Newbies’ First Impressions of Gender in Tech and PR
Note: March Communications was acquired by Walker Sands in August 2021.
As March’s two new interns, Debola and Lorelei, we feel both grateful and determined to earn time with such a collaborative and creative team. With so much recent change in the air – post pandemic recovery, the fight for racial justice and gender equity – we’ve never felt stronger about working in PR and fostering positive connections.
As newcomers, we recognize there is much we must learn. And, we seek to utilize our open minds and fresh eyes to think outside of the box wherever possible. We got together to discuss the kick-off of our PR and content journeys, first impressions of the workforce, and visions for the future of the industry.
How do you feel about your tech or communications-related experience in the past?
DA: It wasn’t until I came to college in the U.S. and became a computer science major that I realized the disparity within the field. There were only two of us female-identifying students in the class, the rest were male, as were the majority of our professors. It wasn’t a problem for me until I started noticing subtleties, like the professors’ body just slightly angled to engage the guy’s side of the room, or conversations that were so deep into the stereotypical “bro-world,” I couldn’t even try to paddle through. Two years later, I switched to a public relations major, and it was flipped – women were the majority, which was a bittersweet adjustment in a way.
LP: I have always been geared toward storytelling and design. Throughout grade school my favorite classes were those that focused on writing and creativity. As I explored classes in college, I realized I loved not only graphic design but website design, blogging, visual and audio editing and multimedia projects.
What I didn’t realize until late in my college career was how helpful a background in, say coding, would be to my future success, and that being a woman with a coding background would actually set me apart from other women with similar skill sets. Like me, many students in my senior thesis class chose to make websites for their project. The only two who coded their sites were male. Tech is widely understood to be dominated by men working in the industry. When frantically looking for job opportunities after my senior year of college, I scheduled several informational interviews to get a better understanding of tech and PR, and every professional I interviewed was male.
What are some initial observations you’ve made about gender-representation in tech and PR?
DA: One interesting thing in PR is when you look at the majority of the workforce you see it being female-dominated, but then you go a bit higher up in the organizational chart and we have a generation of male-identifying CCOs and CMOs. Women, make up 70% of the public relations workforce but only 30% of executives. And here we ask, why isn’t the workforce representative of the leadership? And I think this creates an opportunity for actionable change in bridging that gap.
LP: Despite tech being dominated by mostly men, I find it hopeful that much of the PR industry is made up of women. With the integration of tech and PR I think more women will have a better understanding of the tech industry, hopefully helping to diminish the stigma that tech is led by men. I also find hope in the growing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion across industries. As more agencies, companies, and businesses find ways to take initiative and provide learning opportunities, I see the workforce being a more level playing field for women in tech.
What kinds of mentors/leaders have helped you grow as a young professional? Do you think gender played a role in their impact?
DA: Someone once asked if I thought having a male or a female mentor would benefit my growth as a young professional, and I had to pause and actually think through it critically. Sometimes I feel like the idea of women supporting women is often overplayed – men supporting women is also crucial. When you think of conversations around wage gaps, disparities in expectations and the general lived experience of women in business, the lens should also be framed around male counterparts. How can they be true advocates or – in the case of male CCOs and CMOs – proper mentors that help women in business also become women in leadership?
LP: One college professor in particular helped me especially. She supported my efforts in academia, whether in my classes, major, or as my advisor, or as I prepared for the professional world. From my relationship with this professor, I gained invaluable journalism and editorial experience because of her years in magazine editing and journalism, but I also gained much more. Even when we disagreed, we were always able to reach an understanding. The longer we knew each other and the older I grew, I got better at receiving feedback and also at advocating for my creative and journalistic decisions.
The fact this professor was a woman definitely played a role in our relationship. I was able to voice my challenges comfortably. Looking back, I might have been able to do similarly with a male professor, however, as a young professional, I did not yet have the confidence nor maturity to reach out or connect in the same authentic and natural manner. Now, I have the confidence and people skills to connect with mentors regardless of gender.
How can tech and PR professionals foster gender equity in the industry?
DA: In tech-focused PR, character and personality are at the core of what makes a good mentor. Building opportunities for growth, creating spaces of trust and shared values that propel individuals through their careers are not actions that need to be measured against gender, but on how much we thrive. As an intern at March, I have been able to engage with both tech and PR in a way that I know my growth is in everyone’s interest and there are company programs and opportunities in place to put me on the right trajectory.
LP: Awareness of gender in the workplace is increasing, especially with movements like #MeToo and Pride increasingly celebrated and talked about in offices. I feel so grateful to be a part of March, where open discussion around topics such as gender are encouraged and where learning within a professional setting and personal setting is as well. I believe organizations in tech and PR must adopt avenues for engaging in productive and thoughtful conversation to allow room for gender equity – every company should strive to do more.
With the support from mentors and leaders in the industry who are keen on ushering in new generations of professionals, we know change is certainly on the horizon. As young professionals entering the industry, we are grateful that March has established a culture built around continuous learning, growth, and acceptance.