Never have online attacks on women been more visible, more denounced, or more effective

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SilenceAs I read this piece in the Washington Post yesterday I felt sicker and sicker. It’s about the deep psychological toll that many feminist writers endure when they publish online.

The underlying problem is well documented. Thanks to the Internet and social media, a message can reach more people, via fewer gatekeepers, than ever before. But that freedom of movement for information has also allowed groups of highly organized trolls to pummel and pummel in highly targeted and efficient ways they couldn’t before. Often the targets of those trolls are women.

Women who receive this kind of daily onslaught are often faced with two possible outcomes: The first is that they stand their ground, knowing that the attacks will keep coming, and that they’ll likely spend the rest of their lives battling the damage to their psyche. Or, they agree to be silenced and spend the rest of their lives in a mixture of guilt and sadness that they “allowed” the bullies to win.

The Post article, by Michelle Goldberg, is about how, too often, the bullies are winning. You should really read the whole thing, but here’s a clip:

This is a strange, contradictory moment for feminism. On one hand, there’s never been so much demand for feminist voices. Pop stars such as Beyoncé and Taylor Swift proudly don the feminist mantle, cheered on by online fans. After years when it was scorned by the mainstream press, the movement is an editorial obsession: Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind of Girl,” Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist” and Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please” occupy, and sometimes top, bestseller lists. “Stories about race and gender bias draw huge audiences, making identity politics a reliable profit center in a media industry beset by insecurity,” Jonathan Chait recently wrote in New York magazine — a proposition that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

On the other hand, while digital media has amplified feminist voices, it has also extracted a steep psychic price. Women, urged to tell their stories, are being ferociously punished when they do. Some — particularly women who have the audacity to criticize sexism in the video-game world — have been driven from their homes or forced to cancel public appearances. Fake ads soliciting rough sex have been placed in their names. And, of course, the Twitter harassment never stops.

It’s a point that I’ve been making for much of the last year about women in tech and Silicon Valley. We are in a strange place where there is both more opportunity for women than ever before, but also more disgusting and overt hate, whether it’s from anonymous trolls or senior executives and founders of the largest most powerful companies in the Valley. Worse are the excuses the industry makes for those in power, whether they’re justifications that being an asshole is just part of winning — cue the reference to Steve Jobs — or that young founders are just going through a misogynistic “phase” which will soon be dealt with (read: covered up) by media handlers.

The Post article explains that the demand for women to write about their experiences as women has never been greater, but neither has the toll for doing so. The first part of that is certainly a positive development. A mainstream audience has far less appetite for witnessing and accepting the bullying of women than it did ten years ago. When I joined TechCrunch there was an online poll predicting how long I’d last because abusive, sexually aggressive commenters had driven so many other women from the site with their attacks. Happily, that’s no longer an accepted expectation of writing about iPhones online.

And yet, where gendered bullying does appear online today — be it in the form of GamerGate-style campaigns or Twitter mobs or executives at Uber — it’s far more extreme and more shocking, often taking the form of specific and direct threats against the women targeted. While that escalation horrifies people who might not have thought sexism was really a problem in <pick an industry>, it also creates, and then emboldens, a tribe of people who genuinely hate women and didn’t have a way to express it.

Put another way: While the extremity of this stuff has in some ways helped to drive home exactly how bad the problem is for women on the Internet, it has also been effective in driving many women to decide it’s not worth the psychological pain of continuing to speak out. And that’s before we consider the likely thousands more young women who decide they don’t want to pick the fight to begin with. It’s a victory for the bullies, even as more of the population are disgusted by the bullying.

The debate about whether the Internet is good or bad for the world has raged since its inception. As always, it’s not entirely either. It’s merely a tool which allows humanity to express itself. If you believe humanity is mostly good, the Internet is mostly good. If you believe humanity is mostly bad, the Internet is mostly bad. On some days, it’s hard to tell where that balance lies.

What is clear however, is that, when it comes to the treatment of women on the Internet, the battle between the “good” and “bad” sides has never been more fierce. And hatred always flares up in the ugliest ways before society really changes.

