Women in Local Marketing Tech: Are We There? Where Are We Going?

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Photo: Nancy Shenker speaks at the latest Street Fight Summit in Brooklyn this month.

The challenge is national; the solutions may be hyperlocal. At Street Fight Summit 2018, we gave the audience a brief overview of some of the issues facing women in local marketing tech today and what we can do to keep moving in the right direction.

We know our topic well. One of us (Nancy) was a pioneer in financial services marketing and technology, ultimately rising to the C-suite before starting her own consulting business. The other (Jim) is a respected leader in hyperlocal marketing, having built many diverse high-performance teams and led several successful exits.

As we urged in our remarks, we—both men and women—should all be spending time working the problem rather than denying, complaining, or wringing our hands about it.

The women who are leading local tech are great resources to both men and women in the industry looking to make change.

When Laura Rich co-founded Street Fight seven years ago, she was a pioneer in the space and in a minority. This year, women at the Summit spoke about AI, funding trends, personalization, and IoT. They all serve as mentors to other women entering the local marketing ecosystem.

Farah Shalwani of Tiger Pistol was one of the first women we met at the Summit. She is a great model of the next generation of women in local tech. Although she came from the public relations world, she systematically acquired the skills and connections she needs to rise up the tech ladder.

Jillian Manus, Managing Partner at Structure Capital, gave her perspective on the best investments in local tech. Her firm was one of the first Uber investors. She is outspoken and frank about the challenges she has faced as a woman in the industry, serving as an inspiration to other women.

Knowing how to code is clearly not a prerequisite for a career in hyperlocal marketing, but “speaking the language” and “speaking up” are essential, as Shalwani and other women to whom we spoke confirmed.

What can we do?

“Commit to creating a diverse team, and do the hard work it sometimes takes to make that a reality, not just a ‘nice to have,’” counseled Jim, who has built multiple award-winning teams at several tech growth and SaaS companies. He went on to speak about proactively building a diverse network of people who command the various skill sets your teams will need—in your market, city, industry—so that when openings come up, much of your work is done.

We also encouraged women to develop the skills they need to compete for jobs, find mentors (both men and women) who will support and guide them, not to be afraid to ask for what they need, and to take other women with them as they advance in the industry.

We both believe strongly that “working the problem” requires men and women to collaborate on solutions. Women-only groups have a place in the professional world, but when the conversation turns to wage parity, workplace respect, or career opportunities, men need to hear what women have to say, and women may well learn more about roles they play in creating some obstacles to advancement. Anger and bitterness will only result in defensiveness, so the conversations need to be forward-thinking, action-based, and positive.  

Local Resources and Initiatives

If you have positions to fill, Tech Ladies is a great resource for matching qualified women with open positions. Looking for a speaker for an upcoming event? Innovation Women is a speakers bureau focused exclusively on balancing the stage at technology events.

Several regions have launched local initiatives to ensure that women are getting the skills and funding they need to launch and grow technology (and related) businesses. Women.nyc, Stanford University in concert with VMWare, and the city of Boston have all launched initiatives. CIO has even ranked the best cities for women in tech, based on wage parity, representation by women in jobs, and general employment growth.

Moving forward, women (as well as men) will need to follow the impact of AI on local marketing to stay one step ahead of the wave. Based on the speakers at this year’s Summit, we are making huge strides!

Nancy A. Shenker is the founder of theONswitch marketing (www.theonswitch.com) and the author of four business books, including Embrace the Machine (www.embracethemachine.com), about AI, machine learning, and robotics. She speaks, writes, and consults on the integration of technology and humanity, as well as on content strategy: conventional and digital. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, she was formerly an executive at big global brands, including Citibank, MasterCard, and Reed Exhibitions.

Jim has spent over twenty years leading marketing organizations for high-growth tech companies focused on local markets and SMBs, with four successful exits under his belt in that time. He has won a number of industry awards tied to the results, and diversity, of his teams over that period. Jim is a graduate of Princeton University, holds an MS in Marketing from Johns Hopkins University, and an MBA from George Washington University, where he also conducted doctoral work.