Skip to Content

Is it possible to be as successful as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Elon Musk as a black man in America?

August 10, 2015

Bill Gates speaks at TED2015 - Truth and Dare, TED University, March 16-20, 2015, Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman/TEDBill Gates speaks at TED2015 - Truth and Dare, TED University, March 16-20, 2015, Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman/TED
Bill GatesBret Hartman/TED

Answer by Justine Musk on Quora.

Here’s an oft-asked question: Where is the female Mark Zuckerberg? She’s out there, but a lot of things have to come together for her to take the throne: talent; exposure to the right skillset when she’s a kid so she starts developing it early; the focus and commitment to develop it early (being unpopular helps); education; mentors; the relentless thick-skinned personality and wild delusional optimism of a trailblazer; access; relationships (most startups are founded by people who were friends in high school or college, where birds of a feather, etc.); enough social savvy to navigate male-dominated networks; and being in the right place and time in the right historical moment.

So it’s possible, but the odds will be against it until the day they aren’t. (How many people would have predicted the rise of Oprah, when she was rising right in front of their eyes?) It’s likely we’ll see a black Jobs or Gates or Musk before a female version, just like we achieved our first black president before our first female president.

Then again, women won the vote less than 100 years ago in 1920, about 50 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. So both groups have gone from slavery at worst and “coddled children” at best to winning/almost winning the White House in the space of a few generations. Racism and sexism are still rampant, of course — if sometimes more subtle and underground/unconscious than in the past — but hey, we’re trending.

You don’t seem to consider Obama as successful as Jobs or Gates or Musk, so I assume you mean wealth. Guys like that, in industries that enable such demented crazy wealth, have grown up as white, western, male and affluent while still being odd and different enough to be outsiders (these are not the guys voted homecoming king, which left them some alone time to develop superpowers). They combine insider privilege with a visionary’s perspective. They’re born inside the game but play it differently. A woman or person of color is born outside it altogether, and we won’t know what rules allow them to win until they themselves invent them as they go along.

This question originally appeared on Quora: Is it possible to be as successful as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Elon Musk as a black man in America?

More from Quora:

Will I become a billionaire if I am determined to be one and put in the necessary work required?

How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson?

What is the purpose of striving to be “elite”?