“How will Scientific American be different with you as its first woman editor in chief?”
It was December 2009, and the official announcement had just gone out about my taking the helm of a magazine founded in 1845. I suppose I should have expected the reporter's question. But instead I was surprised. Irritable thoughts swirled unbidden: “Why is being a woman in leadership still considered an amazing thing? I mean, how was the magazine different when I was its first female executive editor for eight years?” I just wanted to be thought of as capable, I realized, not capable for a woman. Other reporters followed similar themes.
The questions stayed with me on the commute home. Did people think I would tint all the pages pink? Start running fashion on the Web site? Create a recipes app?
That evening, as usual, I had dinner with my husband and two girls, then 12 and 8. We talked about our days at school and work. I mentioned the interviews and that I was surprised by the questions. I asked the girls, “Why do you think people are making such a big deal about this?” I'll never forget the patient (maybe even long suffering?) response from my older daughter, Selina: “Well, Mommy, of course people want someone they can look up to.” Mallory nodded, “Yes, Mom, that's right!”
Well, of course. The children saw plainly what I had not. And until that moment, I had been thinking about things in exactly the wrong way, too: it was time to appreciate the opportunity that I had to help. At Scientific American, we haven't been perfect about that, I have to admit, but we're trying to get better. The staff is about half women, for instance. About half of our large (more than eight million a month total) online audience is women. When we looked (after a story count showed a skewed authorship ratio in print features), we found that we have about a 50–50 male-female overall average for writers over the course of a year. We know we need to do more, and we welcome your ideas.
Because, as this special edition demonstrates, “it's not a woman's issue” to create the best, inclusive future for us all. It's everybody's issue. (Thanks, girls.)