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James Murdoch, left, and his father, Rupert, will be among the 286 men at the Allen & Co. retreat, but there will be only 17 women. (OLIVIA HARRIS/Reuters)
James Murdoch, left, and his father, Rupert, will be among the 286 men at the Allen & Co. retreat, but there will be only 17 women. (OLIVIA HARRIS/Reuters)

SIMON HOUPT

Media boys’ club can’t afford to ignore women Add to ...

It’s like sleep-away camp for media moguls.

For three decades, New York investment bank Allen & Co. has held an invitation-only retreat in Sun Valley, Idaho, for a couple of hundred masters of the media universe. They’re boldfaced one-namers: Rupert is there, of course, accompanied this year by his sons, Lachlan and James (but not, sadly, his soon-to-be-ex-wife Wendi). According to Variety, which published this year’s list, Sergey and Larry are coming too, as is Harvey (Weinstein – though if you need to ask, then clearly you don’t belong).

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All told, more than 300 will swan in on private jets, starting next Tuesday, for a relaxing six-day roundelay of river rafting, golf, picnics, panel discussions and deal making. Best of all (albeit most ironic, for a conference of media folk)? Working journalists are not allowed – and for any who are there as panelists or hired speakers, the proceedings are entirely off the record.

But here’s one thing that must be reported: For an industry supposedly racing toward the future, the Allen & Co. confab provides an annual numbing reminder of how, in at least one key aspect, both old and new media remain woefully stuck in the past.

This year’s list comprises 286 men and, er, 17 women.

“So what?” you may say: The conference is just reflecting the reality of the industry (even if many of those on the list, such as Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker, retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Charles Rivkin, the U.S. ambassador to France, don’t have any obvious connection to media).

Last month, to celebrate what it called “a new golden age” of print, the London-based high-end Port magazine published an issue featuring a cover photo of six male editors: GQ’s Jim Nelson, Wired’s Scott Dadich, Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Josh Tyrangiel, New York magazine’s Adam Moss and Hugo Lindgren of The New York Times Magazine.

Maybe neither Allen & Co. nor the editors at Port can be blamed for what they don’t see. Go to any conference about new media, and even if the genders are equally represented in the audience, the panels are overloaded with Y chromosomes.

Which is why, for the past few years, Rachel Sklar, a Canadian-born writer and tech entrepreneur based in New York, has been agitating for change through her initiative Change the Ratio.

“It’s certainly harder and harder and harder to say there weren’t any qualified women [available], because there are so many qualified women, and there are so many reasons to include women,” she said this week in an interview. “We’ve seen so many reasons that including women in any conversation is beneficial to the bottom line. It’s not just a social good, it actively helps any gathering by bringing a whole different level of perspective and experience to the fore. And considering the massive purchasing power of women, and the sort of block decision-making power of women, it’s just frankly behind the times to have them be such a small proportion of the discussion group.”

For years, critics dismissed the Allen & Co. retreat as the bastion of white men who let loose their inner frat boys for a few days in the wilds of Idaho. Then, in the late nineties, with the advent of new media and the growing economic power of China, Latin America and Southeast Asia, new (non-white) faces began to appear. This year’s attendees include Nassef Sawiris of Egypt’s Orascom Construction Industries, Venezuelan billionaire Gustavo Cisneros and his daughter, Adriana, and China expert Minxin Pei.

Which is why it might be wise – for their own good – to include another large demographic whose economic power is exploding.

“If this whole conference is about the future, and being forward-looking and forward-thinking, it’s just a huge missed opportunity to have the same ratio of men to women, the same tired preponderance of dudes,” Ms. Sklar said. “At some point, if you’re really going to learn and expand horizons, you have to let someone different into the conversation.

“What was the Apple quote? ‘Think different?’ In order to think different, you’ve got to have some diversity.”

 

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