance such lists in the future, they would fall far short of being truly diverse in race, ethnicity, age, or physical challenges). What I am hoping to do is to pick up the conversation that we ALL MUST HAVE, that women like Rachel Sklar have worked hard to start and maintain.
We ALL need to agree and work together to stamp out gender discrimination once and for all from our industry. As it succeeds to make us all the more connected it might be able to help stamp it out elsewhere too. Please join me.
P.S. As Rachel Sklar points out in her piece, I have nothing against the judging panelists who are all amazingly accomplished people in their own right. However, of the 52 total “panelists” only 12 were women. Also, oddly in the case of the “Virologists” category, two of the panelists, the amazing Jonah Perretti and Ben Huh, were also selected as two of the top ten. Should that happen?