30 Under 30 List With 14 Women? Avital Andrews Tells Us How It's Done!

We come across many lists at GenderAvenger — the top 10, top 50, and so on — of people to watch in some industry. While the industries may be diverse, when it comes to gender there’s one thing most of them have in common: a noticeable lack of women. So we perked up when we saw the recent “30 Top Thinkers Under 30” list published by Pacific Standard, a magazine focused on economics, society and justice, education, and the environment, with a particular emphasis on what shapes human behavior. The inaugural list of young people that Pacific Standard “predict[s] will have a serious impact on social, political, and economic issues” featured 16 men and 14 women.

We at GenderAvenger were intrigued. We know there are many qualified women who are frequently left off of these types of lists, so we wanted to know what made this list different. The answer, as is often the case, is that it starts with awareness and a commitment to be inclusive.

While gender wasn’t stated in the criteria, author Avital Andrews says, “In my mind, gender equity should be an implied factor in any list like this. I was pretty aware of it as I was choosing the people.”

For Andrews, the task of including a good amount of females was easy. “It was a combination of keeping gender balance in mind and there being a lot of really impressive women who are coming out of colleges now,” she told GenderAvenger.

“I didn’t want to fall into any bias that men do better than women in academia. I actually noted the gender of the people I was considering as my list kept changing,” she said. “People fell off or they declined interviews or they were just a shade over 30, but as the list progressed I kept track of the various elements to make sure that the list ended up representing gender and other kinds of diversity.”

Again, she remarked on how easy it was to create a diverse list. “There is so much diversity in colleges now and the people doing such amazing work are from very different backgrounds. Those backgrounds are part of what allowed them to do that amazing work.”

Asked how other lists end up so lopsided with men, Andrews said, “If I were to hazard a guess – and this just anecdotal – I would say that men are a little more prone to speak up for themselves and their work. They catch wind of a reporter working on a list like this and they are more likely to respond and speak up about what they’re doing. In my experience, women are less prone to bragging about their work, while men feel more comfortable tooting their own horns. That’s my best guess as to how men end up getting overrepresented on these types of lists.”

For part of her initial research, Andrews contacted dozens of universities with her list of criteria and asked them to refer good candidates. As a result, the burden wasn’t on individuals to nominate themselves. While some women did decline interviews, most were willing to talk about their accomplishments once someone else suggested they were a top thinker.

How can others who compile these lists do better at gender balance? Andrews says it starts with awareness, and also with assigning the task of compiling these lists to people who are aware and diverse themselves. “I don’t know if my gender awareness comes from the fact that I’m a woman, but that’s a point for editors to consider: assign these types of pieces to people who are more sensitive to different groups,” she said. “If the magazine’s masthead is 90 percent white men and a man is putting this list together, that list is less likely to be representative.”

As a new mother of a baby girl, Andrews said, “Having a daughter has made me much more of a feminist than I ever was before. I’ve always thought of myself at least as a mild feminist, but now it’s not just for me. It’s for her.”

If editors were to assign these lists to women, she added – or to fathers of daughters – “those people will be more aware of exclusion.”

And to that point she gave an enthusiastic shout out to her editor at Pacific Standard, Nicholas Jackson, for assigning the “30 Top Thinkers Under 30” to a woman. “It benefitted me but it benefitted Pacific Standard as well,” Andrews said. “He maintains the publication’s dedication to all kinds of diversity, and I appreciate his supporting my inclination to do the list in the way that I did.”

Awareness, commitment, and support at all levels. That’s how you do it.

Bravo Pacific Standard, Avital, and Nicholas. We appreciate and applaud you. You have set a powerful example for future lists.

Author Susan Askew is a GenderAvenger co-founder and serial entrepreneur.