No, we didn’t get the first female U.S. president. To further spice things up for women, Russia passed a law to decriminalize domestic violence, or as Putin put it in his International Women’s Day speech: “We will do our utmost to surround our dear women with care and attention so that they can smile more often”. I let John Oliver of Last Week Tonight to fully articulate my feelings:
“Best way of gaging not how far they [women] have come, but perhaps how far they still have to go is by watching powerful men around the world trip over their dicks talking about the day.” – John Oliver, Last Week Tonight
There are lengths left to go: Bangladesh celebrated women by passing a law that allows parents to marry off their daughters under age of 18 if it’s in her “best interest”, U.S. Navy is shaken by a scandal with nude photos of servicewomen being shared on a private Facebook group, and in Silicon Valley, the ride hailing company Uber showed the world that sexism is very much alive and well. Women in tech are deeply grateful to Susan Fowler, former Uber engineer, for speaking up, inspiring others to voice similar experiences. You know Uber has finally crossed the line with its [add voluntary worst word you know] business practices when Lewis Black goes on a 4 minute straight bashing on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
Finally – and please, hold your laughs: According to the latest Global Gender Gap Report, women globally are unlikely to achieve economic equality with men for another 170 (!) years. For us “lucky” European women, the meter should stop at 47 years. #HashtagFeminism. Would our climate and oceans hold for that long, we’ve then at least given a brighter future for our grandchildren’s daughters.
Yet, one must never despair. A serious amount of knitting has taken place since the U.S. presidential election, resulting in a global army of millions of pink hats taking action to protect human rights. We’ve gotten UK Parliament to debate a ban on mandatory workplace high heels (how does such a thing exists in the first place?!), and more than 200 people joined to innovate to support women’s health issues at Abortion Access Hackathon. The world got to see NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, 98, and NASA astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle, together with actors from Hidden Figures, movie about African-American women mathematicians at NASA, on the same stage at the 89th Annual Academy Awards. All the Oscar glamour aside, and even if symbolic, why does this matter? To borrow the motto of Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media: “If she can see it, she can be it™”. And for all you Lego lovers used to playing with cartoon and movie hero characters, get ready for real life action heroes, the women of NASA.
As a reaction to the wet, heavy blanket thrown over us women, the past year saw exceptional speeches by powerful, influential, and successful women, all of whom captured the very essence of being a woman, resonating regardless your walk of life.
“To all the little girls, never doubt that you are valuable, and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.”- Hillary Clinton, 2016 Concession Speech
It’s like that sick sinking feeling you get […] when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close and stares a little too long and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. […] We’re trying to keep our heads above water just trying to get through it, trying to pretend like this doesn’t really bother us, maybe because we think that admitting how much it hurts makes us as women look weak, maybe we’re afraid to be that vulnerable.” – First Lady Michelle Obama, 2016 Campaign Speech in Manchester, New Hampshire
“Thank you for letting me continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant misogyny, sexism, constant bullying, and relentless abuse. […] He (David Bowie) made me think there are no rules. I was wrong. There are no rules, if you’re a boy. […] Wait a minute, isn’t Prince running around with fishnets, and high heels, and lipstick with his butt hanging out? Yes, he was, but he was a man. This was the first time I really truly understood that women really did not have the same freedom as men. […] I think the most controversial thing I’ve ever done is to stick around.”
– Madonna, 2016 Billboard Woman of The Year
“Freedom to say no to something you don’t want to do. Feeling like you can say no without any negative repercussions is an important kind of power, and it’s one that we can help give each other. I have that power and I promised to help other women have it, too.” – Tina Fey, 2016 Sherry Lansing Leadership Award Honoree
Flatlining Gender Equality For Women In Tech And In Hollywood
Since my report last year on the parallels of gender equality for women in tech and in Hollywood, very little progress has taken place. And yet, never before has there been more data to prove the inequalities for women in tech and women in Hollywood. I think Sarah Lacy, founder and editor in Chief of Pando, best captures the essence of the current status: White men to women and minorities in tech: We just DGAF. I have no doubt, that that will ring familiar in Hollywood, too. Also, “If you are sick of the bros, the trolls, the cat-callers, the boss who concern-trolled you out of a promotion, the mentor who advised you not to have another child if you wanted to raise funding”, you might find her upcoming book: “A Uterus Is a Feature, Not a Bug: The Working Woman’s Guide to Overthrowing the Patriarchy”, particularly fitting.
“Change is effort. And it’s not effort for effort’s sake. It’s effort because it makes the show better and stronger.” – Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, on Charlie Rose
Despite the wet blanket, I do have noted few changes that keep me encouraged. Here are few rays of light:
Engineering heavy public technology companies are taking serious steps towards gender equality. One of them is Rolls-Royce, an aerospace, defense and marine engineering company, where 30% of board of directors are women, 16% of executive team, and while profiling female workforce is probably the easiest way to score points without really changing things, Rolls-Royce seem to have internalized, that the future autonomous ship intelligence era will not be achieved without diversity and offering an attractive and welcoming workplace for women.
Although it may require a possible gender discrimination lawsuit concerning 3 300 women engineers facing systemic roadblocks to equal pay and promotions in a company, where women also count less than 15% of senior leadership positions, my heart was still smiling, when the CEO of Qualcomm welcomed its senior engineer Sarah Gibson on stage to demo Snapdragon Flight enabled drones at this year’s CES trade show. Change needs to be embraced and encouraged, and there’s no doubt gender equality is high on Qualcomm’s list. As a technology giant it now has a chance to serve as an example for other companies on how to address gender and diversity issues before one risks to go all Uber and lose talent.
