Newsweek recently published a special edition featuring "The Founding Fathers of Silicon Valley" on its cover. Its fallacies are glaring: everything from the "boys' club" of seven white men featured on its cover to the fact of Mark Zuckerberg's inclusion on the list with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and others. No one would argue that Zuckerberg "founded" this Valley in any way -- except, it seems, Newsweek.
Before I offer up the "Founding Mothers" whom I'd have included on that cover, let's point out the obvious: everything in Silicon Valley is still a boys' club. Everywhere from venture capital companies to their boards to corporate boardrooms to workspace layouts all the way down to hoodie culture screams "maleness." And who's a better poster child for that, in many ways, than Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, among other companies? Musk's first start-up was Zip2, a software company he co-founded with his brother, Kimbal. Right now, I am listening to "Elon Musk," a book about him by Ashlee Sanders, and it describes how Elon and Kimbal lived during their founding of Zip2: by sleeping in their office and using the showers at the local YMCA. Elon slept on a beanbag chair, would wake up in the morning when someone else would show up in the office, and then would go right back to programming. A woman is highly unlikely to do that, as we tend to value personal hygiene (and, I hope, having a life outside of work) much more than these brothers must have. The boys' club cult of high-tech entrepreneurs prizes that non-stop, non-lifestyle, life-at-work, though. Of course, no matter how he got there, Elon Musk deserves a prominent spot at the helm of any piece on successful foundership. If we're going to call him a founding "father," though, shouldn't we also call out the "mothers" too?
Writing this post on "equal pay day" -- the day that marks how much farther into the year women have to work than men to achieve equal pay -- is poignant. Women get less recognition and get paid less not necessarily because it's intentional but because it's unconscious on both sides. I've written about unconscious bias in hiring recently and note that this unconscious bias sustains and pervades women's whole careers. It ultimately leads to a self-selection process that pushes women out of tech leadership and leaves us with fewer women to feature on our Newsweek covers. One example of how this happens hit close to home via a good friend: she's a CIO, and her CEO shared with her that their Board was very concerned about the fact that she might be retiring soon. She is in her late fifties, in great health, is a workaholic, and has no plans to retire any time soon. Would her Board be expressing these same concerns about a man? No way!
Many CEOs do lip-service concerning women's advancement in tech, but who actually is doing something about the many problems in the way of that advancement, from this boys' club culture to equal pay to how it's all presented in the media? I had high hopes for women leaders like Marissa Mayer, but look how her own motherhood panned out alongside her work: she built a nursery and moved her baby into her office. To me, that's not much different from Elon sleeping in his own. While the line between work and home is not the line between men and women, it sure seems so when there aren't allowances for the values of each space for those of both genders. (Let's not lose sight of the fact that a lot of men don't want to sleep in their office, either.)
Sometimes, I try to offer up possible solutions to these very real problems facing women's advancement in tech, from the dangers of the glass cliff to how to survive and thrive in tech and more. As a woman tech leader, I feel it's my duty to help open doors through which other women can pass. But I've often wondered why more male leaders aren't as concerned as I am, and why they're not calling out these problems too out of concern for gender diversity in their workplaces. It's my hope that covers like Newsweek's latest gaffe make it harder and harder to avoid the in-our-face problem that not only aren't women lasting or advancing at a fast enough rate in tech, but also that there are plenty of talented women in tech who aren't getting their deserved recognition.
To that end, who would I have recognized on this Newsweek cover? At the very least, I'd add the very first programmers, the women who programmed ENIAC, including Jean Jennings Bartik. She is undoubtedly a "Founding Mother." Other founders of note include Julia Hartz of Eventbrite, Anne Wojcicki of 23andme, Sarah Leary of Nextdoor, and Adi Tatarko of Houzz. Who might you add?
Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't call out Newsweek for its own sexism directly. Newsweek let us know once before what it really thinks of women, and they've reinforced that sexist message on their latest cover. Shame on them. The women of Silicon Valley -- and women everywhere -- deserve equal and respectful treatment by major publications. It's high time they shine the spotlight away from the outdated boys' club model and onto some folks like these women I listed who are changing the culture of in Silicon Valley into a more inclusive one.