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.