As some folks noticed, a few days ago, I was named to Newsweek’s new Digital Power Index. Like all such lists, I take this with a major grain of salt. These kinds of things tend to be somewhat random, and while it’s nice to be recognized, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t mean much of anything. However, as Rachel Sklar pointed out soon after it was announced, the list is dominated by men, with just 9 out of 100 people being women. That, of course, is ridiculous, given just how many women are doing amazing things in the digital world. Even if there may be more men in the field right now, there’s no way that a 10 to 1 ratio is reasonable or accurate. There is, of course, reasonable concerns about typical gender bias in how these kinds of things are chosen.
One of the members of the list, Andrew Rasiej — someone I look up to and respect a great deal for the many things he’s done — has written a really good post, in which he has asked to be removed from the list, and nominated Deanna Zandt to take his place. He’s also asked the other men on the list to do the same.
I think this is an important discussion — and it goes beyond just gender. The list is clearly dominated by white American males. We could just as easily point to the lack of Asian members (by my quick count: 4) or black members (by my quick count: 0) or Latino members (by my quick count: 0) on the list — or any other particular group. As such, I think it’s unfortunate in perpetuating the stereotype and as such, I too, have no problem asking to be removed from the list if there is a mechanism to do so. That said, I do have an issue with “nominating a woman in my place.” To me, that feels equally paternalistic (for what it’s worth, I explained this to Andrew, and he disagrees, strongly, with this position). I would rather that this discussion lead Newsweek to reconsider how it puts such lists together (going beyond just gender, but also ethnic and racial bounds). Simply nominating a woman or someone else in my place doesn’t change things — and certainly can be seen as the equivalent of benevolently “granting” the position to someone, rather than someone earning their place on the list (no matter how much the person might deserve it).
So, rather than specifically nominating a person in place of me, I think that there needs to be a real discussion on why there often seems to be such a lack of diversity in voices around these things: not in meaningless “lists,” but in general. The voices of non-American, non-white, non-males are important, but are often being drowned out, and that’s something that needs to stop. We don’t necessarily do that by “replacing” the white American males, but by understanding how they come to dominate such lists in the first place — and then tackling that issue.