The Women’s Internet History Project: Looking Back to Help Move Forward
Power Tool #1 Take The Lead co-founder and president Gloria Feldt will share in our upcoming “9 Practical Power Tools to Advance your Career” webinar series (register here now if you haven’t already) is: Know your history and you can create the future of your choice. So we are thrilled to welcome digital pioneer Tery Spataro, who wrote this guest post highlighting a little-known part of internet history. Tery will be writing for The Movement Blog occasionally, so keep an eye out for more fascinating tidbits about women’s contributions to the now all-pervasive internet.
Women’s History Month was in March, so why think about our history now? Why leave our history up to others? We should start documenting the importance of our leadership, accomplishments and contributions now. This takes reflection—something I’ve been doing through the Women’s Internet History Project.I am reaching a point in my life where I’ve accumulated so much life experience and knowledge, especially in the startup tech world, that reflection is an important exercise. With years behind me, I looked back and wondered what have I really learned but more importantly who have I learned from?When I look back into my past I think of those people who spent time with me patiently teaching me. Like Stacy Horn, founder of ECHO, who taught me how to use Unix commands for getting online in 1990.I was originally on the WELL, support was in San Francisco and phone calls had toll charges. ECHO was a popular bulletin board now known as a social network. I celebrate Stacy because she taught me what it takes to be patient and leadership requires patience. That being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs but having the strength to stay in the game takes courage. That growing a community of users is all about relationships. I remembered the things Stacy taught me, and still value those lessons.The digital tech world from my first involvement in 1986 to the late 1990’s was dominated by men. Those women who managed to create businesses and grow them were considered lucky, not passionate, smart or innovative. I endeavor to rewrite that misconception, and reposition the early women leaders as creative, innovative, and highly intelligent, providing some the most important changes that occurred in using digital and tech.All too often, the history of women is negated, and history told in a linear, hyped manner that leaves out important nuances, especially for the women, who helped pave the way for the digital tech industry. As books documenting the history of the beginning of the commercialization of the Internet, digital and tech get written; often women leaders are forgotten or portrayed in an unfavorable light thus creating untruths. Yet we were all part of an exciting point in history!The next generations of women and men need to learn from the stories of women leaders. The history as written does not provide a clear picture of what was going on at the time, so we never get an full image of what was happening in the lives of these early pioneers, their struggles with being leaders—in many cases they were in first time leadership roles—nor understand the contributions they made as well as the connections and communities they were part of.These are some of the many reasons I’m undertaking the Women’s Internet History project, co-founded by myself and Aliza Sherman (founder of Cybergrrl, the first woman-owned full-service internet company). The nonprofit project documents the stories and contributions of women leaders, who were the early digital and tech pioneers. Without the means for telling our stories we can’t educate the next generation of women leaders in the digital and tech industry. Without an interactive documentation of our history we tend to repeat mistakes that have already been made. Instead, let’s benefit from the lessons of leaders by taking into account all those men and women who have contributed to an amazing chapter in internet history.