Sunday, March 8, is International Women’s Day — a day to stop for a moment and acknowledge the historic and present-day impact of women in society. We can all cite examples, of course, but I thought I’d mark the day by highlighting just a few of the women leaders here at the Cloudera Foundation who help to drive our success.
When we established the Foundation in 2017, we launched a search for a Chief Executive Officer who had the experience and vision to chase our outsized ambition. I spoke to great candidates with diverse backgrounds over the nine months or so of our process. At last, though, it was clear that Claudia Juech was exactly the right person for the job.
Claudia had spent a decade at the Rockefeller Foundation, where she led innovative projects and built a tremendous network in the social-good sector. She had a fairly technical background — her work in the finance industry as an analyst, earlier in her career, gave her a good understanding of technology and of how to apply data to important problems to reach better decisions. Most of all, though, she’d managed both projects and teams in complex and shifting environments, and delivered success.
At Cloudera Foundation, Claudia has led our big-bet engagements with AidData and Terre des Hommes — identifying these partners as the right ones to work and ensuring our partnership is making a difference in the missions of those two organizations.
Claudia also has helped me to build a strong board of directors. Anne Toth was Head of Technology Policy and Partnerships at the World Economic Forum, and she held senior positions at Slack, Google and Yahoo!. Her familiarity with data and privacy issues are critical for the Foundation. Natalie Harris has worked on data ethics issues for much of her career, including work at the National Security Agency and in the Obama administration. Our social good mission is built on a commitment to ethical use of the data we collect, and Natalie’s voice in the boardroom is hugely valuable.
Counting Claudia, in fact, ours is a majority-women board.
It’s a privilege and a pleasure to work with women of such intelligence, drive and success. I’m grateful to each of them for all that they do to advance the mission of the Cloudera Foundation.
But International Women’s Day also gives us a chance to stop and reflect on the ways that women have to struggle in society today.
A week or so ago, I finished Susan Fowler’s excellent book Whistleblower. It’s a compelling biography. Her background is unusual, and her successes are remarkable. But she tells the story to highlight consistent sexual harassment directed her way, in school and in the workplace. The final episode, of course, is the harassment she endured at Uber, and the blog post she wrote that was instrumental in launching #MeToo.
Creating a safe and inclusive school environment or workplace isn’t controversial. It’s just the right thing to do. No one should be forced to endure insults, unwanted sexual advances, or barriers to progress and success.
On their own, fairness and equity are enough. But even if that weren’t true, the widespread lingering prejudice against women in society imposes a deep cost on all of us.
Intelligence is normally distributed across the population. Most of us are right in the middle; some are out at the low tail, some are up at the high tail. Less smart, more smart, right in the middle – plenty of ways to measure “smart,” but we have all sorts of talent, spread all over the map. We’re facing deep existential threats today: the climate crisis, wealth concentration, risk of endemic disease — it’s a long and constantly changing list. If we’re going to meet these challenges, we want all the best thinking we can get.
Smart brains are in skulls characterized by XX chromosomes just as often as they’re in skulls characterized by XY chromosomes. We need to bring those brains to the challenges and opportunities we face. We need to provide the skills and training those people need to do the work that’s so important.
If you’re a Silicon Valley entrepreneur aiming for the next big thing, you need to hire great folks to make your dream reality. If you’re a researcher working on a vaccine for the coronavirus, you want to recruit smart grad students who can push the science forward. And if you’re a thoughtful society, you want to create as many opportunities as possible for women, as well as men, to be that entrepreneur or researcher.
I’ve long believed that equity is ethical. Over a few decades of watching companies and people, I’ve also come to the conclusion that it’s smart. We need to take advantage of all the brains, all the drive, all the ideas, if we’re genuinely to make this world better.
So, Claudia and Anne and Natalie — and also Linda and Lilly and Jade and Nikita! — we celebrate all that you do, on International Women’s Day, but also during all the rest of the year. I’m so glad I get to work with you
And I encourage everyone to think about lessons like those in Susan’s book. As a society, we have lurched forward some in the past decade. Major institutions are being called out on the behavior of their people and forced to acknowledge their failures. That’s due in large part to the courage of folks like Susan, who spoke up. But we can only advance if the rest of us listen, learn and act.
Let’s learn. Let’s act.
But also: Let’s remember that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. Let’s remember that those of us here today are responsible, but transitory. Let’s look to the women coming up today, who will define the future of the next century. Let’s cheer the progress they represent. Let’s launch them as high as we are able.
Malala tweeted Greta on February 25. They give me hope for the leadership we have in store.