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The Next Steve Jobs

They say if you want to be like Steve Jobs you have to love what you do, think outside of the box, and work until you get it absolutely perfect. It was certainly a loss to the world when Steve Jobs passed away on October 5th of last year. He left an indelible mark of innovation on our world, and in such a unique way, utilizing technology to directly impact the daily lives of human beings everywhere, even children. And while we mourned the loss, countries began clamoring about who might be the “next Steve Jobs.”

I joined in the mental task of trying to figure out which country would win the unseen race. I started asking myself the same questions: “would an American be beat to the golden throne as leading avant-garde visionary?,” “would the next Steve Jobs come from India or China due to America’s seemingly weaker education system?” I asked all the gripping questions. Who was going to win? And then it hit me. I suddenly had a revelation and wondered if anyone else had thought the same thing. When asking yourself who the next Steve Jobs will be, do you ever imagine that person is a woman?

There is an underlying reality that just seems to exist. What is that reality? We could talk about the fact that in certain professions, women continue to struggle to make an imprint. We’ve all heard the now timeless statistics: only 17 percent of women are represented in the US Congress, only 18 percent are in executive roles, only 3 percent are in C-Suites, and when it comes to women in technology, science, and math, the parity is continuing to grow.

In fact, The National Center for Women and Information Technology found that in 2008 only 18 percent of college students graduating with computer science degrees were women, as compared to 37 percent in 1985. The Center went on to report that in the top 100 tech companies, only 6% of CEOs were women.

And yet despite these lowly percentages, many can make the case that women are actually emerging and in all areas, and I tend to agree. As a relatively new female CEO myself of a women’s organization, I have personally witnessed, encouraged, and studied the successes of women. I have joined swarms of other men and women to cheer on each achievement, posting bios of newly announced female CEOs and sharing video snippets of speeches by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandburg on why there aren’t more women leaders.

I have been in utter awe of the women who came before us and who created access points for others to enter behind them. I still recall at my group’s “Women Leading the Future” conference last year when our keynote speaker, Pat Mitchell, described the early days of her career when she had to place her shoes outside of the restroom to serve as a warning to men because female restrooms didn’t exist. I am grateful for these women. They surfaced a roadway for more women to earn higher degrees, like the 51% of women who now hold the majority of doctorate degrees.
Things are certainly changing, yes, but to what end? What is the underlying reality? Why is it that every time I thought about who the next Steve Jobs would be, I pictured a man?

Is it possible that this quest for gender parity isn’t just about business policies and unfair practices? Maybe it isn’t about access, how hard women work, or even education. Perhaps the real battle is within us – in all of us, men and women. There is an underlying psychology at play, even if by accident, whereby we don’t think to picture a woman in these roles.

It was Steve Jobs himself who said, “People don't know what they want until you show it to them”. We can study facts, post reports, build commissions, start women’s groups, and slice and dice the data, but what may be required is to consider what we may not realize. Women need to believe they are “meant to be” the next Steve Jobs. To not make this shift of thinking would be such a loss to the world, an even greater loss than losing Steve Jobs.


Original article published in the March 8, 2012 edition of the Diplomatic Courier Magazine, which granted approval for republication.

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Lindsey Mask, Ladies America/ Ladies DC
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