Sunday, April 07, 2013

Liz Lemon, and how to get more female leaders in technology

Once I asked Kai-fu Lee whether he agreed that sexism is more rampant in Chinese professional settings, and what he thought would be the way to fix it.

He said that making sexist comments is still socially acceptable to a greater degree in China. The way to reduce sexism in society is to make those jokes socially unacceptable. At first, people only curb what they say on the outside, and they still think the same sexist thoughts on the inside. But gradually, over time, the mental attitudes change also.

I really agreed with this. If you make an overtly sexist joke in the US, most people will shift uncomfortably and won't find it funny. After this happens a few times, people become trained to stop making those jokes.  Altering how people talk, even when joking, is the first step to substantial societal change.

Recently a journalist asked me what I think is the best way to encourage women into senior positions in the field of technology. I said the most effective step would be to have female leaders who are compelling Hollywood characters on television and film. I'd like to see fully fleshed-out characters of female executives.

Once people get used to respecting the fictional characters, thinking about them, even using them as a role model, it will speed up the societal shift in thinking.

Liz Lemon from 30 Rock is a great example of a female leader on a modern television show. She is complex, lovable, and extremely competent. I would enjoy working with her or for her. If we could get some characters like her in the field of technology, I think that would do a lot.

By comparison, the Star Trek female captain on Voyager was highly irritating. Most people disliked her. She was night and day from the respectable and intriguing character of Jean-Luc Picard, or Captain Sisko on Deep Space Nine. Looking at this picture, I just realized the two bald captains were the best ones. I'm sure that advanced the cause of the bald anti-discrimination movement!


Kia said...

But... I loved Janeway :(

Yishan Sparklepants Wong said...

There's a name for that; it's called "Frown Power." It was originally coined by Stetson Kennedy to begin reversing racist speech and attitudes.

ArC said...

re: your last tangent: I guess Star Trek helped, but it was really Michael Jordan in the 80s advancing the cause of bald-dom.

dan said...

The Bechdel test for movies:

1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it

2. Who talk to each other

3. About something besides a man