The Musk Effect: Behind Every Elon, There’s A Maye
All great men are supported by great women, and it’s amazing to see the favour returned…
Last weekend was home to this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), with millions of women (and men) across the world celebrating the myriad achievements of women, and engaging in varied efforts to help increase the visibility of women, challenge stereotypes, broaden perceptions, defeat bias and improve gender equality. The campaign’s tagline is: “An equal world is an enabled world” — never has a truer word been spoken!
At EY, where we recognise there’s a lot more to be done to achieve inclusiveness and close the gender gap for good, our thoughts mirror those of the official IWD 2020 campaign. Our own programme expands on that campaign, centring on the belief gender equality shouldn’t be viewed as a problem to be solved, but instead as one of the key solutions to society’s most complex challenges.
Watch EY’s campaign video here.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these ideas over the past week, wondering what we still need to do in business — and more specifically, in tech — to meet our diversity objectives, and who can help accomplish this. Of course, women are the most obvious answer here, and I’d originally toyed with the idea of profiling some of the most influential women in tech — Sheryl Sandberg, Virginia Rometty, Marissa Mayer, and so on.
However, men are the real solution.
Although I know the focus around IWD shouldn’t stray far — or at all — from women, watching the recent efforts of male colleagues and strangers to champion women has been fascinating. Over the years, countless men have supported and defended me in the workplace, helping my career immensely. For that reason, I’ve long known a certain breed of men is not my enemy, but my ally. Even so, I hadn’t realised just how many men are willing to step out of their way to use the significant advantages conferred on them by their gender to empower women and help build a more equal world.
While I’m impressed by the number of men committed to the cause, their interest in gender equality shouldn’t really come as a surprise to me or anyone else. And not just because there exists a strong business case for promoting female potential, but also because most men wouldn’t be where they are without help from women. No man comes to be great in a vacuum: some woman, somewhere, at some time, has played a part in every man’s success.
Consider a handful of the biggest names in tech today: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page. Apart from a flair for innovation, all these men have something in common: the presence of a strong female role model throughout their rise to success. Let’s take the time to think about some of these mothers and wives and girlfriends and sisters — the power behind the throne, in a sense.
Maye Musk (whose defined cheekbones and slick coif make her resemble the most fabulous of female Bond villains) is a wonderful example. In her new book, A Woman Makes a Plan: Advice for a Lifetime of Adventure, Beauty, and Success, the 71-year-old model talks about singlehandedly raising Elon, the billionaire co-founder of OpenAI and Tesla, and his equally successful younger siblings, filmmaker Tosca and restaurateur Kimbal.
As a single mother, Maye says she worked hard to make ends meet and to put a roof over the family’s head and food on the table. For that reason, she had to encourage her children to take responsibility for themselves from a young age. She not only taught them to be independent, but also to be decent, hard-working people, to do good things and to follow their interests, and she supported their wildly different goals, offering help, motivation and advice when needed.
Looking at her brood, we can safely say her approach certainly hasn’t failed!
Before divorcing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2019, Mackenzie Bezos had supported her husband throughout his career. She has been a steadfast advocate of Amazon, whose origin she was an integral part of. She helped Jeff develop a business plan for the budding company, worked as its very first accountant, and helped the company move from its beginnings as a small online bookseller to its future as the online retail giant we all know today.
MacKenzie’s $35 billion divorce settlement — at least half of which she has pledged to charitable causes through the Giving Pledge initiative — reflects her outstanding contributions to Amazon and her ex-husband’s success.
As the wife of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and as a former General Manager at Microsoft, Melinda Gates has a unique understanding of what it’s like to be a woman in tech at the same time as playing a supporting role to one of the most influential men in the world.
For years, the philanthropist and co-founder of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation worked as her husband’s partner behind the scenes, helping make some of the firm’s biggest decisions, before stepping into the public eye. She then nobly used her position to improve gender equality in the workplace, especially in tech, trying to encourage more women into the industry.
In her 2019 book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes The World, Melinda talks about the unpaid work of women like her, married to men like Bill, arguing its material impact means it shouldn’t go unrecognised.
EY’s IWD 2020 campaign says anyone can be part of the answer to the world’s toughest problems. She is undoubtedly the answer — that is, brilliant women succeeding in tech themselves and equally brilliant women supporting, in any capacity, great men. I am also the answer, and so are you — including all you men out there.
Together, men and women are a more powerful solution to the problem of gender bias than women left to fight for equality alone, so we need women like Maye Musk, MacKenzie Bezos and Melinda Gates to continue working their magic on the men in their lives, and we need more men to help clear the path for female empowerment, both in and out of the workplace.
They may say that behind every great man is a great woman, but behind every great woman is — or should be — a bunch of great men trying to elevate her.