I’m a Woman in Tech: How it Helps Me and Hurts my Gender
I’m an analytics professional. A teacher. An advocate. An advisor. I work in tech. I work with engineers, developers, marketers, sales, product, and ops. I work with all levels, from analysts to executives.
And I am a woman.
Until recently, I’ve hadn’t put much thought into what that really meant for me professionally. I attribute that to a couple of reasons: I’ve (almost) always had managers who have treated me with respect and pushed me, advocated for me, and promoted me based on the quality of work and the contribution to the business I’ve delivered. Not based on my gender. And also because I’ve never seen myself as a feminist (I’m not saying this is good or bad or that being a feminist would require me to think about what it means to be a women in analytics, just that for me, this is likely one of the reasons I haven’t put much thought into it).
But a few encounters over the past couple of weeks have made me think.
First, I want to talk about the gender gap at conferences and industry events. It’s always been there, and likely will continue to be there for some time. It has gotten better, which is great, but there is still a long way to go.
The other week the Google Analytics team hosted our annual partner and customer summit in the Bay Area. I was pleasantly surprised to see the audience was about 70/30 men/women. This is definitely an improvement over prior years and much better than a lot of other industry events I attend (and given my job, I attend a lot of industry events!).
When it came to speakers, we had a very strong showing of powerful female speakers. Check out our pink power ranger photo from the event (all 14 of the women speakers at our GA Summit). I’m incredibly proud and humbled to sit amongst these rockstar women.
This was a significant improvement over last year’s summit, and there is heavy investment in the organization to encourage more talented women to present at future events. Good on Google, and GA specifically, for pushing us and nurturing us to take the stage.
But even this bothers me. I’m not proud to be a strong female speaker. I’m proud to be a strong speaker. Just because I’m female doesn’t make me any more or less qualified to teach, share, and advocate for a product and industry that I love. What makes me qualified is the significant experience I have and the passion I bring to what I’m doing.
Also the other week we hosted a pre-summit half day event for Google Tag Manager (GTM Day). This is where the gap widens significantly. There were ~125 people at the event, and of those, only 11 were women (myself included). Only 11! And I was the only woman speaker. This isn’t the fault of the organizers – they put the word out to attend and a call out for partners to speak. But it’s a shame that so few women responded to that call.
Why? Because GTM is a more technical product? Or because women are intimidated by a room full of men talking about code? If that’s the case, then we’re just continuing to live up to old stereotypes, and that’s sad. I hope to see a much better balance at the next GTM day, because I don’t believe in that stereotype.
At a conference this past week I was talking to a few other speakers about the gender divide at GTM day. One person offered up a potential explanation for why we’re seeing more women at analytics events but not things like GTM day: ‘Marketing and sales are moving closer to analytics and becoming more data driven, so now there is more spillover of women coming from those backgrounds to analytics events. GTM is still too technical so we don’t get the same spillover.’
Excuse me? The reason more women are coming to analytics events is because they are originally from marketing or sales? Wow. If that’s the first thing you jump to when considering this then we’re not nearly as evolved as we’d like to think we are. Though sadly, as much as I don’t want to agree, there is likely some truth in that explanation. Society deems marketing and sales as acceptable roles for women in tech, but the more technical things get, the fewer women we see, likely due to both intimidation and unspoken societal norms.
Speaking of not being nearly as evolved… That brings me to the second thing that’s been weighing heavy on me.
This past week I presented to a room full of analysts, marketers, developers, etc all attending an analytics conference in Amsterdam. There were about 350 people who attended my keynote, and it was probably a 75/25 or maybe 70/30 split men/women.
I presented for about 40 min, and then fielded questions for another 15 min. The conference was setup to have a live Q&A app that attendees could submit and then vote up questions for. Cool concept because the questions that most people like float to the top to be answered first.
Unfortunately, after a few legitimate questions, someone asked the question ‘Are you married?’. And then ~10 other people proceeded to vote up the question so that it stayed at the top of the list.
