{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Tackling Diversity, Sexism, and Technology

In a recent survey of CMOs by IDG, one of the concerns expressed by top CMOs is the number of women leaving the technology field due to bias, discrimination, and sexism. CEO Katie Robbert and co-founder Christopher Penn tackle what companies are doing, what they should or could be doing, and how people at any level in an organization can help foster the change they want to see.

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn
This is In Ear insights, the trust insights podcast.

In this episode of In Ear insights we are tackling some of the concerns that chief marketing officers have outlined in a series of interviews that Ziff Davis actually did a number of years ago. What keeps CMOS up at night and one of them that was really attention grabbing was one CMOS said they are deeply concerned about the amount of talent particularly women that are leaving the tech industry because they’re being essentially being treated unfairly by their peers and as a company are one of our core values is making sure that we are fair and just what do we do or what’s what, how do we help avoid the loss of talent and simultaneously encourage new talent to come into the issue because, as we’ve talked about in our recent series on data science, you don’t have to be a mathematician.

to ask good questions and to develop winning strategies. So from your perspective, as someone who is a prominent

women in technology and your technologist first, and you’re talented first, how do we figure this out? How what’s what’s your perspective?

Katie Robbert
Well, I want to go back to something that you just mentioned. And that was women being treated unfairly by their peers. The first issue is women even being seen as appear. And so that’s sort of the first or not the first, it’s one of the hurdles that, you know, we, as women

are struggling with on a regular basis is being seen as an equal to the level that we’re even at, let alone being seen or considered as someone who deserves to be pushed for further in their career. So it’s tough, it’s tricky. We are inside a volatile state right now in our culture, in terms of where women’s roles and men’s roles and human roles really belong. And there’s such this focus on women versus men.

And it’s scary. It’s terrifying to be a woman right now, regardless of the context. Um, you know, there’s this notion that women are emotional and over reactive, but yet we’re seeing that men are just the same, their emotional, they’re over reactive, but the standards for men and women are so different. And that’s really what needs to change is those ideas of what a women needs to bring to the table versus what a man needs fringe table. It’s what people need to bring to the table in terms of skill sets and

their attitude and their competency. And I think that, you know, it’s,

it’s going to be a struggle for a long time we see even in sort of the speaking world, it’s what tend to 110 men for every one woman.

And it’s not that there are a lack of talented women, it’s the people making the decisions, you know, and this is a broad stroke. This is just a generalization. The people making the decisions are picking their friends, their buddies, who they know, versus new talent, new women who are trying to break into the industry, we have a partner who happens to be a woman who she’s trying to get into the speaking industry a bit more and she’s struggling. And she’s seeing a lot of people say no, but yet she’s very talented and very articulate. And it’s, it’s really concerning, because there’s no good reason as to why she isn’t allowed to also speak,

you know, I want to get your perspective because

I mean, biologically, you’re on the other side of the argument

Christopher Penn
I am I also see it as something of a false argument,

kind of going back to your point, which is that people I’m a numbers person, I look at the numbers and the machines and the data first, not the human because in a lot of cases, a human makes flawed judgments, male or female,

when we look at creating change,

at least in the business world, the currency of change is money itself as revenue itself to be able to say, like, yes, this is working, what’s putting more money behind this, this is not working, let’s let’s put less money behind this, it is incumbent upon people who watch to see a certain change happen to pay for that change. And that may be something for example, in the speaking example, if you see a conference that is proudly listing all mantels right all male panels don’t go to that conference, don’t spend a dime on their tickets. And if if a conference suddenly seems particularly in the marketing world, where the audience makeup is 60 to 70% female if 60 to 70% of your conference attendees, suddenly D register and want to refund you’re going to pay attention real quick and say what’s going on. And like, Hey, you know, that entire all male lineup, you’ve got not acceptable anymore, it needs to be gender balance, or we’re not paying our money to your event. And that is,

I think the easiest lever for people to pull is to say this, I will not spend money here, I will spend money here instead. And that may be a great opportunity for women led conferences as well to say, Hey, you know, we’re going to try and balance the scales little bit this conference, the speakers, maybe, you know, more 60, 70% women at this conference instead of 60 to 70% men. And it may be an opportunity for new events to to pop up.

