Let us begin with a statistic: Out of 100 honorees, the Newsweek Daily Beast Digital Power Index includes seven women.
If you count the 11 people in the 10 "Lifetime Achievement" categories, the total is increased to eight. Some might call that progress, since it raises the total percentage of women honored on this list from 7 percent to 7.2 percent.
It's a little better if you consider the panel of expert judges who selected the names in each category: out of a total of 54 judges, 13 were women.
Let me be clear: everyone on this list is eminently qualified to be on it. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a list of mostly white men, chosen by mostly white men, about an industry that tends to strongly favor white men.
In 2012 women are as wonky as they get across all platforms—paging Emily Bell, Christine Lagarde, Melinda Gates, Katie Jacobs Stanton, Gayle Tzemmach Lemmon … even Madam Secretary Hillary Clinton is bringing the lulz. And yet the list’s “Navigators” category—which recognizes those who are at the forefront of digital policymaking—has one woman in it.
This list, meanwhile, is published on The Daily Beast, founded by the extraordinarily accomplished Tina Brown ... and yet the list’s “Opinionists” category has just one woman in it.
In 2012 women are using technology for pushing forward and pushing back, revolutionizing so much that an entire industry has grown up around worrying about men ... and yet the list’s “Revolutionaries” category has one woman in it.
In 2012 Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer are two of the most visible and accomplished women in technology—hailing from the two leading new giants, Facebook and Google ... and yet they're both consigned to the "Evangelists" category, while the "Innovators," "Visionaries," and "Builders" are all one long, unbroken stretch of dudes.
So, progress? Not exactly. It's actually rather excruciating. And predictable. And backward. And I am here tell you why.
Watch as editor Lauren Streib explains the methodology behind our Digital Power Index.
I was invited by Newsweek and The Daily Beast to respond to this list, and I appreciate having the opportunity in these pages to point out that this ratio is out of whack.
In turn, I must acknowledge not only that this company is led by the extraordinary top-digital-anything-ever Tina Brown, who created Women In The World, but that I have been welcomed to beat this drum here in the past, from women in comedy to sexism in media to the dearth of black faces on cable news. (I’ll also note that the executive editors of both Newsweek and The Daily Beast are women.)
So lest there be any doubt, let me state up front that I do not believe this list is sexist, or that anyone who made the list is sexist, or that anyone on the list is sexist (unless someone added Adam Carolla while I wasn't looking). Also for the record: I love white men! Some of my best friends are white men! Okay, on we go.
THE STATUS QUO
I'm used to pushing back at "Top Whatever" lists that include few or no women, conference lineups that feature a parade of smiling white-dude faces, accolades, and celebrations and awards that clutter dude bios built on recognition and validation.
We're used to those next-day articles across industries, from tech to lit-crit to comedy to TV news to film to politics to media-crit to the rabbinate to who gets to comment on women's reproductive issues (answer: 81% dudes!). It's not a secret: We—the collective we—have a ratio problem. That is why I started an organization called Change The Ratio.
I know what you’re going to say, and it's actually NOT because there are way more men in this or that field. There are a lot of women working in the digital world, actually. Especially when you're looking to cull the top hundred. You might also say that this is a list about the technology industry—and aren't there substantially fewer women in STEM professions (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)? Well, yes, there are—and the percentage has actually been on the decline, to around 25 percent. Except this list is about the Internet, and more than half of its categories have absolutely no STEM requirements. (It takes a village!)
I'm not saying the numbers line up perfectly, 50/50 across the board. I'm saying that in the context of this list, 7 percent is a really low number—indicative not of a numbers problem, but of a visibility problem.
In other words, you are more likely to see men because, well, men are more likely to see men.
This is for two reasons, both of which feed into a vicious cycle. The first is the network effect: men refer men; men sponsor men; men follow more men on Twitter. It's called an old-boys’ club for a reason. Just ask Augusta National, or IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, who is (ahem) not on this list. (And yes, this is a generalization to which there are many exceptions! But, well, it certainly quacks like a duck.)
The second reason is related: It's harder for women to rise, be sponsored, get breaks. Yes, part of this is because women get pregnant and derail promising careers to have babies. But that's not all. Anne-Marie Slaughter just wrote a 12,600-word opus for The Atlantic on this subject, and stayed carefully away from citing sexism, institutional bias, or any type of glass ceiling.
Good grief, are we that afraid to name this problem? It's actually pretty simple: Either you think all these industries are dominated across the very top levels by predominantly white men because there are numerous deep-seated societal norms and institutional biases that make it more challenging for women and minorities to advance as quickly and as far as their white male counterparts … or you think that these lists merely reflect the fact that white dudes must just be better at everything.
Honestly, that's it. There is no murky middle ground where some of these industries are just more meritocratic and it just so happens that the same patterns that play out across historically gender-biased industries coincidentally bubble up to the surface here too because here the dudes are even better.
