Maggie Fox, one of my fellow Enterprise Irregulars, raised the issue of sexism in the social media world in a post that rightly takes a speaker’s bureau to task for promoting an all-male list of top social media speakers. As Maggie, as well as friend and colleague Susan Scrupski are two of the more competent social media mavens to be excluded from the list, the point that sexism has mashed up with the social media world is well taken.
But, and this is a big one, if you’re shocked by this fact, or the overt and covert expressions of racism (if you’re Black, other people of color do relatively well in tech), homophobia (can anyone name an openly gay high-tech executive?), or certain “taboo” disabilities, like bi-polar syndrome, then you’re living in a PR bubble that desperately needs to be burst.
Here goes my burst: high-tech is not high-moral, high-ethics, or high-social consciousness. Never has been, never will be. Our industry does, at times, believe it holds the moral high-ground, but that’s an allusion that comes from believing that the images of young and hip and cool that permeate our industry have anything to do with what is practiced behind closed doors. Take Apple, for example: I can’t begin to expound on the company’s lack of moral leadership, noted only in part by the New York Times in a recent article on Apple’s obsession with secrecy. When I was a journalist covering Apple in the 1980’s, I was always amazed at the vast gulf between what Apple looked like from the inside (secretive, controlling, scary) and what it looked like from the outside: the proverbial young and hip and cool. The stories I can’t tell about Apple are even more amazing: suffice to say that this company ain’t what most might think.
The shocking truth is that high-tech, and the business world in general, isn’t a democracy. If you follow the money, as in the VC community (always a good idea: as one of my poli sci profs said in college, everything on page one started life in the business section), you can see what high-tech is really made of, and it has nothing to do with moral or ethical leadership. At best high-tech is a meritocracy ruled by an oligarchy that is, by and large, male, white, straight (or purporting to be), and not particularly interested in changing the game. There are a few companies like Oracle, with a Black and a woman sharing the top spot under Larry Ellison, and numerous Hispanic and Asian execs in upper and middle management, that have managed to find and promote a relatively diverse group of people to leadership positions. But most of the industry looks pretty much like the rest of the industry, and that’s the way it has always been.
Should we do something about it? Putting aside any moral or ethical considerations for a moment (which allows us to explore the question a little before responding yes), there is a simple economic value in expanded opportunity that should be at play here. I think without a doubt we could do even better as an industry if we were more inclusive, and more open to proactively recruiting women and other minorities to the top of the heap, and more open to thinking about why we as an industry need the street-cred of being more “of and for the people” than we currently are.
It’s not even that hard. As Maggie rightly points out, she and other women are there to step up the challenge. And she’s hardly alone. But high-tech has to step up too, and so far, that’s been much harder than many could have ever imagined.