A word on women in tech
Carol Bartz got fired today. And if you listen to some of the commentary, it was due to little else than sexism within the upper echelons of Yahoo and a serious setback in the advancement of women in tech. In fact, it was neither of these things, but reporting that it is, does more harm than good. While the intentions of those calling foul might be well-meant, it is exactly this reaction that is damaging to the entire concept of women in technology, or even women in business at all. A woman gets fired and therefore we assume she got fired because she’s a woman. Does this also mean that’s why she got hired in the first place? Tell me that’s not an entirely sexist attitude towards women in business.
It didn’t need to be said
The truth is, the fact that Carol Bartz is a woman should be no less interesting than the fact that Steve Jobs is a man, or that Mark Zuckerberg has brown hair and talks a bit oddly. There didn’t need to be mention of the fact that she is a female, because it does the very reverse of what it’s intended to do. It brings her entire status down to her gender and allows that to become front and centre. If I were fired as CEO of a company, I would want the respect of peers and media to talk about my (in)ability to do the job well, and nothing more. Doing otherwise devalues the entire role of women in tech.
For some, the comment on this has been fairly in the extreme. Zero Hedge sent this tweet earlier, declaring his point of view on the subject pretty strongly :
Now let’s be clear in the fact that I know the tweet was well-intentioned and is hardly comparable to an overtly sexist approach to women in tech/business. It’s not even in the same ballpark as some of the things you read. But as a woman I can’t help but find it offensive and I have a problem with the fact that this isn’t allowed the dignity of being viewed or reported on as any other CEO firing would be. And this attitude isn’t restricted to just general conversation about the firing, as Jeff Bercovici asked over on the Forbes blog ‘Was Sexism a Factor in Carol Bartz’s Yahoo firing?’. Now the piece is well intentioned and invites one of their female writers to comment, but a headline like that only serves to undo years of hardwork by women to get a place in the boardroom and lead instead of follow. Was sexism a factor in writing that article? Yes, because it contributes to the story becoming ‘Carol the woman’ and not ‘Carol the CEO’. And while this may not be representative of the majority of reporting on Bartz’s departure, the theme is undeniably present.
The ‘W’ word
If we are really to appreciate the work of females in tech and business the world over, it’s to recognise them as achieiving something in their own right, and not talking about the fact that they achieved it ‘despite’ being a woman. It taints your accomplishments somewhat that this even has to be talked about. Recently Bartz was ranked fairly highly in 2 lists : ’50 women to watch’ and ‘The World’s most 30 respected CEOs. I know which list I would rather be featured in : one which recognises my achievements amongst all my peers, and not just half of them. I have a bit of problem with the fact that there is far too much that singles out women and tech that, although I really do understand it is with the best intentions of highlighting achievement among inequality, only serves to ostracise women further.
If we’re really to recognise women as having an equal footing as men in terms of competence and capability in business or tech, we need to see less infograhics like this one below, titled ‘Hail To The Female‘
Hail to the Female? What about ‘hail to the achievers in business and technology ‘ and we see that females are included and represented, though not singled out or treated differently to their male counterparts?
Pot. Kettle. Black.
This is a difficult post to write, as I understand that by doing so I am drawing even more attention to the fact that yes, Carol Bartz is a woman. But what I am hoping to show is that the whole ‘women in tech’ or ‘women in business’ issue will only stop being an issue when we stop treating it like one. I am not ignorant of the fact that women do not have an equal footing in business or tech than their male counterparts. I see it and experience it daily. It is sad, and it is very much there. But nothing will be gained unless a story such as Carol Bartz’s departure as a CEO is treated as only that, without looking for sexist undertones that may have contributed.