There were two other keynote presenters, both men (both of whom are excellent speakers and whom I have great respect for). They didn’t get this question. No one in any of the breakout sessions got this question. So why did I? First of all, that’s a really unprofessional thing to ask a keynote speaker in a room full of 350 industry peers. And second, it’s completely unrelated to the topic at hand and simply serves to target me as a woman.
After my talk a couple of the conference organizers came up to me to apologize for the chauvinistic question (their words, not mine). They attributed it to ‘bad Dutch humor’ but I guess I missed the joke. My fellow presenters also apologized to me saying the question was ridiculous and they couldn’t believe it was asked. I even got a LinkedIn message from another woman who was in the audience thanking me for a great presentation and apologizing for the way it ended.
Clearly many people recognized this kind of question wasn’t ok. I thanked them all for their concern and said it was no big deal. But the more I’ve thought about it since the event, the more it bothers me. I was treated differently and seen differently by several people in the audience because I was a woman.
If my company thinks I’m qualified enough to speak and teach about their products and the analytics industry as a whole, enough so to fly me half way around the world to represent their brand and message at a conference, then why can’t the recipients of that message respect that?
But this isn’t even the first time something like this has happened. I’ve been told on several occasions that I’m the ‘female version’ of so and so well-known analytics speaker (the speaker varies, but I’m always the female version).
And I’ve been asked to speak at conferences specifically because they wanted a ‘strong female speaker’ (that was actually in an email requesting me to speak).
All of this bothers me, but I can’t sit here and write this post without saying that I know I’ve benefitted from being a woman in a predominantly male industry. I don’t think I’d be where I’m at in my career if I were a man, because many of the opportunities I’ve had to speak or attend certain events have been because I’m a woman. And it’s much easier to standout in an industry or profession when you’re an outlier (in this case because of gender).
I like to joke that it’s only at an analytics conference (or other tech event) that you will find a line for the men’s room but not the women’s. But I’d give up that perk too if it meant that I was going to be recognized for my work and not my gender.
So what’s my point? Why am I writing this post, if something other than a giant rant? What do I hope we (me plus anyone reading this) take away from this? What’s the call to action?
Two things (or rather, two audiences):
1. For women, don’t be intimidated by a male dominated industry. Don’t feel like you’re held back based on your gender. Attend events. Get involved. Speak. Teach. But don’t do any of it to be the best woman in your field, do it to be the best in your field.
2. For everyone, recognize the work and accomplishments of others, and don’t let gender play a part in that. It’s time that society move past the gender role bias, and that includes recognizing someone simply because of their gender.
I’m an analytics professional. A teacher. An advocate. An advisor. I work in tech. And that is what I want to be known for.
I was at this conference in Amsterdam and I was completely taken by surprise by what had happened there … I was (literally) speechless. That they think this is normal … !!!
I told my partner and my colleagues about it like this: Krista Seiden likely knows more about GA and GTM than any of those guys in the audience, is it so unbearable to them that they have to remind her that she is “only” a woman? Or is that too harsh? She will go back to LA thinking Dutch men are still apes … Or is that too drastic?
I was considering to go to the presenter to tell him. But I felt like an alien myself (I am not Dutch, I am a woman, I am “only” in Marketing …) and wasn’t comfortable to do it or felt too distanced …
But your post is even better: I will share it on the LinkedIn group for the conference.
Many thanks for this – and keep on teaching, advising, advocating!
Krista, thank you so much for this brave piece on a very real issue plaguing the analytics industry. It is difficult to believe that gender bias infiltrates a community of enlightened professionals, but the question you received during that event is disturbing.
As an analytics professional building my following and ramping up my speaking exposure, who also happens to be a woman, I have noticed the dramatic weight towards male speakers at these events. I have at times struggled with my confidence in being perceived as a subject matter expert because I am a woman.
I look forward to a day where those prejudices are a distant memory for this community, and I salute you!
Hi Krista – Just wanted to say this is a great post. I think it is well balanced, fair, and an objective perspective. Keep on doing great things!
Thanks Jeff, I appreciate that!
