The truth is, this topic makes me physically exhausted.
And cranky – have I mentioned how cranky I become when this topic comes up? My boyfriend asked if I’d read something about Marissa Mayer by Dave McClure, and I snapped at him that I didn’t give a shit what Dave McClure thinks about Marissa Mayer, and that I didn’t really care about Marissa Mayer, or the color pink, either (color choices for this blog notwithstanding).
In that moment I thought, maybe he’s a better feminist than I am.
Maybe it’s the Olympics and the Mars Curiosity Rover and all the women who are leading both wins; maybe it is Marissa Mayer; maybe it’s the fact that a few good men are beginning to actively call for women’s participation in tech. Maybe it’s that I’ve started a digital innovation strategy business and I keep getting asked if I’d like a job when I HAVE STARTED A DIGITAL INNOVATION STRATEGY BUSINESS. I’m busy. I have clients and family obligations and a sprained back and I thought we already covered this.
I mean, come on, 4As. I know it’s the CreateTech conference. And I know that the ad business, already fairly Luddite when it comes to women, believes women in tech are vanishingly few (in the same way they believe women who are funny, or women who deserve a creative director’s title are vanishingly rare). Still, fifteen percent participation of women on the speaker’s dais is not enough. Seven percent representation of women on the committee roster is definitely not enough. Why an organization would think that would be enough, when they’d already been given a hard time, TWICE, about industry events they’d hosted with not enough women, is beyond me.
This is the industry organization that is supposed to represent the advertising industry – to our peers, to government, to our clients. These events are aimed at inspiring us, uniting us, recognizing our creativity and strategy, creating community and promoting progress. But the ‘us’ in the equation is decidedly male, usually white, and often over 40. I like white men over 40, don’t get me wrong. I’m related to some white men over 40. But they’re not inspiring me in this industry anymore, they represent an old guard of a struggling business model, and they’d be wise to be more inclusive of diverse perspectives and people.
[Oh, and some of them, as my female peers can attest, are downright disgusting.]
I considered emailing the conference organizer directly, but then I was stopped by imagining the excuses I’m so used to hearing: there aren’t as many female creative technologists; we asked everyone we could think of; the only woman we’ve ever heard of couldn’t make it. Last year I fought these responses to get more women on the dais, more women judges, more women participating in the 4As Strategy Festival, and felt we’d made some progress. The thought of repeating the fight again this year was… annoying*.
I mentioned this to a couple of my men friends. The response: “I really don’t know any women who are creative technologists.”
But that sentence needs unpacking: “I really don’t know any women who are creative technologists.” What does that mean?
- Does it mean, “I don’t know any women”?
- Does it mean, “I don’t know any women who are creative technologists in advertising”?
- Does it mean, “I don’t know any women who are creative technologists like me”?
- Does it mean, “I don’t know any women who are this one specific kind of creative technologist that I think they meant when they coined the term, even though lots of people call themselves creative technologists who are not that”?
So I tried something. I said, somewhat huffily, “Don’t think of your ideal of what a creative tech is – look at the list of men who’ve been invited to be on the committee or the dais, and think of women who do what they do, or are at least as smart as they are about tech and advertising.”
A few seconds later he’d sent me the LinkedIn Profile of Christy King, the VP Digital, Technology R&D for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. So yeah, not only did he know of a woman who is a creative technologist, she does her work in a business that defines ass-kicking, and she’s in a hard-core technology role. She just doesn’t work in an ad agency.
My initial reaction was, see was that so hard??
Look, there aren’t many creative technologists in the world of advertising; we couldn’t actually do a 2-day conference with the half-dozen pure CTs in the business. So the conference organizers broadened the scope to look for “tech-makers and tech-thinkers” in that world. Yet, if the scope is broader than the half dozen serious app developers in senior roles who work in agencies, then it should start to sweep up the many women who are both tech-makers and tech-thinkers.
I personally have a list of women, many of whom would qualify; and I’m sure if I ask more people, there’ll be more suggestions. But in order to get these recommendations, we have to frame it as I did above – look at THESE men, and suggest a woman who does what they do. Not your ideal of creative technologists, not the female version of you, and not a VP-level, female codemonkey CT who works in an old school agency. In other words, suggest women who are like these men. Suggest women who exist**.
Because the moral of this story is this: Women are being evaluated against unicorns, not against men.
And that’s why there are so few visible women in tech.
* Almost as annoying as seeing that this year’s 4As Strategy Festival theme is remarkably similar to the theme of the workshop I gave at the Festival last year, though I was not asked to participate as a speaker or organizer by the 4As this year. Despite that, a lovely man, Faris Yakob, suggested to the chair of the Creative Technology committee that I be asked to be a judge for the Strategy Festival awards this year, for which there is, at least, decent gender parity among the judges.
** When I spoke wth the organizer of the Planningness conference before the 2011 event, the response to my criticisms of a dearth of women speakers was hyper-specificity: “yes, but do you know women who are experts in game design, systems thinking, network theory?” It seemed like a test – but it was one that was remarkably easy to pass. That’s because when you get specific about what you’re looking for, it gets EASIER to find a woman like that. She actually stops being a mythical creature and becomes a person with a resume, a career, an education. Give me the parameters, and the variable to solve for is now, often, just the name.