An Open Letter to the Media: Women We Need to Know Are Right Next to Us

Unconscious bias is difficult to identify because, well, it's unconscious - we are not aware of the assumptions we naturally make. And make no mistake: we all do it, one way or another. When it comes to the workplace, particularly in today's tech industry, our assumptions about who is or isn't a good programmer or leadership material hold us back from making accurate and effective decisions based on people's actual qualifications, skills and knowledge.

Organizations can address unconscious bias with strong, top-down leadership, effective measurement and accountability, and by examining hiring, retention and promotion strategies for built-in bias. Individuals can address bias by reframing their mindset, self-awareness, and making conscious choices every day. But there's a third influencing body that can help eliminate unconscious bias - the media.

Dominate Voices in The Media

The truth is that women's voices, perspectives and powerful female role models are consistently overlooked. The Women's Media Center published "The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2015," citing the media as the single most powerful tool at our disposal since it has "the power to educate, effect social change, and determine the political policies and elections that shape our lives." Unfortunately women's voices often are crowded out, reinforcing the stereotypes of women as passive, not technical, and certainly not leaders.

As evidence, WMC reported male bylines (62 percent) exceeded female bylines (38 percent) for the Associated Press and Reuters. It also found that front-page bylines authored by men at leading publications still outnumber female bylines by a 3 to 1 margin.

It's not just about whose byline appears on the article - it's also about who the journalist decides to quote. In January and February of 2013, CNN found women were quoted in only 19 percent of news articles. Men, on the other hand, are 3.4 times more likely to be quoted on the front page of The New York Times, 4.6 times more likely to be quoted in political stories, and 5.4 times more likely to be quoted in international stories.

Since media stories habitually quote men, they have become the de facto standard for an authority figure. This perpetuates the inaccurate stereotype that women don't have the expertise or leadership skills necessary to be authoritative.

Are Impostors to Blame?

By and large, the business press covers a majority of male tech leaders, yet the same outlets focus only on a small number of women in tech who are constantly trotted out as the tokens. Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer are two recognizable female names in tech headlines, but they are far from the only notable women in tech the public should hear about.

For instance, Cisco's former CTO, Padmasree Warrior, former Intel President Renee James, Oracle CEO Safra Catz, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Twitter's VP of Technology and Analytics Yoky Matsuoka are just a few of the names that don't command the same attention as Sandberg and Mayer, yet they wield tremendous influence at their companies and across the industry.

Perhaps it's reductive to think journalists are the only ones who select the next big influencer. A quote or feature in a publication can indeed lead to larger platforms to share a message and to break down stereotypes, but there's a confluence of factors. Corporations select, and put their resources behind, certain spokespeople, whereas some executives shy away from the limelight because they don't feel ready to assume the role.

The Impostor Syndrome, in which people can't internalize their own accomplishments, is a common problem, regardless of gender. But it's a particularly prevalent issue among women and underrepresented minorities.

Mostly they feel this way because they're bucking a stereotype and because they're not the stereotypical norm. But that deep-seated sense of feeling like an imposter usually belies a truth. Ann Friedman of Pacific Standard wrote: "Researchers find that impostorism is most often found among extremely talented and capable individuals, not people who are true impostors."

We live in a world where we reward those who take risks. When a journalist digs for a source, perhaps they should take a risk and prioritize diverse voices to tell a fuller story.

The Fight for Inclusion

We often complain about the media for the messages it tells society, but as individuals we have the power to change the narrative and course correct the way our society frames role models. Each of us can choose to stand up for new voices and encourage women and underrepresented minorities to help us break down outdated and inaccurate stereotypes.

In the age of social media, everyone can contribute to the news cycle. While your "readership" might not have the same expansive scope, we can perpetuate success stories and highlight the heroes working right alongside you. Social media may be just the platform to raise the stakes, speak out and break down unconscious bias.

So who is a female leader or expert not getting enough attention? Nominate your Women in Tech You Need to Know on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook by sharing a photo and their story. Be sure to tag @anitaborg_org with the hashtag #WomenYouNeedtoKnow.

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