By Deanna Kosaraju, Global Tech Women
We all watched in horror as a casual exchange between Microsoft Board Member, Maria Klawe and newly minted CEO Satya Nadella took a nasty turn. As someone who ran the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing from 2006 to 2011 and the conference founder for Grace Hopper India, this was a nightmare I never experienced, but I have seen this situation before. Satya Nadella was right...until he wasn't. Nadella, like many male tech CEOs believes that tech is in fact a meritocracy and if you just "work hard enough", you will be rewarded (i.e. Karma). Many of us women in tech used to believe that too -- until it wasn't. Many of us (me included) learned through a very painful process what the culture of tech really means if you are a woman.
At this very same conference, in 2007, a group of male executives were sitting behind closed doors in a private session run by a very savvy facilitator. She asked "Who in this room believes their company is a meritocracy?". All the hands went up. For the next several hours the concepts of unconscious and corporate bias were explained, the data was revealed -- about half of all women in tech leaving before they reach mid-level. One CTO stood up at the end and said, "My assumptions were wrong. I am going to do something about this." An advocate was born. He is still an outspoken proponent of women in technology working tirelessly to change the culture of tech.
Back to Nadella. He didn't have this "consciousness raising" moment. He didn't have the facilitator nor the support of his peers in a space where realization is powerful. He found this out yesterday, on stage, in front of 8000 women in tech and the broader global Community online. It was a painful moment to watch and a situation that took a potential advocate and shook him to his core. He was right...until he wasn't.
He was not alone at the Conference. The Male Allies panel faired hardly better where accusations of placing mens voices in a plenary at the expense of women hit Twitter. The CEO of GoDaddy who again, like Nadella, is put on stage without the badly needed process of listening and understanding BEFORE speaking, especially given GoDaddy's track record.
Advocates in positions of power, like Nadella, can help change the culture of tech. This Conference is a huge opportunity for advocates to listen to what women need and to work on the culture of technology globally TOGETHER to make it a reality.
You are invited to be part of these important conversations at our upcoming Voices Conference in March. I hope you will take part in discussing how all of us together can be the change necessary to make technology an innovative, exciting and inclusive culture no matter where you are in the world.