05/08/17 | Gender

Where The Girls Aren’t

First, I must apologize for the subtitle of this article. Women are not girls.

But I’m a film fan and the reference is simply a play on words about this 1960 movie. We’ve come a long way, baby (another 1960’s pop culture reference — to one of the most obnoxious campaigns in tobacco marketing history.) However, we haven’t come far enough.

Now let’s get serious.

Most of the jobs of the future will rely on technology. We as women need the skills and knowledge to survive and thrive.

I met and saw some truly amazing, smart, laser-focused, and driven women (NICE too!) over the past couple of weeks — at both Collision and the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit. We are more visible and more important to the tech industry than the women portrayed in last year’s hidden gem — Hidden Figures (which, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, you can now watch on-demand on the device of your choice.) But, like those women, we need to make the right choices in the tech industry and work hard to earn and keep leadership and decision-making positions — or run the risk that many of us will be replaced by intelligent machines over time.

The figures are pretty compelling. Although the number of women CTOs (Chief Technology Officers) is inching upwards, women still represent only 5% of the total population, according to LinkedIn. Even at technology companies and start-ups, women are filling roles in mid-level communications and human resources, but are still woefully under-represented at senior levels. Even among start-ups, women lag behind, as evidenced by the male/female ratio among exhibitors. The statistics seem to support that. Collision is making a sincere effort to change the game with its Women in Tech initiative, but the Facebook group has only about 900 members (out of a population of 20,000 attendees).

On the bright side…

  • A feisty and fearless seven year old girl pitched me in the hall on the importance of girls embracing STEM at an early age. She gave me a branded robot and then introduced me to her mother, who (with her sister) is seeking funding to get her app TechGirl.io off the ground.
  • I spent time speaking to Krysta Gahagan, Product Marketing Manger at Sparkcentral, a social customer service platform that offers solutions to a wide range of brands . She told me her inspirational story and reinforced two facts: Women do not have to be coders or engineers to secure their place in the technology industry AND it’s never too late to plunge into the tech world. (She began her career working in an animal hospital.) The interview was arranged by Erika Scholz, who is a Senior Account Manager at ARPR, a woman-led PR firm specializing in technology. Women in tech media play a valuable role — as they raise awareness of the industry. (They also handled the PR for Collision on-site and I have to say that they ran one of the most impressive and welcoming media rooms ever!)
  • Media and storytelling are raising awareness of the tech gap. Denise Hamilton, Founder of Watch Her Work is building a web TV network (among other things). She doesn’t sugar-coat the realities of running a business — no Boss Babe or Fierce Fem crap there!
  • Learning to ask for money — and having an iron-clad business plan — is ultimately what will help women-led start-ups secure the capital they need. The funding gender gap is actually getting worse, according to this Fortune article.

So, what’s the takeaway here? We need to:

  • Mentor and role model. Encourage our daughters, friends, sisters, and even mothers not to fear tech but to embrace it. The jobs of the future will all depend on it. Research the skills you need and learn them.
  • Support other women. We still have a ways to go here. We’re a force field if we are inclusive and work together. We need to invite supportive men into our circles too. We have a lot to learn from successful start-ups — especially those run by leaders who respect, reward, and promote the women in their organizations. (And we need to keep speaking up about gender bias.)
  • Be prepared to walk away from or boycott brands that do not respect women. Voting with our wallets is a great strategy.
  • Attend events like these, so we can listen, watch, learn, and stay one step ahead of the trends (and find those mentors and funding sources).

What’s next? I’ll be sitting on this Microsoft-sponsored panel on Wednesday, along with one of my great Minneapolis “sisters in tech” from woman-owned digital company

Clockwork. We’ll be talking about how technology can help scale small- and mid-sized businesses and the trends to prepare for. So, if you happen to be in Minnesota, drop by!

Nancy A. Shenker is founder and CEO of theONswitch marketing. She is a brand and content strategist/speaker/innovator. This article first appeared on Huffington Post and is republished here with her permission. 

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