Where’s the (woman) expert? Practical suggestions for better media and better events

Why do we still see professional events, academic conferences, media interviews where only men speak as experts? (Pictured below: a panel at an innovation summit last year where all panelists were men and no one had been born after 1965).

Picture1.png

I spoke about this with Sandra Mori, Donatella Sciuto and Paola Caburlotto at a panel I had the opportunity to host at the 2017 International Journalism Festival in Perugia. Because we know the problem well, and we know its soul-crushing impact on what girls and young women believe they can achieve, I would like to focus here on our responsibility as conference organizers, journalists, speakers: because we each have a role to play.

The answer, we agreed, is two-pronged: don’t be lazy and try harder. I was recently asked to help find a woman speaker for a panel on cryptocurrencies at a digital economy conference taking place three weeks later, because throughout the many months it took to plan it no one had thought about asking for help making that panel diverse: within 6 hours I had three names of young women speakers (and one of them got on stage at the event).

Here are some suggestions on how to make our TV interviews, conferences and panels more gender-balanced.

As journalists, TV producers, editors:

  • Think twice. Of course you have a deadline, but… You’re doing a story on white collar crime, and your first instinct when picking up the phone is to call the corporate law professor you interviewed last year. Can you get a new perspective, maybe from a woman law professor this time?
  • Measure gender balance in your publications and programs. What gets measured gets fixed.
  • Get help. Sometimes you will have academic watchdogs and media studies programs measuring things for you: enlist them to help you. You need a vulcanology expert – can they put you in touch with one, preferably not a white man? You would like to interview a woman on cybersecurity – can they suggest one?

As conference organizers:

  • Use lists. You may not be aware of it, but people are volunteering their time and energy to built list of kick-ass women experts. Inspiring Fifty can put you in touch with dozens of inspiring women in digital technology across Europe (with South Africa coming soon). 100 Esperte is a database (in Italian) of women scientists who are leaders in disciplines ranging from astrophysics to nanotechnologies. Women for Media is an Australian database of women leaders in business, finance, government, academia and non profits. Khabirat, a list launched by the MedMedia program, allows you to find women experts in fields from geopolitics to sports in Jordan, Palestine, Tunisia and Morocco. And there will be more.
  • Get yourself an Advisory board. Marketer and curator Gianfranco Chicco, who has organized dozens of conferences with thousands of speakers, told me about a week-long event he led. One of his decisions was to have an Advisory board, three women and two men, with the explicit mandate of finding diverse speakers and young speakers.
  • Adopt these 10 rules proposed by molecular bioscientists Professor Jennifer L. Martin in PLOS: Ten Simple Rules to Achieve Conference Speaker Gender Balance.

As speakers:

  • Be informed and vocal. When contacted by organizers, always inquire about gender balance in the event. If you’re the only woman on stage, consider refusing to speak unless the conference is made more diverse.
  • If the conference is a for-profit event, ask to be paid. You should be paid for your time and effort in money, not in visibility, whenever an organization makes money from your presence. And make sure you’re not paid any less than men. It’s time to end the pay gap for speakers.
  • Enlist men to help. Many men are jetsetting around the world and in high demand as speakers: ask them to take the Panel Pledge. Development economist Owen Barder has a one-line version: “I will not be part of male-only panels.” The Australian group Male Champions of Change has a longer version, here for your reference:

When you are invited to speak at or participate in a professional forum:

Request confirmation of who the other panelists/speakers/ participants are, and how gender balance will be achieved;

Insist that as a condition of acceptance, you expect women to participate in a meaningful way;

Reserve the right to withdraw from the event, even at the last minute, should this not be the case when the speaker list is finalised;

Offer names of women from within your organisation or network and, if helpful, point them to resources for support in finding women.

If you are a woman and you’d like to act, a useful thing you can do is to speak to three men who are in your network over the next week and ask them to commit to this pledge. If you’re a man, commit to it yourself. We can change this, and we will.

When ecosystems meet: Hootsuite + AdEspresso

A few days ago, AdEspresso – an ad tech company based in Milan and San Francisco – and Hootsuite – a social media management company headquartered in Vancouver, with offices from London to Singapore, from Bucharest to Sydney – announced that AdEspresso is joining the Hootsuite family. This is fantastic news for both, and I want to celebrate this moment myself as a mini-angel, because together with a small group of angel investors, notably Andrea Rota, I backed AdEspresso starting in 2013.

