Brigitte joined our team earlier this year as Digital Content Manager and Strategist. We sat down with her to ask a few questions about her role and what it’s like being a woman in the industry.
1. Do you believe digital has a reputation for being a male-dominated field and what has your career experience been like in reflection of that?
One of the key recommendations of Deloitte’s 2021 Digital Pulse report was that more women need to be encouraged to join and stay in the tech industry. According to that report, women make up 29% of employment in technology in Australia and, based on current trends, it would take 66 years for technology occupations to reach anything like 50% female participation. The report makes the case that hastening this trend by half would add $11 billion to Australia’s economy. Those figures probably relate more to Information Technology (IT) in general rather than ‘digital’, but I think the pattern would be similar.
On a personal level, I have certainly felt outnumbered at times, particularly in IT settings, and have actually backed away from projects where there is a bit of boys’ club culture. Over time you get a feel for where you might fit, and for me it’s been a journey in and out of digital but that’s where I seem to feel most comfortable.
My career grew out of publishing, which is traditionally a very female-dominated field, and it was a natural progression to digital content strategy, information architecture and user experience. I do notice that content roles, possibly because content is an area that women have moved into more than men, tend to top out at a certain level. That is, there isn’t really a clear path up the next rungs of the ladder, so some of us have diversified our skill set (I’ve also trained and worked in service design and project management, for instance) to stay motivated and have more career fluidity. This wide base of skills means we can bring a lot to what we do, even if the focus is more narrowly on content strategy or information architecture. It’s about bringing the richness of experience to everything and delivering great outcomes.
2. Is there a need to shift perceptions of gender balance in the digital space generally?
There is a need to shift the gender-balance reality (not just perceptions) in the digital space. Women are underrepresented in digital teams and they are also underrepresented at senior levels. The way to change perceptions is through educating around unconscious bias and inclusion. We all have blind spots. Women can call out unhelpful behaviours but that isn’t going to help build relationships so, as with all diversity challenges, it’s about looking for common ground, grouping people around shared interests. We should strive for inclusion, not just diversity, and that involves making sure everyone is not only invited to the party but also invited to dance.
In addition to building an inclusive culture, we need more mentoring of younger women into digital roles, and more flexible work arrangements, role clarity and clear advancement and succession planning to ensure retention. It’s really heartening that Icon Agency has a Diversity and Inclusion stance that’s about changing things for the better.
3. Are there any areas of the digital space that you think require skills/strengths more often found in women?
This is a tricky question that touches on how self-stereotyping can limit the view we have of ourselves. There are quite a few areas in digital where women have tended to find a place – especially in design and content management – but that shouldn’t define the roles women have. A lot of digital roles (e.g. user research and experience design) demand empathy and a collaborative mindset, but I wouldn’t want to characterise those attributes as more prevalent in women than men. Most of the women I know in digital have incredibly strong analytical skills – the ability to synthesise insights from data, for instance – as well as attention to detail, which are maybe perceived as ‘male’ tendencies, but I’d prefer not to genderise such skills. We are all somewhere on the spectra of these necessary skill sets.
4. What advice do you have for other women looking to succeed in this environment/follow in your footsteps/pursue a career in digital?
I do think that if you are good at what you do, which usually happens when you are really interested in what you are doing, then you will inevitably gain respect and hopefully success. For all the reasons mentioned above, it isn’t always as straightforward as it should be and it may take some moving around till you find the right environment. So, it’s important to follow your heart and act on your intuition – if a workplace doesn’t feel right for you, then go somewhere else that’s more supportive, where you enjoy your work and can keep learning and experimenting.
I would also encourage women to get a little bit out of their comfort zone when thinking about the possibilities. If you are detail obsessed, maybe you should move into coding and development rather than an area with stronger female representation such as digital marketing. Being out of your comfort zone can also mean learning to be assertive. I spent years being a bit of a wallflower and it wasn’t till I lived in the States, where I was forced to climb out of my shell, that I started to speak up in meetings and then lead them. Sometimes I don’t think men even notice who has a voice in meetings but women and other minorities do.
5. What trends have you seen recently in the digital space that excite you the most?
I am interested in making AI work for good. That could be something like a well-trained chatbot that runs across a whole lot of systems, effectively making the back of house invisible, or a more complex beast. For me, conversational AI is a logical extension of content design and information architecture in that it is about helping people find information and complete tasks easily. If we can remove the dreariness of repetitive manual tasks, then we should.
I don’t know if it’s a trend, and maybe this sounds mad, but I’m also interested in how we can respect the deeper intentions behind technological products and services. It’s about recognising something like a soul, especially as technology becomes more and more lifelike, so that we don’t end up in an efficient but cold and potentially cruel world. We’ve seen how something like Facebook can turn into a very malign force and it may take a lot of deliberate ‘working for good’ to turn the ship around so it's facing in a more Wikipedia direction.