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Women in Tech: half full, half empty?

Reading an article on structural discrimination against women in Silicon Valley, the first thoughts were, “that’s bad”.

By the end of the article, the question arises, “but is it going the right way? should we be actually be celebrating progress?”

Is the glass hall full, half empty, does it have a leak, or is it getting filled?

30 years ago, women in IT were rare, and often ghettoed in data processing. That they’re now representing much of the doctoral work, more and more present as CTO’s & CIO’s, and getting to be a more common face for the tech side of companies is a good thing.

On the other hand, even where success comes, the impression of “bitch” in media reporting is none too rare – Carly Fiorina left with this tag, while Marissa Mayer’s quick shakeups in the news (no more telecommuting? pushed out an exec without even telling them? always late to meeetings? an obligatory “what her fashion sense says about her management”) are building that impression. Mitt Romney can strip a company of all its assets & screw millions of workers out of pensions, and that makes him a business leader, not a bitch.

Will be hard for women to compete. As sweet as Martha Stewart seems, there’s a media message that she’s a bitch at heart – helped along with that schemer in her that let her get busted for $42K on inside trading while the male consort walked away with a few trillion dollars on set up poison assets and illegal foreclosures.

Nevertheless, the numbers are improving. It leads to a bigger question of how we see timing in terms of issues advocacy. It’s easy to quote MLK on why some people will push off asking for justice till tomorrow when it could be here today – but justice is not the same as building credentials, competency, expertise, track record, and slowly building up positions of respect – thousands of points of light within an industry.

I don’t pretend to have easy answers, but I think this is a good learning case study for similar efforts of Blacks & Hispanics in tech (also underrepresented in Silicon Valley), dissimilar efforts from Occupy Wall Street, how we influence the power structure which in many cases is us ourselves – making many similar decisions despite having a more benevolent intent.

It’s not just the official acknowledgement and laws to enforce – it’s also personal relations, comfort over time, individual experiences that reinforce a new order.

It took Barcelona a decade after Franco to start to recover its spirit, Prague somewhere between 10-20 years depending on how you measure. Like the Berlin Wall, progress sometimes comes gradual but success arrives as a tsunami. It’s been 43 years since Stonewall, but only 20 years from DADT & 9 years from what was a disastrous election cycle for gay marriage & civil unions – and in 2013, public acceptance has turned to be the majority.

So I’d like thoughts on assessing time frames for when ambitious goals can be achieved – such as not just having a serious female presidential candidate, but having decent female representation all through government, having female business leaders to join the conversation (and hopefully push back on Wall Street). What’s our schedule, and how do we judge our progress as successful even when short of the final goal?

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