Last week I got pretty miffed at work. I had called a developer who specialised in a particular content management system framework to discuss partnering on a project. The project would entail our team designing the site, its interactions and providing the front-end code files to the external developer to integrate with the CMS.
My role, as a strategist, is to look at the client's' needs, the project requirements and devise the best route forward; so liaising with designers and developers is what I've spent the better part of the past decade doing. I'm not a developer, but I am technical - I've been a technical architect behind virtual reality learning management systems and led development teams' thinking on how to build rights management software. Oh, and I also owned a tech company, so I'm fairly au fait with development principles and practises.
So when I called this particular developer, I had expected to have a quick chat about the project requirements and to answer questions that would enable him to provide a quote on the project. What I was greeted with instead was an uninvited, patronising and presumptive lesson on how you integrate front-end code files with a CMS - something I've managed many times previously for multi million pound businesses.
The moment we began talking it became clear that I wasn't being listened to. The developer in question kept describing scenarios I was perfectly familiar with and then, without a retort from me, saying that it would probably be quicker to speak to our in-house developer on the project as 'he' would understand. I came off the call, turned to my Director Jan - a wonderful male developer and one of our founders, who could sense my frustration - and sighed. After enduring the external developer's disregard for my technical experience because my title says 'strategist' and my gender is atypical in our industry, I finally got him to provide me with a quote.
I am thankful that I don't have to work in an office with people like that. Our team at Pixeldot comprises a small group of liberal creatives, with more women than men in the office. We're very gender inclusive, and our business is comprised of ⅓ foreign nationals, but we have our shortcomings - though we're based in a small country town in Sussex, so it's not terribly surprising that we're all white. As part of my role, I'm tasked with hiring a new team of developers and I couldn't be more aware of the impact this could have on our culture and work product. I want to build on the great success we've had hiring a balanced creative team, and open us up to even greater diversity. As a branding agency, having myriad perspectives, experiences and backgrounds in-house only works to enhance our proposition of being able to assimilate with, and comprehend our clients. Small, patronising comments are amplified ten times over when they're given to you by your colleagues - and as a woman in tech, I've had my fair share of ridiculous and sexist behaviour. From a business leader who explicitly told me he didn't believe women's brains were suitable for technical roles, to a prospect who led me to believe I was pitching for a large project before attempting to make a move on me (after telling me about his troubled marriage, of course).
We know that women are underrepresented in tech, but if we want to resolve that (and why wouldn't we when diversity has proven beneficial for your bottom line) then we need to look to improve the culture of our industry. Our agency founders, business leaders and all those involved in the recruitment process need to become champions of inclusivity. Most importantly, they - and we - need to listen. The announcement of the new Government Transformation Strategy this month gives scope for women to be given a greater voice in the digital industry; addressing the need to increase the skill base of our workforce so that we're more prepared for a digital future. It's an opportunity to address the issues our tech sector has, both in recruitment of new talent from diverse backgrounds, and the retention of that talent. To achieve that we need to tune into the conversations around us and prevent discriminatory behaviour permeating through our industry. It's about stepping up and calling out. It's about hearing my conversation on the phone, and being the kind of boss who says; "Let's not work with him". Thanks Jan, you rule.