[Image credit: Alberto Ortiz (Creative Commons)]

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Becoming a ‘Visible Expert’: Seven Traits Shared by Industry All Stars

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Firms with well-known industry stars are more likely to attract leads, command premium fees, and possess strong, recognized brands, we learned from a recent study of successful experts in the professional services industry.

We call these stars “Visible Experts.”

After interviewing 130 of these Visible Experts, we discovered that they shared certain attributes. In fact, the data revealed seven traits that all professionals must have to be a Visible Expert in their industry.

In this article, we’ll briefly explore all seven.

The Seven Traits of a Visible Expert

1. Commitment and Passion

That favorite cliché of high school sports coaches turns out to be true: You have to have heart.

Visible Experts are passionate and committed to their field and to what they are trying to accomplish. That makes sense: Becoming an industry star takes hard work and a substantial investment of time.

The people who make it to the top are those willing to fully commit themselves, and passion helps sustain you when times are tough.

2. An Expert Brand Strategy

Passion alone will not get you to the top, however. As famous attorney and author Andrew Sherman notes, “You wouldn’t wake up and say ‘I’m going to win a gold medal today.’ It takes a lot of training.”

That’s also the case for Visible Experts. They are strategic about developing their brands, and few of their activities are haphazard.

To rise above the fray, you’ll need to create a plan to develop your expert brand, all the while communicating a consistent message across all channels you use.

3. A Target Audience

Becoming well known is much harder if you are trying to appeal to a general audience. Instead, Visible Experts choose a highly targeted audience and focus their efforts on meeting, educating, and understanding that group.

Once they’ve chosen an audience, Visible Experts use a variety of methods to expand their visibility: networking, public speaking, publishing online, and creating partnerships with other Visible Experts and industry thought leaders.

4. Continual Expertise

The term Visible Expert was coined to highlight the two critical components at the center of every industry star: visibility and expertise.

Before you can expand your visibility, though, you must first have expertise. That’s intuitively true: If you’re not an expert in something, there’s nothing for you to talk about—nothing to build on.

Our study found that Visible Experts emphasize the importance of staying on the cutting edge of their industries, coming up with the “next big idea” and staying relevant to their client base.

5. Communication Skills

Visible Experts are skilled communicators, equally at ease speaking in front of an audience of hundreds of CEOs and helping a client troubleshoot a problem one-on-one. They are also writers—of blog posts, articles, whitepapers, and even books.

But not all Visible Experts started off as speakers or writers. Many report having had to seek out training or coaching.

The moral of the story? If communication is a personal weakness, don’t avoid it. Instead, make it a regular practice, and don’t be afraid to take classes or find a mentor.

6. Teaching Ability

Hand in hand with good communication is the ability to teach. Visible Experts are skilled teachers, able to translate complex ideas into understandable takeaways easily understood by their target audience.

As world-famous architect and author Sarah Susanka puts it, “I pride myself in being able to look at a far-out, avant-garde building and help regular people understand it…. I enjoy putting my work into language that is accessible to regular people.”

Visible Experts share other qualities with great teachers, including motivating those around them and imparting excitement about their area of expertise.

7. Getting Help

Becoming a Visible Expert is no easy task, and at some point the sheer number of demands on your time will threaten to overwhelm you. A defining quality of Visible Experts is the ability to delegate and to ask for help.

If you’re weak on writing or speaking, consider getting a coach or taking lessons. Have a mediocre website or don’t really understand SEO? Think about outsourcing it.

Visible Experts talked about the importance of smart hiring, as well—i.e., surrounding themselves with a highly motivated team that is both capable and committed.

Finding Your Own Recipe for Success

Remarkably, although all Visible Experts share these seven components, there is no “right way” to combine them, the study found:

  • Some experts began as prolific writers with a strong online or social media presence, honing in on their target audience only years later.
  • Others were the opposite, starting out as highly skilled professionals with a few clients, and developing channels to promote their expert brand afterward.

To learn about becoming a Visible Expert and to see the full results of the study, download the e-book (email required).

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