And those events may Frank may be better. And so I think there’s, there’s an economic opportunity to pull that lever to say, this is where we’re not going to invest as businesses and things that don’t reflect the outcomes that we want.

Katie Robbert
Now, you’ve been in the speaking world for

quite a while, and you’ve seen the good, the bad, the ugly, and then we as a startup have run into some issues based on the way that we are organized. I like the idea of, you know, sort of this,

this boycott of conferences that are, you know, all men lead, but what, what are the odds? What are the what are the challenges that a group of women are going to face when trying to start up their own conference, what are the biases that you’ve seen women running up against, and then we can also talk about some of the issues that we’ve run up against, just by trying to get investors,

Christopher Penn
unlike other minorities, women have the unique advantage of being a property 50% of the population, right? If I were to start a cause, saying, I think more Asian should be representative in the United States, that’s a very small minority, right. So the, the purchasing power of the Asian population is very, very small compared to say, the African American population or the Hispanic American population. And so it’s much harder to affect change as a minority when women are at least 50%. And in the marketing industries. In a lot of cases, more than 50%, it’s much easier to create that kind of economic leverage if you can get people on board. So yeah, we’re not putting our money here. Now, a women led event, here’s the thing again, focus on the business side of it. If you are a public speaker,

and you want to get paid fairly,

Christopher Penn
regardless of gender, regardless, whatever you’re going to go to it, you’re going to speak at the events that pay you fairly if a a conference regardless of who organizing is saying, Yes, we will pay, you know, a fair fee to you as a speaker, like you come and speak at our event. And we will charge a fair fee to attendees,

a speaker who does not have cranial rectal inversion will say, Yes, I will speak at your event. If you pay me currently, right now, if you have a bias. And

then yes, you could say a certain number of of men might say, Well, I’m not going to go to that that event. It’s all you know, you insert your gender appropriate gender slur here,

that’s still only deplete 50% of the audience, right? So you, you would have an opportunity to encourage people

to spend their money where they care about most, and that’s something that we see happening again, going back to your point about society and culture, I think there’s there’s tremendous power in people supporting what they want. We see that on both sides of the argument. We see organizations, there’s some fast food restaurant are associated with being biased against a certain sexual orientation, their audience loves them and spends a lot of money there. There are others, but

Katie Robbert
well, so I guess there’s two things that I want to start to unpack a little bit. One is yes, in the marketing and PR industry, specifically, it is a very female heavy industry. But the question is, how many what proportion of that population are decision makers. So there’s that. And then the other.

The other point is,

Katie Robbert
you and I are unique in the sense that we really strive and try to make decisions based on information, facts and data,

a lot of what you’re talking about. And a lot of what people face in terms of challenges is that a lot of these decisions, a lot of these opinions are emotion based, they’re not fact based. And so you know, to your point about someone saying, Well, I’m not going to attend that conference, because, you know, it’s not good for my business. And here’s the data and here’s the revenue, I would bet you a donut fit. That’s not how the decision is being made.

Christopher Penn
I would agree that that’s probably not how the decisions currently being made. But

even if you’re not the decision maker for the company, if your company is saying, Hey, we, you know, do you want to go to this conference, you have the ability Nope. And here’s why. And I would like to submit, you know, if for whatever you what you were going to spend on that event, can you send me to this event. Instead, if you can keep a revenue neutral, and say, I will still I will actually get more because here’s the other thing at a

at an event

that is that has

Christopher Penn
I get blue the the current term is toxic masculinity,

you’re not going to network very well, right, you’re going to be

a second class citizen at that event. So you’re not going to get as much benefit out of it. If you go to an event where you are a true peer or possibly even a leader, then you’re going to generate more business. Because again, going back to the the numbers of it, if 50% of the population is women, and you have a women lead conference,

and substantial of the people who are there are our decision makers by default by default, then you’re going to get better networking results out of it.

