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On the Absence of Women from the U.S. Tech Delegation to Iraq

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, May 26 2009

As our Ari Melber noted below, we and other commentators have taken note that Secretary Hillary Clinton's State Department embraced the Internet with gusto -- taking to the web not only as a work tool, but as a potential change agent around the globe. A major case in point is the delegation of representatives of American tech companies including including Twitter, Google, MeetUp, AT&T, Blue State Digital, and Wordpress sent by the State Department to Baghdad in late April. The goal of the official trip was to impress upon Iraqis that social media can help to knit together their society, connecting the Iraqi people eager to rebuild their country with those leaders working at great risk to do the same.

That vision of a progressive, modern Iraq was a primary reason why the total absence of American women on the trip was so striking. The pursuit of an inclusive new Iraq set in sharp relief the fact that of the dozen or so members of the American delegation, not a single one was female. For some observers, the lack of gender diversity took the sheen off of an otherwise intriguing outreach mission. So I recently asked the State Department's Jared Cohen, who helped lead the trip to Iraq, to explain how the skewed composition of the trip's delegation came to pass.

What it came down to, Cohen told me, is that the State Department focused on selecting companies to represent the American tech industry in Iraq. The invited business entities picked from their own rosters who they would send along on the trip. "The State Department reached out to companies that it felt represented a microcosm of the industry," said Cohen, "but we wanted companies to, depending on their own interest and personnel, select who should participate in the delegation."

To frame it another way, the lack of gender parity on the State Department's tech delegation to Iraq simply mirrors the lack of diversity in the male-dominated American tech industry.

One happy outcome of the trip for the State Department and the tech delegation is that Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih has since become an engaging Twitterer. The Kurdish politician offers up insight into the unique challenges of being an elected representative in the new Iraq. Salih (@BarhamSalih) recently tweeted about the hard work of putting together a diverse slate of candidates to run in Iraq's upcoming elections. "Exhausted!," he posted. "We finalized list of candidates. Think overall credible competent group. Many qualified women and young people."

(Photos provided by Jason Liebman)