I often turn to Nigerian tech blog Techpoint to find few rays of sunlight, particularly its special section profiling African female entrepreneurs. Not that the situation for women in tech in Africa is any better than for the rest of us, but I get the sense, that Techpoint has a genuine appreciation for, and wish to support female entrepreneurs. (Happy to hear back from women entrepreneurs in Africa!) Back in 2009, when I was tech writer at Arctic Startup, I had to fight really hard to write about the first Geek Girl Meetup I was co-organizing. I did, but I wasn’t allowed to address any female issues or point of views. That all has changed now, but I still remember the utterly uncomfortable and strange “Aha”moment I had about gender within tech startups and venture capital.
I also just learned that in Switzerland, where gender equality took a step back last year, making Switzerland fall out of top ten gender equal countries in the world, 800 women and 500 men are making difference by empowering Swiss women in tech through WE SHAPE TECH organization.
A special shout out to Qasa, Swedish marketplace for sublet rentals, who after the last International Women’s Day really took the message for change to its heart, and has since then regrouped from a team of 100% white males to one with 33% women! Change does happen when you put your mind to it.
Rays Of Light For Women In Hollywood
We all joy with Hollywood over the fact, that female protagonists made up a whopping 29% in top 100 grossing films, up 7% from 2015, an exception in an industry where female actors at large still remain silent and objectified: 66% have no speaking roles, and on average 30% of characters are shown in sexually revealing clothing: The atmosphere gets even more desert like when it comes to gender behind the camera: Women make 15% of directors, and for the 250 highest grossing movies the number is down from 9% to 7%. One would imagine that in Europe, with its vast cultural history and more gender equal societies, the number of women directors was more upbeat? Barely. Women make 21% of directors, receiving a shameful 16% of the funding available. That became very apparent at the recent Berlinale Film Festival, where despite the fact that the festival prided itself to have gender as a central theme, women made 15,7% of the program, with only 2 female directors out of 15 in the competition section.
And yet, when you listen to Tina Fey, the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live, and the third female recipient of Mark Twain Prize for American Humor (her big wish is to have a time when she will not be the first woman of something), the feeling of change becomes almost tangible:
“I want to keep telling stories mostly about women and girls and I want them to be positive stories. I want to hire women. One of my proudest moments last year was on the set of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for a scene that was Claire Scanlon directing, written by Meredith Scardino, produced by me, the four more women staging a fight scene with Jill Brown, our female stunt coordinator. This is the best, this is what I want to keep putting into the world, and giving women jobs.” – Tina Fey, 2016 Sherry Lansing Leadership Award Honoree
Thankfully Tina isn’t alone. More talented women, such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Amy Poehler, are becoming producers in order to keep finding interesting projects, thereby also enabling them to offer fellow women more opportunities. We all need champions to succeed.
As someone who has been heavily medicating myself with stand-up comedy and political satire over the years, with the dose gone up since last November, I’ve noticed a rise in female stand-up comedians getting valuable air time on the late night shows. So much, that I had to check if it was only my wishful thinking. Gladly, I’m not imagining. The past year, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has presented us 30% female stand-up comedians. It’s early in the year, but so far Conan O’Brien on TBS has presented 42% female stand-up comedians compared to the yearly average of 17%. I keep my fingers crossed that this year will end up with a new record. These are refreshing rays of light in the world of late night shows, which still couldn’t be more white and male. I’m still watching to get my fix, but now I get to have Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah in my daily mix, too.
“To tell a teenager that she should stick to lip gloss when she’s been directly impacted by the policies, and they’re directly affecting her lifestyle, and the lifestyle those around her, is frankly irresponsible.” – Phillip Picardi, Teen Vogue
Special shout out to Teen Vogue team showing young women, that they can be interested in politics, and should have firm opinion about what’s going on. You will immediately feel uplifted and hopeful when listening to Elaine Welteroth and Phillip Picardi on The Daily Show speak about how “Teen Vogue has as much right to be at on the table talking about politics as every young woman does in America right now.”
Never Think The Impossible Isn’t Possible
“We’ve been hazing her [Hillary], holding her down and spit in her mouth, and yelling at her, and she just gets up and goes: “Well, I just think that if children have proper healthcare and education”. She just keeps working.” – Louis C.K.
Merely a week (!) after her concession speech, Hillary Clinton got up to join the fight for the disadvantaged and poor children at Children’s Defense Fund. Just as Louis C.K. said she would, and I encourage everyone to listen to her message and the stories of children who have beaten the odds. Whenever you feel discouraged about the current situation and don’t feel like getting back up again, you dive right into Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls world, an organization dedicated to helping young people cultivate their authentic selves with emphasis on intelligence and imagination over “fitting in”, and you know we’ll be just fine. 170 years is just a number. Never give up and think the impossible isn’t possible.
Paula is Digital Product Advisor and Top 100 Women in Tech in Europe, focusing on Product, Go-to-market, and Internationalization strategies. She has to date mentored over 150 digital technology companies on product, marketing and growth, and rated as one of the very best startup mentors in Europe. Contact Paula to to build engaging digital products and cooperate on #Startups #WomenInTech #GenderEquality #ClimateChange and #OpenWeb. Read more about her work and connect @Twitter, @LinkedIn. “You never learn anything when you speak, only when you listen” – Roelof Botha / Douglas Leone, Sequoia Capital