Katie Robbert
So I guess one of the things that we should start thinking about is, how do we as leaders in the tech industry, help educate people who aren’t necessarily decision makers, male or female to really do their due diligence and figure out is this conference right for me? Is this the population I want to be surrounded by? and really help them articulate that to, to the decision makers of You know what, maybe this one isn’t right, that I’ll be honest, that for someone who’s younger, less experienced, can be very intimidating. So it would take a lot of confidence from that person to be able to say to their boss, no, I don’t want to go to that one. And here’s why. So I think that that’s one of the challenges is how do we empower people to present that that information and those facts to say, this isn’t right for the business. I know, I’m not a decision maker. But here’s everything that I’ve gathered.

Christopher Penn
I think one of the easiest ways to do that. And it’s something that anybody can do is very simply, when you look at the conference agenda, you look at the speakers page, right? And you count it even if you spend time at the keynote speakers, right? What percentage of them are what gender and ethnic backup so I pulled up here, the marketing props b2b forum, which we’re going to the November 1 keynote female sec keynote male 30 keynote female fourth keynote male fifth keynote, female 16th female seventh keynote mail. So it is a gender bounces, actually slightly female lead event that Rep. And and when you look at who the the the people are, see, 1234, at least four of the seven keynotes are people of color.

So this is a well balanced event, at least from the the keynote page. And and if organizations like this, when they’re willing to spend money on speakers, they clearly have said, We value diversity, and we value balance. And here is an event where the people who you’re going to be seeing on stage have that here’s the other thing that

within the business environment,

if you present a rational argument for diversity for equal to treatment, and someone rejects that you now have a legitimate case to take to human resources, or, you know, if you don’t feel comfortable doing it inside the company, going to like glass door or blind or something like that, and saying, This is not a company that supports diversity. And that is bad for business as bad for attracting talent is bad for retaining talent. And it is potentially a massive black eye in your reputation. And

in the current culture that we’re in. I think it’s perfectly fine for people to speak up and say, This company is not okay. This company is not committed to diversity. I know, I would like to find a place to work that is

Katie Robbert
Mm hmm. So what can we

and so there’s there’s two ways there’s the general royal we and then there’s the we, you and I, as business owners, and as tech leaders, you know, one of the things that is really important to us that trust insights is that diversity and is that culture of inclusion and transparency and honesty. And I think that, that, you know, I I see your point about

raising, raising the issue with leadership, raising the issue with HR. But what also happens is, it kind of falls flat, it goes nowhere. And a lot of businesses are sort of, in this very conservative mindset of, well, this is the way we’ve always done it. And I’m very risk averse. And so I think that that risk aversion to changing the culture to changing the hiring practices

is what hurts a lot of these companies, when there are a lot of talented people out there, regardless of their background, regardless of, you know, their race, their ethnicity, their religion, their gender, it doesn’t matter to us, again, we’re in a you a unique position, because those things are consequential. We just want people who are trainable and talented and decent human beings. But a lot of companies, they don’t see it that way. They look at the name on a resume. And there’s this unconscious bias that happens and they immediately dismiss someone sight unseen because of what they’re looking at on a piece of paper. So I wonder if part of the reason why women are struggling to stay in the tech field and companies are struggling

to have a more diverse workforce is some of these unconscious biases that they’re not even aware of. Like, we can say, Yes, we are wide open to whoever is the right person, regardless of who they are. But are we then also saying, but we really want to hire only female. And then there may be some talented men who aren’t necessarily getting a fair shot it I can see both sides of it.

Christopher Penn
I think there’s two things there, number one, for companies that are resistant to change, because they are risk averse. That is actually one of the greatest opportunities because because the risk of things like lawsuits and stock, you know, reputation and things like that is significantly greater than the risk of not changing and just articulating it that way, like Yeah, but you are, you are at substantially greater risk. If you discriminate us at legal risk, your financial risk of your reputational risk,

whereas changing your call show presents perhaps organizational or process risk and, and discomfort, certainly for the for the people who are in power. But at the same time as business owners, if they care about making money and staying in business, they have to accept the being on the right side of history, which is diversity and inclusion on what you were saying about hiring systems. Now, that’s really important because that is a data problem. That is a systems problem. And that is a governance problem. In Malcolm Gladwell. It’s one of his books, I bought the book outliers, many outliers, or or two point can’t remember which one, he was talking about how orchestras used to be exclusively male. And then during the Berlin orchestra, because the one of the candidates for first violin was related to the conductor, they put up a screen so that you couldn’t see who the person was, you could only hear them play. And so each candidate was told to suddenly come up play, and then they would they judged solely based on the way that first violin place. And when they removed the screen, it was this this female violinist and the conductor was like, My God, what have we done,

but that de identification is so important. And that’s part of system governance is to say, yes, when resumes come in, when performance reviews come in, anything, the system should de identify to the maximum extent possible to focus only on the attributes that actually matter which has dropped forms in history.