Loved your talk at GAUC Amsterdam last week (and completed the GMT Course already ;-)). Your post is great and I hope to see a lot more female analists in this line of work (and not only because they are female).
Its a great blog post and understand what you’re feeling. As a female with a technical background I’ve experienced things that I’ve tried to play down because I’m very easy going and the naive part of me wants to believe its not happening; from always being mistaken as a secretary to a client insisting they speak with a male developer instead of me.
I also don’t want to be judged for being female, just for being me.
I want to address what was said here:
“‘Marketing and sales are moving closer to analytics and becoming more data driven, so now there is more spillover of women coming from those backgrounds to analytics events. GTM is still too technical so we don’t get the same spillover.”
That may sting a little but I think that person was making a fair observation, one that I’ve observed too and I’m not saying that because I think it should be true. I don’t think that person was jumping to an assumption because I’ve seen exactly what they’re saying first hand. Little bit of background: I’m a female computer science student who was a developer and I recently moved into a technical analyst position as I wanted to get involved in data and analytics, which has made me more multi-disciplined and been great.
Its a solid fact that I’ve met so many more female marketers than female developers, there were barely any females on my computer science course. About 5 girls I can think of out of 150?
So if the requirements in the job description for the person being hired to work on google tag manager implementations are still very technical, it makes logical sense that they’ll be less females because there are barely any female developers to go around let alone those who want to move into analytics 🙂 I say that in a humorous tone.
I think we should all become more multi-disciplined.
I too was in Amsterdam for the conference and this question was completely ridiculous indeed! It should not be attributed to ‘Dutch humour’ but instead to a bunch of idiots who probably felt threatened by your expertise.
I’d like to thank you for a great presentation and a ton of great insights and inspiration! After your reccomendation I registered for the GTM course immediately and crushed it in a day. It was really enjoyable to see you present the course with so much enthusiasm.
Thanks again and apologies for the (small group) of idiots at the conference.
I came across your blog thanks to the highly anticipated DAA thought leader talk you will give later today. I salute your accomplishments and the candor of your post.
Your experience in Amsterdam is regrettable but it reminded me of a personal story from my first day at work at a luggage company in Bulgaria some 20 years ago. As my new boss presented me to the team of 200 seamstresses as their new production manager, at least 10 of these ladies raised their hands to ask whether I was married. Supposedly, I was young, eligible, educated man, and they were had equally eligible daughters to take care of… My un-American experience does not make yours any more bearable but I was trying to point that culture does make a difference. However, I am glad that women like you (and some men) are vocally making the stand that we are all to be treated as human beings, first of all.
In my 20 years in the US (and IT industry) I have observed a similar trend: the first web developer conferences were attended by 99% men. The more my interest broadened and I started attending conferences of web design, web usability, web analytics, etc., the more the audience participants got gradually diverse. I made similar observation last year at an annual Microsoft SQL Server Conference that we need more attendance — and presenters — that are female, for we all benefit from the cognitive and emotional diversity both genders can contribute. The most delightfully diverse conference I have attended with some of the most fascinating presenters being females, was O’Reilly Strata.
We have a long way to go but because of people like you, we are slowly but surely inching towards the right direction.
Lastly, your concluding remarks remind me of a wonderful movie “That’s What I Am”, which I was watching recently with my 2 daughters whom I encourage to never doubt that they can be engineers. http://www.befriendedstranger.com/parenting/2014/08/30/young-engineers/
Thanks for sharing your talents!
Thanks for your thoughtful comments and for sharing your own experience – I really appreciate it! And thanks for sharing that movie, I will definitely check it out!
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Hi Krista! I’m not a woman-in-tech but I’m a woman in a very male (and masculine) dominated field. I found your here because I’m diving into the Google Analytics academy. Until now I’ve felt very intimidated by analytics and tried desperately to avoid them but finally faced the truth: I can’t grow my business without understanding some degree of analytics. Soon(ish) I hope to find someone who can work with me to grow my content marketing and really help me unleash the power of analytics, but for now, I’ll just keep learning on my own.
Just wanted to say thanks for dropping these huge knowledge-bombs and representing. **high fives**