White dudes, I love you! But if you don't get that, well … I've got a roast in the oven cooking gently while your slippers and pipe wait with your newspaper.
If we accept the above as a given—and, alas, I do—then we have to accept that on lists like this (and conference lineups, and VC portfolios) there is much we are not seeing. Which is why the methodology of selecting panels of experts to nominate a slate of candidates will probably reinforce the above. As the adage goes, you can't be what you can't see. The same goes for nominating, celebrating and recognizing. If there is no greater mandate for a list like this to reflect a standard of diversity, then odds are it won't be forthcoming, despite the incredible breadth of experts, topics and potential nominees.
(Of course, unless these lists are purely about the numbers, they are always subjective. I could spend just as much time goggling at who was not included among the men. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, whose web clips have been driving traffic since before YouTube? Remember that Crossfire clip? Tucker Carlson sure does. Or Michael Arrington, who is so influential and opinionated that the dismantling of his team at TechCrunch probably moved as much traffic as Will & Kate's wedding? Or Justin Bieber, who defines "viral"? Never mind Barack Obama, who even before he was president defied all Internet logic with his speech on race, which became the first 37-minute viral video.)
And therein lies the trap for anyone tasked with critiquing a list like this one: Am I really going to say that Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos and Jonah Peretti and Andy Carvin and the rest did not get where they are today on merit? Sure, I might argue that "Evangelists" is a goofy category (the founder of Kickstarter? The COO of Facebook?). And I remain confused about how Mehmet Oz is a Personality yet Oprah is not. But overall, the hundred people on this list are unquestionably highly accomplished.
The problem is that they are not alone.
A top-100 list creates an automatic presumption that its members got there on merit, and an equally automatic presumption that those left off it were excluded for their lack thereof. It becomes yet another way of anointing the “best of the best” and saying that women don't make the cut. But they do. While I could easily offer up my own list of 100 women, here's a sampling—or, in the parlance of the Academy, for your consideration:
Dany Levy: The founder of Daily Candy went viral in our inboxes, and our business models.
Laurel Touby: Created Mediabistro, an education-content-community hybrid that was massive while Mark Zuckerberg was still choosing his freshman courses.
Esther Dyson: Longtime angel investor across a range of companies, like the game-changing Flickr.
Caterina Fake: Ever heard of the game-changing Flickr? (Never mind Hunch, and Founder Collective, and Pinwheel ...)
Meg Whitman: President & CEO of eBay from 1998 to 2008, growing the company to $4 billion in annual revenue and creating the blueprint for much of the ecommerce that is standard today (hello, Etsy).
Katie Orenstein: Founder of The Op-Ed Project; has launched more op-ed careers than people bonking their heads over Maureen Dowd or David Brooks; has moved the needle of women writing op-eds by 6 percent.
Ellen DeGeneres: I see your Tosh.0 and I raise you Ellen, with her early millions of Twitter followers & anti-bullying influence.
Chris Shipley: Technologist & founder of the influential DEMO conference, launchpad of products like TiVo and Salesforce; founder & CEO of Guidewire Group.
Kara Swisher: Cofounder of AllThingsD, prolific reporter and hot-seat griller. If you don't think her opinion matters, ask ex-Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson.
That's 10, and I’m just getting warmed up.
Want a few more? Julia Hartz (Eventbrite); Jenna Wortham (The New York Times, and, where it counts, The Hairpin; Zooey Deschanel and Sophia Rossi (talk about evangelists! Have you seen how Hello Giggles moves merch?); Dina Kaplan (cofounder, Blip.tv); Sara Lacy (TechCrunch staple to founder of PandoDaily—once, she's lucky; twice, she's good); Kelly Oxford (opinionatrix is more like it); Chelsea Handler (how many platforms can she own?); Gina Trapani (evangelizing your life, for God's sake); Yoanni Sanchez (Cuban truth-to-power blogger); Cecile Richards (leading a digitally-savvy Planned Parenthood); Piya Sorcar (TeachAIDS founder & software developer); Leila Janah (Samasource founder & microwork innovator); and Xeni Jardin (yes, she was a panelist here, but she’s also a founder of Boing Boing and, more recently, Twitter's most beloved health advocate as she goes through cancer treatments).
I could go on. And so could you—these people are out there, and eminently discoverable.
This list is not, nor does it claim to be, The Definitive List of the Best People In Digital Forever and Ever. It's a collection of amazing movers and shakers who have made incredible contributions to the new world of the Internet, expansive and exciting and ever in flux as it is. It was selected by some other great people who were in turn appointed by some more great people, namely, the ones who are paying me to write this article. But they are not the only people.
That is true almost all of the time. And until we—the collective we—acknowledge that without defensiveness or guilt, and say, OK, let's look where we're not looking and see what we're not seeing, these lists will keep feeling yawningly incomplete to half the population. I give the other half of the population enough credit to believe that that's not what they want either.
It's time to do better.
Next year, please don't make me write this article again.