If we build our systems. That way, if we help clients and customers and the world, the world, we, as you, as you said, build systems that that auto de identify on every attribute that is irrelevant to performance, we should be building diversity and inclusion in by nature. I used to work at a company that was based in Atlanta, and this was a company had a severe unconscious bias problem. They said, though, all the right words, right. But when you look across the office, there isn’t a single African American on staff, this is downtown Atlanta, 51% of the population is African American.

And there was like, always just couldn’t find the right talent. Experimental editorial,


Christopher Penn
When I hired for a marketing coordinator, the first thing I did was they took all the resumes and there was a numerical judgment first does this resume it was this this person have a LinkedIn profile has a profile, have at least one recommendation, right. And that was the first screen because you can’t market yourself, you shouldn’t be in marketing. And then to take that data, chop off all the personal identifying and remove name, removed photo, remove activities, just the the experience sections, what was preserved,

and we

Christopher Penn
cut up, hand out these cut up resumes and asked people on the team, you order these resumes by by which ones you want to interview first one, two, and three, you have three choices, put them all together. And lo and behold, we had like one Caucasian candidate out of 50, we ended up hiring someone who happened to be an Iranian American female,

surprised that there was very easy to point out the bias, once, once you remove that information go, Oh, you’re not you’re screening the wrong way.

Katie Robbert
So really what it comes down to. And one of the things that we can start to do and help people do more responsibly, is remove some of that unconscious bias from their organization, by helping them really think about how they’re screening how their governance works, what their process looks like, and taking a lot of those emotional things out of it, you know, the, I’m looking for a white female, because our audiences, white females, well, we need to dig into that more. And so I think that that’s an important, I think that’s really an important

sort of, on the pro side of machines doing more of the work for humans. Because, yes, there are a whole host of issues with bias within machine. And that’s, that’s a whole separate episode. But it can certainly take a lot of that bias out and help bring forward the right people for the right jobs.

Christopher Penn
The other thing that I think will be a something marketers and particularly need to focus on, but will be of benefit is all of the changes that have happened with GDPR with California consumer Privacy Act, etc. Where we are now saying, personally identifiable information, including things like gender, and ethnicity are disqualified, you should not be tracking these things, and there’s probably not a, a legitimate business case to track those things. However, if you are tracking and focusing on behaviors, you don’t really care who the person is, you care that they visited your services page, your team page and one of your download pages. And that’s an indicator that they are likely to convert, right, remove the the demographic characteristics and focus solely on the behavioral. And if we do this across systems, so marketing, sales, HR finance, we will get better outcomes because we’re predicting on the things that actually cause or drive the business outcomes we want. And we will reduce our risk on things like discrimination. Because if you don’t track the data, you can’t discriminate on it.

Katie Robbert
So we’ve gotten a little bit off topic from where we started, which was the thing that keeps CMOS up at night is that women are leaving the tech industry in large numbers. And so the

the universe that you’re describing sounds like the one that sort of a goal, that’s where we’re trying to get to. And so I guess there’s two things that we need to tackle, as we’re wrapping up is how far off are we from that scenario that you’re describing? And then what can we do today to help keep some of the women who are leaving the industry from leaving that industry? And I would, I would, so go ahead.

Christopher Penn
Why put that back on you because I’m not qualified to talk about what would make a woman

for very obvious reasons. So what do you would you want to see as indicators of progress, either at an industry or even within a company say, Yep. I I’m willing to, I’m willing to, to invest time energy and, and, you know, years of my life here, because it’s going in the right direction.

