Portrait: Craig Newmark • Credit: Amelia Langdon, Age 5

By Mary Ellen Holden

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media hosted its first-ever event for teens and young women (ages 13+), which was made possible by Craig Newmark Philanthropies in celebration of National STEM Day. Craig Newmark is widely known as a Web pioneer, for founding the online classified ad service craigslist.

He is also well-known for his philanthropic interests and advocacy devoted to protecting the core values of democracy including fairness, opportunity, and respect. He supports people and organizations committed to broad civic engagement in journalism, information ecosystems, women in technology, veterans, and military families.

Advancing gender equality in technology is a pillar of his philanthropic work. At the event, Craig spoke of a “new normal created, in part, by images in entertainment media.” He played a clip as he recalled how an underappreciated sitcom (“Sara”) starring Geena Davis left an indelible impression on his life. Set in San Francisco, it was top of mind when he visited in the mid-1980s and decided to move there. He acknowledges this as his own “See It, Be It” moment!

His commitment to the Institute’s Advancing Women in Technology initiative, is based on a shared belief that real social change leveraging entertainment programming works. In fact, during our interview, Craig coined a new slogan, “What you see on TV can matter more than a billion good intentions.”

Let’s take a look and discover how this self-described nerd lacking social skills and intuition, became a leading advocate for women in tech by adhering to his mantra of fairness, opportunity, and respect.

Mary Ellen: What prompted you to launch Craig Newmark Philanthropies in 2016?

Craig: First was the reflection that craigslist is about helping people put food on the table and building community. Over the past 15-20 years, people asked me to increase my charitable efforts of all sorts. Despite the occasional mistake, I began winging it quite well. About six years ago, I decided to organize and develop an identity for my charitable work more explicitly. That’s when I realized that the company didn’t need me anymore, so I went full-time into philanthropy. Mabel, my Chief of Staff, keeps track of the rules and ensures that I keep the proper distinction between my initiatives. This is incredibly important for me in my dotage. You can quote me on that!

Mary Ellen: Why is gender equality in technology a priority for you?

Craig: I focus on what I know, and what I know includes the Internet and Cybersecurity. There is an enormous demand for Cybersecurity – the country needs it, and there are many good jobs there. In this case, we met two objectives: to protect the country and to provide promising careers to women.

Mary Ellen: What do women bring to the equation?

Craig: The bigger your pool of qualified people, the better off you’re going to be. My instincts tell me that by getting more women involved, you’ll have more people with social skills and that matters. I am simultaneously mocking myself and being completely serious. People need to bring social skills to Cybersecurity in ways that I can’t articulate, but I know they are necessary.

To create opportunities for girls and women, I support the Girl Scouts Cybersecurity initiative; I also support Girls Who Code and Women Who Tech. Fairness comes into the equation as people are promoted based on how good they are at their job.

Mary Ellen: How has the pandemic impacted Women in Technology?

Craig: We live in an exceptional time, and people of goodwill should do something about it. Today, between the pandemic and the informational war that we’re in, change has accelerated, and things are sliding in all directions. So this is an opportunity for people of good conscience to effect change that sticks. We have a chance to go beyond lip service. The Geena Davis Institute does that for me. The big lesson, the significant contribution that the Institute is making is the “If you can see it, you can be it” message; The Scully Effect has vital relevancy for Cybersecurity.

Mary Ellen: You speak of a new normal, can you elaborate?

Craig: What a person regards as normal is based in part on what they see around them, including and especially TV and entertainment media. During the pandemic, there are more eyeballs focused on fictional life on the TV than ever before. So, anything that changes how things look and people’s expectations may, well, entertainment may have more effect than good intentions…that’s almost quotable.

NOTE: After a few iterations, Craig coined his new slogan, “What you see on TV can matter more than a billion good intentions.”

Mary Ellen: Why did you decide to partner with the Institute?

Craig: The idea is durable. Real social change through entertainment can work. There is way too much heavy news, and we love stories as a species. That’s why I read a great deal, and I watch a lot of TV. The Institute has something real here with real-life potential. So I practice what I preach, and again, what people see on TV may matter more than anything I ever say.

Mary Ellen: What advice do you have for girls regarding a STEM Career?

Craig: Don’t let anyone talk you out of it.

The Tech Interactive – Fun Facts

— Rachel Wilner, VP Marketing and Business Development, The Tech Interactive

Mission: Inspire the innovator in everyone
– Focus on the underserved – girls and Latinos

Home: Silicon Valley, faced daily with the gender gap in the technology workforce

Role models: Real people addressing real problems that can be solved through tech

Why Partner with GDI: Missions are aligned through a focus on data-based solutions to real-world problems

Impact of the Pandemic: Everything is now intermediated through technology – it normalizes tech; eliminates the stigma

Inspirations for Girls and Women in Tech

  • 2nd Season of Mission Unstoppable on CBS
  • IF/THEN Collection Celebrates Female STEM Pioneers
  • The Tech Interactive’s Tech for Global Good laureates virtual field trip
  • Girls Security: A Girls Guide to Election Security (compliments of Craig Newmark Philanthropies)