WiCipedia: Queen of Code, Leadership Sexism & Unicorns vs. Zebras

Eryn Leavens

This week in our WiCipedia roundup: Barbara Liskov reigns as queen of code; female leaders don't have support, even from women; zebras push unicorns aside; and more.

  • The term "unicorn" in tech has a few different meanings, though the most prevalent one is to signify companies that are worth more than $1 billion. PC Mag suggests that this mythical beast needs to move over for the new magical creature in town though: zebras. While maybe not quite as exotic, the zebra signifies much-needed diversity in tech. Zebras Unite, a Silicon Valley startup, is "a growing movement that aims to make startup and venture capital culture more ethical and inclusive." They argue that the type of culture that it takes for a company to reach unicorn status is toxic and needs to be reevaluated in order to diversify tech. "The problem is clear: what exists is created by and for an exceedingly select breed of people," says Dr. Astrid Scholz, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of the movement. (See WiCipedia: The Barbie & Unicorn Edition.)

    Just Galloping Through Silicon Valley
    (Source: Pixabay)
    (Source: Pixabay)

  • Barbara Liskov is a name you don't hear often, though if you work in tech you should as she played a major role in the invention of coding as we know it. Quanta Magazine recently interviewed Barbara, who is now 80, the recipient of a Turing Award and still a professor at MIT, and talked about her experience being one of the few women working with AI and machine learning in the 1970s. For a frame of reference, when she started at MIT, she was one of ten female professors out of 1,000 faculty members. "There was a long period of time where women were not considered at all," she said of faculty hiring. When asked how women can fend off discrimination and move forward, Barbara said, "It'd be nice to know how to apply that Teflon. It wasn't until I had been at MIT for a while that I lost my inhibitions to ask questions in public. It took a long time to develop that self-confidence... That, together with a lack of a need to please people. Women are socialized to please." (See WiCipedia: Best Cities for WiT, Born to Code & Dancing Backwards.)

  • The issues surrounding getting women on boards and as the heads of companies extend far beyond the tech industry. Huff Post explains that a survey from the Reykjavik Index reports that a majority of people aren't comfortable with women at the helm in nearly any industry. The survey spanned 22,000 adults in 11 countries, including 2,000 Americans, and found that fewer than half of men are comfortable with a woman calling the shots (shockingly, only 59% of women approve of a woman in charge). Yet that doesn't mean they don't have a chance. Clearly when one of the American presidential Democratic frontrunners is a woman, anything is possible. "Women in all walks of life have a harder job on the journey to leadership than men," said CEO of Kantar Public Michelle Harrison, who worked on the study. "I don't think it's telling us anything specific about a particular woman. Leaders always break through." (See WiCipedia: Diverse Boards Are the Future & UK Gov't Deals With Online Abuse.)

  • Technical.ly DC tackled what the tech industry needs to diversify and equalize the tech landscape and the answer came down to one takeaway: better humans. A female engineer who has been in the industry for a decade wrote the piece, and addressed what it would take for women to both join and remain in the industry. She explained: "I do think the biggest change will happen if we start by being better humans and open to each other's differences while also building great products with code... The industry would be less known for promoting a culture that has a bias toward women, which would then lead to having more women who were turned off by such an environment to join or continue to stay in the field." (See WiCipedia: Podcast Recs, Interview No-Nos & Creating a Majority Female Tech Company.)

    — Eryn Leavens, Special Features & Copy Editor, Light Reading

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    Joe Murphy
    Joe Murphy
    12/4/2019 | 3:24:34 PM
    Re: Zebras Unite
    Thank YOU. 
    12/3/2019 | 12:21:01 PM
    Re: Zebras Unite
    Thanks for clarifying, Joe!
    Joe Murphy
    Joe Murphy
    12/2/2019 | 3:42:05 PM
    Zebras Unite
    Thank you for writing about Zebras Unite, Eryn. I really like that you included the PC Mag piece and blurbs. Zebras are not magical, unlike unicorns, and that is the point. They are real.

    Zebras Unite is not a Silicon Valley startup, but is rather a movement of real founders and investors doing business differently, more healthfully than is the norm in Silicon Valley culture.

    Zebras Unite is also an organization https://www.zebrasunite.com/ supporting the diverse entrepreneurs of this movement.

    Thank you again!

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