Katie Robbert
I think, honestly, the easiest way to start is to stop classifying people by gender. Yes, I am a woman in tech. But I’m a technologist. I’m a CEO, who happens to be a woman, you’re a technologist, you’re an innovator who happens to be a man at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter as long as the work gets done, and the business grows. I don’t care what gender you are, I don’t care how you identify. And I think that that

the solution is so simple, it’s difficult, because to not classify people by what you outwardly see is a really difficult thing for people to do, just because that’s how they typically bucket people like, okay, you’re female, you go over there, your mail you over there, if they stopped saying your female, your mail, and it’s more you’re a marketer, you’re a technologist, you’re a CEO, that would go a long way, you know, yes, I am proud to be a woman in tech. But I’m also just proud to be an tech and I just happened to be a woman. So I think that that is one of the ways that we can start making women feel more included in the industry is, you know, stop making them feel like they’re checking the box on diversity. Well, where we have 10 men and one woman. So we’ve checked the box because we have a woman on the team, don’t make them feel like the novelty

you know, give them the same opportunities that they’ve earned, you know, make it skills based, make it competency based, not gender based, not background based, those types of things, those that’s all of that easier said than done way easier said than done. I think there are companies that do a really great job of it that are striving to be more inclusive and be more diverse. But there’s a lot of industries and companies that just aren’t there yet. So then back to you the question of where are we in that sort of machine learning space of taking away those identifiable characteristics and really putting the right people in the right jobs?

Christopher Penn
Yeah, that’s a very much a governance thing. And that’s something that, you know, obviously, everyone can be focusing on. And it’s, again, it’s something that because of the regulatory environment, most companies work in any way, it should be an easy lift, say, Yes, we are compliant, or this, this and this if we are compliant on gender balance, and build a system around that. The other thing I think, goes back to spend your money where you want to see changes. And this is especially to the question you had about someone who’s maybe not a decision maker in a company when you are asked for things like, you know, I’m thinking back to our old agency workshop workplace where we had a lot of young, very young 20 somethings doing the grunt work on stuff. When your boss says, put together a list of conferences, we should be attending, put together a list of speakers, we should be hiring, put together a list of this and that, and, you know, you go copy paste Google stuff, believe it or not, you’re in charge, you’re in charge of what the boss gets on the shortlist because they don’t have the time to do it. So if you are committed to diversity, you have control over what conferences go on that list and some conferences you like, yeah, everyone likes that event. But guess what, not a single keynote speakers, females off the list, it goes and the boss never knows, the boss doesn’t know what they’re missing. Mm hmm. The boss only sees what you give them. So to the extent that you can bring in diversity and inclusion,

you will help to create that change as well.

Katie Robbert
So So pull it all together. To wrap it up. It sounds like you know, some of the small wins that we could have to keep women in the tech industry is to stop talking about them as women in the tech industry, start talking about them as skilled, competent people in the tech industry. So that’s number one. Number two is sort of that longer term goal of cleaning up your process and governance and that’s actually something that we’re at, we’re very good at and we can help with those machine learning strips with that overarching governance plan. So if you have questions, feel free to check us out. Trust Chris, any parting words

Christopher Penn
it’s not a parting word. But there was an interesting thing and this is a good bench test for you as you you the person listening to this there’s a really good article recently on a Victoria’s Secret model who also happened to be a programmer and it listed all the different programming languages that that she was skilled at

and read the article will put a link in the show notes and keep track of what you react to do you react to the fact that she’s female? Do you react to the fact that she’s a model or do you react to the fact as I did that she can program and MIPS which is a frickin hard language or program. It’s, it’s, it’s like one step above assembly language that to me is more impressive than all the other stuff because that’s really hard to do pay attention to your own reactions and use that as a benchmark for what to what to change your focus on.

Katie Robbert
It’s interesting, I I thoroughly enjoyed that article. She is such an impressive person. And while your reaction was the programming languages, my reaction was Yep, I understand all of the biases that she is run up against. So it is I think that that’s a really good article for people to check out and really just sort of gauge their own reaction so you know, great, great way to close it Chris.

Christopher Penn
As always, please subscribe to the YouTube channel in the newsletter and we’ll talk to you soon.

Thank you for listening to enter your insights the trust insights podcast please ask a co worker or colleague to follow our show on Google podcasts Apple podcast wherever you listen to your shows got a question like us to answer wants to help solving your data and analytics challenges visit us at www dot trust to death.

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