It is true that AdEspresso was accelerated at Dave McClure’s 500 Startups in late 2013, and that the special sauce in the San Francisco Bay Area was an important ingredient in brewing the deal. But Ryan Holmes, Hootsuite’s CEO, is passionate about rekindling a tech future in Canada. Massimo Chieruzzi and Armando Biondi, AdEspresso’s founders, point out that the AdEspresso product and design are “Made in Italy”, and the company has always kept its Italian heart.

Are we at the point where we will see more deals like this? Digital platforms with hundreds of millions, soon to be billions, of people using them every day are indeed based in the Bay Area (and in China). But while they are creating unprecedented wealth concentrated in their corner of the world, they also create unprecedented opportunity for companies to be built by “riding the tiger” of those platforms, pretty much from anywhere. The Bay Area has a huge concentration of talented and ambitious people; but it does not have a monopoly on ideas, on technical talent, on the ability to serve customers, on hustle, on grit. I would not be surprised at all if the next Hootsuite and the next AdEspresso were born out of Poland, India, Portugal or Ireland.

In the meantime, congratulations to Massimo, Ryan and Armando (pictured below) and a few more of my thoughts on the deal (in Italian) in these media interviews:

image-4

Image: Massimo Chieruzzi (AdEspresso), Ryan Holmes (Hootsuite) and Armando Biondi (AdEspresso) celebrate the announcement. 

On prostheses, gold medals, dinners, and trolls

She wore not a prosthesis, but four. Quadruple amputee athlete Bebe Vio, 19, who lost her limbs to meningitis at the age of 11 and last month won a Paralympic gold medal in women’s wheelchair fencing, walked on her own two lower limb prostheses when joining Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the State Dinner hosted by Barack and Michelle Obama two nights ago in Washington. And what did she get out of it? Glamour (she wore an evening dress donated by Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior), fun (at least judging from her selfie with Obama), some food prepared by celebrity chef Mario Batali, and a lot of vitriol poured onto her from all corners of the Web. In the last couple of days, online armchair critics have accused her of the most bizarre sins, such as flying to Washington to have fun at the expense of taxpayers, neglecting the plight of the unemployed, wearing an expensive dress by a French brand, being “politicized” in support of the embattled Renzi, and worse. Countless online trolls over the past two days have let out their own frustration against Bebe, as they have in the past against many women who have, for example, spoken out against misogyny in videogames, called for historic women leaders to be portrayed on banknotes, or written about contemporary feminism.

Bebe, who only recently won her Paralympic gold and is not a feminist campaigner by any stretch of the imagination, pays for two original sins. First, she never let herself become a victim. Life gave her a shitload of bitter lemons, and she built a factory of very sweet lemonade: the non-profit she started with her family, Art4Sport, has helped dozens of amputee children practice sports instead of languishing in their wheelchairs. Second, she is a young woman: and women who are proud of any achievement – technology, entrepreneurship, politics, sports – end up being attacked, insulted and threatened with the worst sexist and violent attacks if they so much as dare to share their pride online. The torrent of insults unleashed on Bebe is just the latest example of how the basic rules of civil discourse seem to be suspended when it comes to criticizing women. What is to be done if we are to neutralize poisonous threats against women? One might follow the example of journalist and podcaster Alanah Pearce, whose anti-troll technique became famous after this tweet: “Sometimes young boys on Facebook send me rape threats, so I’ve started telling their mothers.” If you are disgusted by the trolls who attacked Bebe, finding out who their moms are and sending them screenshots might not be a bad place to start.

An exercise in empathy

I’ve subjected you to David Foster Wallace before, but “This is Water” continues to stick inside my head years after I first read it. Today it came back to me in a flash while I was in a conversation about the merits of changing points of view. This is David Foster Wallace, shopping for last-minute groceries and held up in the supermarket checkout line:

[…] and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough checkout lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day-rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can’t take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register. Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your check or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn’t fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etcetera, etcetera. […] But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-madelady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line — maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept. who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible — it just depends on what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important — if you want to operate on your default-setting — then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying. But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true: The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.

