Rachel Sklar is Changing the Ratio in Tech
Rachel Sklar is like the tech bestie in my head. We’ve both been Editor-at Large at major media companies (Rachel formerly at Mediaite, I presently at BlogHer). We both entered the tech/new media space from non-technical fields (she was a lawyer, I was an epidemiologist). We both like to talk.. alot (our conversation was over an hour long). But perhaps the biggest connection between Rachel and I (and many of you as well), is that we both are committed to changing the ratio, increasing the number of women in tech (Rachel founded Change The Ratio, which promotes visibility, access and opportunity for women in new media and tech and founded DigitalunDivided to increase the number of black women in new media and tech).
Recently, Rachel and I riffed on everything from the inequities in gender representation in new media and tech, “information asymmetries” and her new liberating venture, The List.
Q: What is Change the Ratio?
Change The Ratio is an organization that I started with Emily Gannett in spring of 2010, with the specific aim to increase visibility, access and opportunity for women in tech and new media. We’ve extended that even further to anyone who is part of a challenging ratio, to focus on changing ratios that ought to be changed, shining a light on constituencies that are underappreciated, under-showcased, undervalued.
Q: So, with Change The Ratio, you are advocating for increased visibility and opportunities for women in the new media and tech fields. Just what, exactly, IS the ratio, and are you seeing any change in the climate for women in the tech and new media industries?
There are so few women in leadership positions in the tech space that it’s jaw-dropping. In many respects. Change the Ratio is a PR campaign, to change the unconscious biases in the tech industry and across all industries about where women were or were not effective and qualified. You don’t expect everyone to push as hard as you but if you get more people pushing, together that’s a much bigger push than one person alone.
In the beginning, the stuff I would hear -- “women aren’t really in tech, women in tech doesn’t mean they make tech” -- there was this whole qualification put on women to be a woman in tech you actually had to code. However, we’re in a knowledge economy here and women are a huge purveyor of knowledge.
We heard examples, like this one from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, of women going to a meeting at a firm and asking where the ladies room was, and the male partner was unable to point her in the direction of the ladies room, not just because he had never used the ladies room but he had never directed anyone to it before.
So when I’ve been pitching Change The Ratio and notions of diversity over past few years, I’ve been taking it strongly to the bottom line advantages of diversity. Yes, I get it, and I’m a proponent of the social good of having women involved everywhere, but it’s actually secondary to the fact that any organization that has women involved in decision-making roles, pushing innovation, THAT company is going to do better and uncover areas and opportunities that would heretofore have been unknown.
Q: So, while this issue is a glaring problem in the tech and new media communities, this is an undertaking that still has a much broader reach.
It’s not just techs -- for some reason men ages 18-34, are considered the “sexiest” market across industries , and I’ve always been mystified why that’s the dream demo. Even in the TV world, why the dream demo would be 18-34 anything when people who are over 34 tend to have more money and are more willing to spend it on more expensive things with higher markups, doesn’t make business sense.
For instance, there’s not data yet in regard to Instagram, but anecdotally I know that women have been important to the growth of Instagram. Everytime go to the popular page, there’s pictures of pretty girls, at the minimum there’s that.
The thing about Pinterest, for example, and the fact that this world cottons to Pinterest so late in the game -- it was the “flyover country” women who were using Pinterest. I think when the data comes in on Instragram, we’ll see that when Instagram caught on with women, that is when it experienced real growth.
Q: So, why has it taken so long for the industry to get it?
I think that’s part of the larger question, we hear all the time the argument that women control 80% of household spending, women are going to start out-earning men, and that is all true when you’re talking about women as a market. Women have yet to fully organize around that power, power is only power if it is something that is acknowledged. When women organize around common goals and needs, we’ll see movement.
Q: The tech world, new media and entrepreneurship is, of course, all about evolution. Tell us about your new venture, TheLi.st.
The Li.st very much related to the goal of Change The Ratio. I run a private ad hoc listserve of women in tech and new media and entrepreneurship. Around six months ago I really started noticing [the listserve] had become an incredibly effective platform for women to connect, get information, and find each other, and find partners, and get money -- real world business was being done on this listserve.
The first element of The Li.st is going to be a newsletter. There’s an underrepresentation and undercovering of women in tech. The Li.st is a really easy way to quantify and to organize information and connects back to things like Change The Ratio -- who’s on the list, what’s on the list, what is the ratio of the list, so it has multiple meanings, and most importantly it’s not gendered.
So The List was conceived of as an ambitious attempt to take all of the benefits of this private listserve I run scale it in a public way. And one of the of the big ways you can do that is through curation of information and addressing information asymmetries, and something that I’ve really found is that there are lots of different information asymmetries between women and men -- just the stuff that guys happen to know or hear about or learn about that women just don’t, and that’s one area we want to tackle.
But also, more generally, to use the list as well as a great platform for promoting amazing women. Behind every media company there is a network right? And behind this media property there is also a network, but the ratio of this network is a little different than other networks and that’s going to come through.
For more thoughts on women, technology and business, please follow Kathryn on Twitter at @KathrynFinney