Changing the Conversation, Not Just the Ratio

I’m a biology major. I concentrated in genetics, and had planned to be a genetic counselor. Instead, I went to graduate school for a new program at Georgetown entitled ‘Communications, Culture & Technology’, and twelve years later, here I am.

I mention this because over the course of the past few years, I’ve found myself sharing these facts a lot. I share this as some sort of de facto justification of my background, usually when talking about the field that I’m in: Marketing and Communications. And each time I say it, I’m surprised that I feel the need to. That I was intentionally communicating my ‘pedigree’, per se, in case this wasn’t inherently understood based on the role I play in technology. Because sadly, I don’t think it is. Despite the fact that I’ve worked at some of the best technology companies in the world, my role is perceived not as someone in tech, but someone in “tech light”. Which to me, where the issue of women in technology is often discussed these days – Rachel Sklar’s “Change the Ratio” movement & others come to mind – the conversation that I want to have is different. It’s not as much a gender issue, to me at least, as much as it is a job function issue and why some jobs – many of which are traditionally held by women – are perceived as less important than others.

Here’s the situation: Women are in tech in a very prevalent manner. I’ve seen this in every company I’ve worked for; from my first interactive agency to Booz Allen Hamilton, to Google, to Digg, to AOL to Facebook…I can go on. There are a LOT of women working in technology. Yet they’re often in a less “technical” role, serving as account managers and sales and in PR and marketing and communications. (I know this is a sweeping generalization, but it’s what I’ve seen in the industry for the last twelve years.) And just how there’s often the struggle between developers and sales, the “We make the product you sell, so you have a job” vs. the “we sell the product you make, so YOU have a job”, there also remains an understated perception of the value of the various roles. The fact that I want to emphasize is that all of these roles are needed. Developers. Designers. Sales. Marketing. Account Services. Administration. The very success of a product and a company requires all of these fields & functions to work together. 

How do we begin to change these perceptions, many of which have existed for years? I feel the first step is communication, thus this post. It’s not a finger-pointing exercise; instead, it’s sharing the knowledge of what each of these functions actually DOES. Yes, I think there can be much to be gained from learning to code, but I’d also suggest that raising awareness about the hard skills needed in a sales or marketing role – which yes, do exist – is also beneficial to the organization as a whole. To note, when I presented our company’s new messaging a few weeks back, I held a lunch & learn to the entire organization, and gave visibility on HOW we got to the resulting new messaging. This helps raise awareness across the team about not just the outcome of what we’re doing – especially in a role where the perception can be that we have the fun jobs or that we just eat up the majority of the budget – but also emphasizes the process that was taken to get there. 

I want to keep talking about this. I WILL keep talking about this. It’s not meant to be contradictory to working towards increasing the number of women in technical jobs; that is also something I highly support. And will continue to. But broadening the issue a bit, trying to get to the underlying issues that often get overlooked when the conversation turns to just one about gender, I feel will help get our industry in a place where there is better need, respect, and appreciation for all contributions to a team, gender notwithstanding.

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