 

Habits and practicing: to succeed, learn discipline

My educational program for this fall includes taking an online class called “The Creative Habit: Cultivating a Daily Writing Practice” – and committing to stick with it. You see, I’ve always liked writing, and I’ve both taken creative writing courses and enormously enjoyed them in the past. But how can I say with a straight face “I like writing” if I hardly ever write? The word “habit” is the hook that attracted me to the course, and the reason why I think it will work. By prompting participants to write for 30-60 minutes every day, it seeks to instil the discipline of writing: to support the birth of a habit, if you will.

51ue4ydsgylA few months ago I had the opportunity to attend a speech by Gretchen Rubin based on her latest book, Better than Before. It’s about habits, or how to “decide not to decide”. It’s easier to go out running every morning if you’ve set out a rule for yourself that says “I will run every day, first thing in the morning.” You don’t have to make a decision to run, to debate with yourself whether to run, to negotiate with yourself how many times you will run this week, to wonder if the weather is good enough for running: you’ve organized your life so that each morning you run, no questions asked. It’s a habit.

Because different people form habits and stick to habits in different ways, the book offers several strategies: Monitoring, Foundation, Scheduling, Accountability, Abstaining, Convenience, Inconvenience, Safeguards, Distraction, Rewards, Treats, Pairing and so on. The author avoids being prescriptive about which strategy you should adopt – you know best – or even about what habits she recommends. It’s a good toolbox, although it won’t give you the sense of urgency you need to start a new habit tomorrow.

41zlysdyr-l

More recently, thanks to my friend Laura‘s recommendation, I stumbled into Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning. While the book’s tone is all optimistic bounciness (you may feel like you’re watching a TV preacher; the cover image doesn’t help), the substance of the practice the author illustrates is very much about making it a habit to do the things you want to do. And if you don’t have time, the answer is easy: get out of bed one hour earlier in the morning. He describes spending that hour practising each of six things for ten minutes: meditation (or gratitude, prayer, silence); affirmations; visualizations; exercise; reading; and writing (journaling). It doesn’t make sense, I thought at first, that doing any one thing for ten minutes would change your life. Yet, open the app store on your phone and look for “seven minute workout”: you will be surprised by the number of results. And who am I to criticise small bursts of activity, when since the beginning of the year I have spent fifteen minutes a day learning French on Duolingo? And surely, if you only have ten minutes a day when you read, that’s better than not reading at all.

81x9tdjfjrlIn yoga, too, we are familiar with the concept of the daily practice, which is called sadhana; Swami Satyananda Saraswati even wrote a book about it. A sadhana is given by the guru to each disciple for the purpose of spiritual enlightenment. (But if you don’t know whom to ask, you can even request a Sadhana online from a Satyananda Yoga ashram). It has to be practiced every day until perfected, at which point the disciple should request a new sadhana.

Daily repetition is key: there is no sadhana without habit. Life in any ashram, monastery, or other place of spiritual growth is a routine, a long sequence of habits.

All of a sudden, habits seem trendy. But yogis knew about habits all along.

Leadership, light and darkness, and the inner journey

let-your-life-speakAmong the many books I read this summer, Let Your Life Speak by American writer and teacher Parker J. Palmer is the one that lingered in my mind perhaps for the longest time. Be it the author’s quiet and understated writing style (so far from so much of the self-help literature we usually find on bookstore shelves), his unusual sincerity about such facts of life as the debilitating depression he went through, or his life experience of over ten years in a tiny Quaker community, Palmer reminded me of other mystics, such as Alan Watts or Thomas Merton, but without a trace of their New Age glamour, even if thrust upon them rather than sought.

Chapter V, “Leading from Within”, is about how lights and shadows coexist in leadership, and why leaders need to have visited their inner shadows. Here goes his argument (emphasis mine):

A leader is someone with the power to project either shadows or light onto some part of the world and onto the lives of the people who dwell there. […] A good leader has high awareness of the interplay of inner shadow and light, lest the act of leadership do more harm than good. […]

We have a long tradition of approaching leadership via “the power of positive thinking.” I want to counterbalance that approach by paying special attention to the tendency we have as leaders to project more shadow than light. Leadership is hard work for which one is regularly criticized and rarely rewarded, so it is understandable that we need to bolster ourselves with positive thoughts. But by failing to look at our shadows, we feed a dangerous delusion that leaders too often indulge: that our efforts are always well-intended, our power always benign, and the problem is always in those difficult people whom we are trying to lead!

