I don’t care how distasteful you find it. Or, perhaps it’s not even modesty, but rather a feeling that giving that interview or speaking at that conference is not a good use of your time. You’re too busy. Whatever the reason, I’ll make this very clear: women who want to “change the ratio” but don’t self promote are letting all of us down.

I’m publishing this post (in which no names shall be named) in response to my recent experience on a writing project. I’m interviewing amazing founders and CEOs, talking to them about their businesses and how they got there. I am committed to ensuring that the voices that make up this story are diverse – I’d like to have a decent ratio of women to men (50/50 is probably ambitious, but I’ll try). Thanks to introductions from well-connected and helpful friends, I’ve interviewed some of the best-known names in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, and their stories have been amazing, compelling, and strikingly humble.

The problem? Most of them are men. Why? Because less than a third of the women I’ve approached have responded or agreed to be interviewed. All of the men have.

At this rate, I’ll have to approach three female tech CEOs for every single interview I’m able to book. I invite you to pity me in my attempts to “change the ratio” – something that now appears to be a mathematical impossibility.

So I’ll just say it: women who don’t self promote are letting us down. This isn’t going to happen by magic – this is your responsibility.


  1. Susan Borst

    Maggie, I couldn’t agree more. As someone who speaks on panels and also organizes a fair number of them, it is clear that the ratio most definitely needs to be changed. I’ve horrified even myself when I’ve set up an all male panel, but, you know what, that’s because they are the ones being served up by companies to speak. I am not going to tell a company who should speak, nor mandate the sex of the speaker. I just want the best voice on a given topic. If women do not step up and let it be known that they can and want to represent their companies as speakers, changing the ratio is most definitely a ‘mathematical impossibility.’ Good luck with your project.

  2. Maggie Fox Author

    Thanks very much for your thoughtful comment, Susan. Ensuring diversity of voices is definitely a collective responsibility!

  3. Heather MacLean

    Great post and yes, we need to change the ratio. The interesting challenge that we still encounter is doing self promotion well. Like it or not, women still have to approach this differently than men. We not only need to change the ratio, but we need to change an entire culture. Sadly enough I still hear conversations that are less than positive about women who do self promote. What bothers me most is that a lot of this comes from women. We need to support one another in this effort.

  4. Jan Ryan

    This is an important topic. Especially in changing the ratios for entrepreneurs, a passion of mine. It’s not just the ratios we need to change but the narrative as well. Entrepreneur does not = male, but if you look at what you see in the press and even on photos within accelerators, etc, you would think so. This next generation of women leaders need to see more examples, role models, stories, high fives around women — they need to see themselves inside these stories and say “Hey I can do that!” Love your article, Maggie, keep the conversation going. 🙂

  5. anonymousCEO

    People who are asking women to self-promote are ignoring that often, women who self-promote are viewed less favorably — FAR less favorably — than men who self-promote. Some people who are running businesses may have time to deal with you, but not with the haters, “LOL I’d hit that!” trolls, and (occasionally) long analyses of their clothes, hair, body, sexual orientation …. the list goes on and on.

  6. AnonymousCEO you may be right but that doesn’t mean that women should give in. Maggie Thatcher, Hilary Clinton and Oprah didn’t worry about how others reacted to their self promotion.

    If we, as women, allow the perceptions/biases of others to stop us, we allow them to control us. I hope you get your 50/50% Maggie. Maybe you should let us know who you want to speak to and we can all reach out via Twitter etc to ask them to agree?

  7. Maggie Fox Author

    @AnonymousCEO has a point, and it’s very valid (also part of the reason women don’t negotiate – they’re viewed less favorably when they do), but I think @Jacqui nails it – to succumb to that fear is to allow it to control you. If we’re going to change things, we have to plow through, because “haters gonna hate” no matter what you do. And thanks also for the offer, Jacqui, but I also don’t want to unduly embarrass anyone; that doesn’t do us any good, either 😉

  8. Hi Maggie: I was just thinking today whether I am being ‘bad’ for accepting to speak at a few upcoming conferences and volunteering myself for a Radio show, and your article really helped me decide! Thanks so much!

  9. Glen

    If you have not yet contacted her, you should reach out to Trish Costello. She is the former head of Babson College’s Entrepreneurship program, President of the Kaufmann Foundation, and is s strong voice for women’s empowerment. She is in the process of kicking off a new venture here in Silicon Valley largely directed to women, and, I suspect, would be happy to participate.

  10. Maggie Fox Author

    @Glen – thank you for the tip, I”ll definitely look into that. And Layla – so glad to hear it. Ignore those voices! Put yourself out there!

  11. lost faith

    Just want to add that after 20 years in business culture, I’ve found that offering a different position then any men in a meeting or questioning them directly has labeled me “a bitch”. If a man pointed out the very things I pointed out, they would be put in charge of said issue. I have instead been uninvited to meetings by a female boss uncomfortable with disagreement. However, this is in the Gov, I imagine on the private side I would at least be thanked for avoiding unnecessary expense or system failures.

    This culture of expecting submission and good (i.e different) behavior from women then from men is the root of all the items listed above about not wanting to stand out as a target… I am hoping the younger generation can call this crap out for what it is (the men and the women), but I’m not sure how without encountering the very problem I’ve stated.

  12. This is an extremely complex issue- One that cannot be simplistically explained by “Women just refuse to be interviewed…”! It is permeated in our society and I wish I knew how to overcome it.
    Each of the previous comments identifies a very real aspect of the issue. I am still trying to figure it out. I “forget” sometimes that I am a woman and when I speak directly and passionately about a solution to a problem in a meeting led by traditional men. I can see a clear discomfort with my behavior. I have well conceived and presented ideas, but somehow the only result is that after the meeting, these “leaders” make light of my delivery and tease me. This is extremely frustrating. Perhaps it’s because I am in a non-confrontational field (secondary education) so they don’t expect meaningful discussion, but sadly I have realized that these “leaders” aren’t interested in problem solving. Twice in my life I was been given by male superiors reasons why I received a lower grade, or reasons why the newcomer was being paid more than I- both times the answer was “because they are men”. I wish I knew how some women are able to overcome this. I do believe women need to support one another, though. That would help.

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