A reflection on the “self-made”

We all like to believe that we shape our own reality and that we can achieve success regardless of what others think of us and most times, in spite of what others think of us. Some people even define themselves as “self-made” as a way to point out that they did it without the help of others. But is there really such a thing as the self-made man? How many people are actually behind creating a “self-made” person?

This weekend, my husband and I attended the Computer History Museum gala, aka The Oscars for Computer Science, where Alan Cooper was named a 2017 Fellow along with Margaret Hamilton, Larry Roberts and Cleve Moler. All of them were very impressive, incredibly smart people. Before attending the event, I was not really expecting much, to be honest. And then I got there.

My husband and I with Alan Cooper and his wife and business partner, Sue Cooper.

Alan Cooper’s speech, in particular, really struck a chord with me. The first sign that I was going to like this person was when he stated “I am a straight, white, male like most of the pictures on the fellows wall. And I think we should all work to change that. I commit myself to that”. Ok, one of the fellows fighting for diversity in Computer Science, I am listening.

Then, he went on to explain how he used to call himself a self-made man, because he started his consulting company on his own and grew the business from there. But since then, he remarked, there have been a lot of factors involved in his success- his employees, awards like the one he was receiving tonight, clients that have supported his work, speaking opportunities and other outsides influences that push him forward in his work.

Which got me thinking about the link between those two observations, him being a white, straight male and having had the support to then call himself a self-made man. Historically, minorities have not had the same opportunities to receive as many outside reinforcements. With women specifically, their work tends to be less covered by the press than men’s, in the media field, there are less women behind the camera than men; panelists tend to be in the majority male, and in the tech field and others, male entrepreneurs tend to raise money faster than their female counterparts.

Which made me wonder, if the self- made man is really a man backed by outside praise, accolade and support, how much harder is it to be a self made woman? And how can we help make sure it is easier now than it used to be?