Fifteen presumably savvy guys—they are Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, all successful—walk into an Italian village to visit Brunello Cucinelli, who designs expensive sweatpants.
The next thing we know, Cucinelli runs a reality-bending photo of the group on his Instagram feed that includes two women not in the original, and GQ publishes the same photo as part of an article. (Ryan Mac, “This Picture Featuring 15 Tech Men and 2 Women Looked Doctored. The Women Were Photoshopped In.” Buzzfeed, June 12, 2019, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanmac/tech-titans-women-fake-photoshop-cucinelli-gq)
The image is so obviously photoshopped that you have to wonder why Cucinelli’s company created and posted it. This is the obvious question. Cucinelli’s staff said they didn’t have a photo representing the entire group, so they created one.
Even so, two women among 15 men looks like tokenism.
I would expect a group of successful technology entrepreneurs to know that women are underrepresented in their industry. Do they care? Some of them do. Near the end of an interview with Quartz, published in October 2018, writer Leah Fessler prompted Reid Hoffman to reflect that, if given a redo of his college years, he would “make a proactive effort to be closer friends with more women at Stanford.” (Leah Fessler, “Reid Hoffman Explains Why Privileged Silicon Valley Men Must Stand Up Against Sexism,” Quartz, October 30, 2018, https://qz.com/work/1408421/reid-hoffman-wishes-he-could-go-back-to-stanford-and-befriend-more-women/)
Regrets are only useful when they propel you to take action in the present.
Hoffman is a strong proponent of women’s rights, but maybe he could go further.
Why not try a social way to change underrepresentation at events like Cucinelli’s?
Bruno: Hey Reid, I’m inviting a few friends and colleagues to Solomeo to talk about improving the world for everyone.
Reid: Hi Bruno. Hey, I love your cashmere sweaters. Who else is going? My friend Susan loves your sweatpants. Is she going to be there?
Bruno: No, I don’t think we invited her.
Reid: Well, what about my friend Ginni. She’s the one who turned me on to your blazers. Is she going?
Bruno: No, I don’t think she is on the guest list either.
Reid: Did you invite Sheryl? She has a lot of great ideas to offer. Life has been rough on her the past few years. An uplifting event in a beautiful Italian village might take her mind off things.
Bruno: Sheryl? You mean Sheryl Sandberg? No, we didn’t invite her.
Reid: Did you invite any women?
Bruno: Let me look at the guest list. There are two.
Reid: Two. How many guys are going?
Bruno: We wanted to keep the group small, under 20, so we could have some good discussions. You know, an intimate event.
Reid: Bruno, I think a summit on how to improve the world is a great idea. Call me back next year when you’re inviting more of my women friends.
If each of those 15 men asked whether more than a token number of women—or African Americans or Latinx people—were invited and declined the invitation if the answer was “no,” the world would be a different, perhaps better, place. (Look closely at a photo of the group in discussion and tell me if you see an African American or Latinx individual among the men.)
Is it crass to ask who is on the guest list? Not when the stakes are so high. Not when greater diversity is part of how to make the world a better place.
If we want to make the world a better place, we need to ask uncomfortable questions.
Would any of those 15 men think to ask? Probably not.
If we want gender inequality to stop, we—in this case, men—need to make it stop. And that means men need to make different choices all the time.