An Ode to the Innovating Women of Technology

The same facile arguments about why the world doesn't need women get made over and over again. Some of it is ignorance, some of it is hostility, and some of it, I daresay, is the limited roster of people who have come to epitomize success.
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During one of the many recent battles over gender and technology companies, a series of comments online repeated the same message. Tech has done just fine without a lot of women around; maybe better than if they had been. How can you fault companies for being successful without women at the top? Isn't that punishing success?

First, as Megan Smith of Google points out, the true story of women in science, technology, and innovation has not been told. Adding women to leadership teams and boards has had a measurably positive effect on growth and success. Don't corporations have a fiduciary duty to maximize investor value? And if women add value, isn't it poor leadership to ignore the fiscal upside of gender diversity? There have been and are many more women in medical sciences, space innovation, engineering, and design, just to name a few fields, than get their due.

The same facile arguments about why the world doesn't need women get made over and over again. Some of it is ignorance, some of it is hostility, and some of it, I daresay, is the limited roster of people who have come to epitomize success. We haven't yet seen a female Steve Jobs -- a person who has crossed over from the realm of technical and business innovation into pop culture icon status. So, one way to think about changing the game is to hope for, wish for, or become the next Jobs. Another way -- and I'd argue a more profound long-term strategy -- is to seek to redefine the way we identify and elevate trailblazers. After all, the dizzying number of stories we have told (not to mention all the ones we didn't have space for) break down the myth that there is only one way to be a female leader.

Take credit for your work. Don't let anyone tell you that you are too bold or too "pushy" (a term applied often to strong women) when you demand the same respect a man would get for similar work. Seek every ally you can find because success is rooted not only in performance but perception. And realize that in the long run, there are many ways to shine. Like many of you, I mentor. I helped a former student of mine, then a double major in political science and computer science, get a job as a data-driven journalist -- a world that allows her to use all her passions and skills. She wrote me excitedly about being invited to an international coding conference and then said, "I wouldn't be here without you." Ask yourself, during the good times and especially during the hard ones, how many people wouldn't be here without you? Hold tight to not just your own victories, but those you have helped others achieve.

At some point, you have to make peace with this flawed world of ours. That does not mean accepting injustice (gender-based or otherwise), but rather acknowledging its existence and persistence. One story in the Buddhist tradition has a demon, Mara, repeatedly working to undermine and tempt the Buddha on his way to enlightenment. Even after the Buddha reached enlightenment, Mara didn't go away. He'd skulk around from time to time, and the Buddha's right-hand man tried to keep the demon away. But the Buddha told his friend to calm down and called out, "I see you, Mara. Would you like some tea?" The act of acknowledging that the demon was there -- and even inviting him to the table -- stripped Mara of his power to inspire fear.

Everyday demons like gender bias will raise their heads again and again, but how we react can change. We can change how much we feel empowered to act in our collective interest and adapt new strategies to the workplace and work/family/life synergy. Innovating Women is full of collective wisdom about how to be a leader while raising children, to start a career strong, to deal with adversity and, yes, with the people who underestimate women's power. The fact that women will have to continue to fight for our place in the world shouldn't inspire fear. We are winning--perhaps more slowly than we'd like, but triumphing nonetheless.

So the next time you run into someone who just doesn't get it or, worse, is actively part of the gender problem, you can metaphorically (or even literally) invite them to tea. Let them realize that that the world holds far more opportunity for everyone with women fully vested in science, technology, and innovation; that success is not a zero sum game. All of us deserve a world where the power of women is unleashed and unbound and where the virtuous circle of innovating women's creativity and brilliance helps us all.


Excerpted from the crowd-created book "Innovating Women" about the rise of women in technology.

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