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Women in Digital

By mehera o'brien on July 16, 2010

On a final note on the CaT conference, I wanted to touch on something that I found a bit surprising that day. The conference had a hashtag (#CRCAT) and live tweets were being pushed to the stage, but not displayed to the audience.

(Sidenote: I made a snarky remark about being hungry that was read aloud. And I felt a little guilty about my tone, even though I was indeed hungry. Good reminder to be polite when broadcasting a message. Sometimes, when you're talking in your own head and using digital media, someone's actually reading.)

I guess a number of tweets collected that day started to comment on the lack of women speakers at the conference. I had no idea and, as someone who usually gets on my soapbox about such things, hadn't even really thought about it. Well, it got bad enough that the conference organizer, Teressa Iezzi, felt a need to defend herself. And she seemed pretty upset. She said that she is a woman. And of course she considered the gender split when inviting speakers. One speaker was actually standing in for his female CEO, who couldn't make it last minute. She said that she had invited a number of women to speak and that they actually TURNED HER DOWN.

Then Teressa made one of the best points I've heard anyone make about the gender issue. If women are quick to complain about the lack of women leading the industry, then they need to step up and be leaders in the industry. Now, I understand to be a leader in the industry there needs to come some sort of combination of opportunity, support, mentorship and luck. I get that in a very deep way and learned some tough gender lessons the hard way in my own career. But her point was well made. When she asked women to speak, they said no. When she asked men to speak, they said yes.

And I've noticed it on projects in the office. When a killer project comes in the door, the boys are quick to call dibs. The girls are prone – I'm being a generalist here – to think: well, if my boss thinks I'm an appropriate fit for that project, in skill, personality or seniority, I'll be asked to work on it. And when given the opportunity, they are more prone to second-guessing themselves. There was a gender panel discussion a few days after CaT that I was scheduled to attend at the new Trump Hotel on Varick. But I had a client meeting in New Jersey and couldn't make it.

But a short time later, I was personally faced with Teressa's accusation. I got an email from the Art Director's Club inviting me to an interview on behalf of AKQA. My Chief Creative Officer, Rei, wanted someone in New York to handle it and he very generously entrusted me with this responsibility. The scary part wasn't the interview, as I've done a few in the past, but the fact that it was going to be filmed. And aired at an industry event in San Francisco in mid-July. I'm used to writing a pull quote for a printed article. One that I edit a few times before sending. Or being the interviewer in a film scenario. Not the subject being filmed. I talk a lot as it is. It can be charming when I'm giving a presentation at a SheSays event. But when I get nervous, I prattle on too much. And too quickly. And I learned from an editing assignment last year, talking slowly is the key to not appearing like an idiot in the final cut (thanks for that one, Galen).

The thought of embarrassing myself is something I can live with (it happens frequently enough). But the thought of embarrassing the man whose initials are on the door, or my CEO Tom, or Rei, was a bit overwhelming for me. My gut reaction was to decline. And I knew if I said no, any number of guys in my office would be more than willing to take the slot. Then I thought about what Teressa said. And I thought: THIS is what she was talking about. This moment right here. And ohmygod, she's totally right. 

So I said yes.

I did the interview. I was thrown when the interviewer said, "Well, I looked you up on Facebook and you've won quite an impressive number of awards..." I thought to myself: Facebook? I don't have my resume there. And I wouldn't say it's an impressive list....hmm, I wonder if she checked out my scuba diving photos... Then I realized she meant 'AKQA' when she said 'you' and I felt like an amateur. And I was grateful I had kept my mouth shut and waited for her to finish the question she eventually posed. It was all terribly amusing. I haven't seen the result yet, but colleagues in SF will see what I had to say. I hope I make them proud. As a colleague, and for representing on the girl front.

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