Those of us who readily embrace leadership, especially public leadership, tend toward extroversion, which often means ignoring what is happening inside ourselves. If we have any sort of inner life, we “compartmentalize” it, walling it off from our public work. […] Leaders need not only the technical skills to manage the external world—they need the spiritual skills to journey inward toward the source of both shadow and light. […] The spiritual journey runs counter to the power of positive thinking. […] If we do not understand that the enemy is within, we will find a thousand ways of making someone “out there” into the enemy […].

Good leadership comes from people who have penetrated their own inner darkness and arrived at the place where we are at one with one another, people who can lead the rest of us to a place of “hidden wholeness” because they have been there and know the way. […] But why would anybody want to take a journey of that sort, with its multiple difficulties and dangers? Everything in us cries out against it—which is why we externalize everything. It is so much easier to deal with the external world, to spend our lives manipulating material and institutions and other people instead of dealing with our own souls. […] If we, as leaders, are to cast less shadow and more light, we need to ride certain monsters all the way down, understand the shadows they create, and experience the transformation that can come as we “get into” our own spiritual lives.

Palmer goes on to illustrate the “bestiary” of the five monsters he claims we need to get acquainted with. “The five are not theoretical for me; I became personally acquainted with each of them during my descent into depression. They are also the monsters I work with when I lead retreats where leaders of many sorts—CEOs, clergy, parents, teachers, citizens, and seekers—take an inward journey toward common ground.” I’ll list them here without a lot of detail because you, readers, are probably familiar with them; but please do read what Palmer has to say about them if you recognize them from your own experience. They are:

  1. Insecurity about identity and worth;
  2. The belief that the universe is a battleground, hostile to human interests;
  3. “Functional atheism”, the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. (“This is the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who must make it happen—a conviction held even by people who talk a good game about God.”)
  4. Fear, especially the fear of the natural chaos of life;
  5. “The denial of death itself”.

And here are the corresponding gifts we receive on the inner journey:

  1. The knowledge that identity does not depend on the role we play or the power it gives us over others;
  2. The insight that the universe is working together for good. “The structure of reality is not the structure of a battle. Reality is not out to get anybody”;
  3. The knowledge that ours is not the only act in town. “Not only are there other acts out there, but some of them are even better than ours, at least occasionally! We learn that we need not carry the whole load but can share it with others, liberating us and empowering them. We learn that sometimes we are free to lay the load down altogether. The great community asks us to do only what we are able, and trust the rest to other hands.”
  4. The insight that chaos is the precondition to creativity. “As every creation myth has it, life itself emerged from the void. Even that which has been created needs to be returned to chaos from time to time so it can be regenerated in more vital form. When a leader fears chaos so deeply that he or she tries to eliminate it, the shadow of death will fall across everything that leader approaches—for the ultimate answer to all of life’s messiness is death.”
  5. The knowledge that death finally comes to everything “—and yet death does not have the final word. By allowing something to die when its time is due, we create the conditions under which new life can emerge.”

Can we help each other deal with the inner issues inherent in leadership? Palmer’s answer is not only that we can, but that we must. What might that help look like?

First, we could lift up the value of “inner work.” That phrase should become commonplace in families, schools, and religious institutions, at least, helping us to understand that inner work is as real as outer work and involves skills one can develop, skills like journaling, reflective reading, spiritual friendship, meditation, and prayer.

Second, we could spread the word that inner work, though it is a deeply personal matter, is not necessarily a private matter: inner work can be helped along in community. Indeed, doing inner work together is a vital counterpoint to doing it alone. […] The key to this form of community involves holding a paradox—the paradox of having relationships in which we protect each other’s aloneness. We must come together in ways that respect the solitude of the soul, that avoid the unconscious violence we do when we try to save each other, that evoke our capacity to hold another life in ways that honor its mystery, never trying to coerce the other into meeting our own needs.

Third, we can remind each other of the dominant role that fear plays in our lives […] “Be not afraid” does not mean we cannot have fear. Everyone has fear, and people who embrace the call to leadership often find fear abounding. Instead, the words say we do not need to be the fear we have. We do not have to lead from a place of fear, thus engendering a world in which fear is multiplied.

We have places of fear inside of us, but we have other places as well—places with names like trust, and hope, and faith. We can choose to lead from one of those places, to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move toward others from a place of promise instead of anxiety. As we stand in one of those places, fear may remain close at hand and our spirits may still tremble. But now we stand on ground that will support us, ground from which we can lead others toward a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.