Last week, after Satya made his disastrous, albeit insightful (into his thought process, anyway) comments at the Grace Hopper Convention, I had several folks reach out to ask for my opinion on the topic. Initially, I demurred, saying that everything worth saying would likely be said once Twitter was done with him, not to mention the New York Times, Time, Business Week, Forbes, TechCrunch, the Puget Sound Business Journal, and every other news outlet with a business desk.
But then I thought- am I playing into the stereotype by letting others speak for me? After all, I believe in speaking up! I believe in asking for what you want! I believe in asking for stretch assignments! I believe in being vulnerable and seeing what happens! I believe in taking risks!
My approach has worked… over the long run. I guess you could call that karma…. but it’s the kind of karma that has a lot of elbow grease behind it. Not to mention, that I have taken some pretty good sized hits because of it too. But getting back up has a virtue all it’s own. Just ask Michael Jordan.
I’d liken my relationship to karma to that famous quote by Jack Nicklaus, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” Turns out- the more I speak up, the more ALL women speak up, the more likely we’ll be listened to. So, in that spirit, I will share my thoughts on #karmagate.
I was disappointed though not surprised by Satya’s comments because I think they are a reflection of his reality up to this point in his career. I certainly wish that “karma” worked as well as Satya believes (believed?) that it does! Unfortunately, history has shown that relying on karma is not a sufficiently robust “tool” for the management of one’s career- particularly if you are a woman, person of color, or an older job seeker.
My hope is that Satya’s comments and the subsequent firestorm cause him to reflect upon the unconscious bias and assumptions that have underpinned his views. In fact, I’d love to see him push his entire leadership team to reflect upon and uncover the unconscious/unintended biases that may drive their views and decisions. I hope with some study of the issue and a broader set of inputs- he’ll emerge from this as a more proactive advocate for change within Microsoft and the industry. As Nilofer Merchant said in her piece for Time, by putting the onus on “the industry,” he is distancing himself and Microsoft from taking a leadership role in fixing this problem. I’d like to see him commit to putting Microsoft front and center in the drive for gender equity in the workplace.
His biggest takeaway from this experience may be that bias is a sneaky adversary. You may think you are taking a very clear-eyed view of an issue, only to get smacked in the face with a Mack truck of unconscious bias. I hope he dedicates himself to watching for bias in his views and pushes his team to do the same. He made a strong first step by admitting fault (though his carefully worded response was a little protectionist).
One of my favorite sayings is “It’s not the mistakes we make that people remember, but how we recover from them.” So, here is his chance to make a memorable recovery. A single step doesn’t note make a journey, and we will all see where this leads him.
The other thing I think is interesting out of this debacle is how Satya’s comments (and that view about speaking up generally) intersect with other women’s/gender issues. In my blog post on Emma Watson’s speech at the UN, I took issue with what I thought was her overly conciliatory language. She “invites” men to join us in the quest for gender equity. “Invite” is about as passive and subordinate an action verb you can find. As much as I admired her making the speech at all, it left me wanting more.
In the business world, there is definitely a strong undercurrent that pushes women to minimize the use of strong (often code-worded as “inflammatory”) language. I have many times been asked to “tone it down”. And yes, it feels patronizing every time I hear it. The worst part about it though, is that statements like that are a subtle thief of an individual’s power because they take it away by degrees rather than all at once.
Satya’s gaffe has held up an important mirror that we can all reflect in. What biases are we unknowingly incorporating into the way each of us talks, thinks, and views the world?
I appreciate your comments, shares, and feedback! Tell me what YOU think!
A recent Forbes article said that new research is showing that Facebook is “dead and buried” to teens. You know what? Good. Great! I couldn’t be happier to hear it. The same way I don’t want a lot of teens in my favorite restaurant when I’m lucky enough to be out for a date night or attending a movie (which is why we now see movies only at iPic- a 21+ movie theater), I don’t want them cluttering up Facebook with all the inane actions and comments that are indelibly linked to teenage-dom. Teens- don’t go ruining on of my favorite innovations of the last 10 years.
This post is a love letter to Facebook, because I DO truly, love it. Not just for all that it has done for me personally- I love being reconnected with friends from all stages of my life. I love that friends who knew me as an awkward, nerdy, and know-it-all teenager, have seen me grow up into a (hopefully) more well-adjusted and thoughtful adult. I love being connected to more recent friends that, because of the hectic pace of life, I don’t get to see and socialize with as often as I’d like. I love running into someone at Target and being current on what joys or tragedies or maybe just recent food-porn they have posted. I truly feel like my life is better because of Facebook. Sure, it’s a time-suck and yes, it would be better without ads, but it feels like a fair tradeoff for how it has enriched my life. I think far too many people take for granted all the good it does in their lives.
Beyond what it has done for me individually, Facebook has become a tremendous force for good in the world. Now, like all technology, FB, in and of itself, is inherently neutral, but through its usage by millions of people, and careful implementation by the company- it has demonstrated its existing and growing power to be a strong influence for good- whether empowering people, exposing cruelty, or amplifying the voices of those who would otherwise struggle to be heard. Twitter is even more powerful in this respect. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Facebook and Twitter, as the foremost social media platforms, are on par with the printing press, given how they are transforming how we communicate, spread information, and exert a net positive effect in the world.
Take a step back and marvel at all the good things that social technologies have enabled over the last several years. Whether shedding light on revolutions, providing “eye witness” accounts of events, or spreading information faster and more effectively than any news outlet could hope for, social technology has been tremendously influential- and in a way that should make us feel better about humanity, the balance of that influence has been for good. It has been a stunning and magnificent transformation.
Yes- FB, Twitter, Instagram, and all their techno-friends are also littered (sometimes overrun) with the banal, the vapid, the incorrect, the angry, and ignorant, but the overall balance- at least from my vantage point, is one of positive effect. In a world with so many heavy, heavy things happening all the time, I am not going to begrudge folks their cat memes and even a Kardashian tweet or two.
I have often thought of reaching out to Facebook with the aim of suggesting a “social influence” or “social good” team. I don’t know if this type of team exists within FB, Twitter, or any other social technology company, but it should. The power wielded by these social networks is obviously world-spanning and frankly mind-blowing, so I hope and expect that a lot of thoughtful design is going into the social impact of every feature introduced. When we look back in 20 or 30 years, we will see that these social platforms have not only made the world a smaller, more accessible place- but a measurably better one.
Which brings me back to teenagers and their alleged absence from Facebook. Good! Go out and make mistakes and post them to Snapchat. Please, grow-up outside of my FB feed. I want your parents to post pictures of you at graduation, birthdays, Christmas outings, and getting that first car- but I don’t want to see all the heartbreak, dumb mistakes, and teenage drama that are the hazing Mother Nature designed for you on the way to adulthood. Feel free to join FB when you are 18 or better yet, 22 or 23. Until then, in this hyper-connected and documented world, I want young people to have at least a thin veil of privacy from adults. And it goes both ways- I don’t want you to laugh as I post about not being able to stay up past 11pm anymore or how much I love watching Downton Abbey or the travails of my commute. It’s not intended for you- at least not this year. Come back in 5 or 10 years and we’ll be glad to welcome you to the grown-up side of social media.