How to solve the #womenintech problem

I recently gave a talk as part of Meltwater’s Women in Tech initiative at our Shack 15 data science hub in Shoreditch.

I asked a group of Meltwater female managers and aspiring managers what positive stereotypes we tend to associate with women in business.

“Empathy!” was the immediate response. After a bit of consideration this was followed by “multi-tasking.”

I then asked the group to call out some of the negative stereotypes that we associate with women.

“Emotional” was the resounding answer. Then “being indecisive” and “lack of confidence.” 

It’s depressing how predictable this exercise is. 

As women our typical strong points tend to be those associated with motherhood: caring for people and juggling lots of things at once. We’re great at baking cakes while watching children and possibly doing some light paid work at the same time. 

Our “negatives” paint a picture of someone who would be atrocious in a leadership position. A hysterical woman who’s not sure what to do because she doesn’t believe in herself – not exactly what’s required to rally the troops.

Most gender stereotypes are unfounded if you look at research. A recent HBR study actually found that women score higher than men in most leadership skills, and are generally seen as more effective in organisations than their male counterparts.

But one of the negative stereotypes I mentioned above is, sadly, a problem. 

It is accurate, it is pervasive, and it is undermining years and years of hard work by women globally as they try to further their careers. It is partly why women are so poorly represented on company boards, and partly why we are paid so much less than men. 

Women are emotional

Nope, not this one.

After 10 years in a management capacity at Meltwater – where I have led and mentored dozens of entry-level and mid-level salespeople across three continents – my experience has been that men are just as emotional as women. Of course we all express ourselves differently, but I have seen no evidence that the men on my teams feel the highs and lows of the sales game less deeply than the women. 

I don’t have studies to back up my observations, but anyone who has lived with or worked closely with someone of the male gender must agree that men feel things strongly too, and that all of us sometimes share these feelings in a way that is not entirely constructive.

This stereotype I reject. 

Women are indecisive

This is questionable.

Here are some other words for “indecisive:”

  • Seeing the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of an argument
  • Being ready to admit when the path is unclear
  • Being humble

It’s an interesting one.

There are some times in business when a decision needs to be made, and the decision needs to be communicated convincingly so that the team feels they are in safe hands. It can be comforting to be told that there is only one obvious solution to a problem, whether or not this is actually the truth. Sometimes we just need to act, get the team on board, and hope for the best.

There are however situations where a more measured, cautious approach can lead to better decision-making outcomes. Consider the great strategist Angela Merkel, who is celebrated for her genius in finding solutions that keep everyone happy. To understand and sympathise with both sides of an argument is very often a strength, though this way of doing things may not seem as “decisive” as a top-down, “my way or the highway” approach (Theresa May tried the latter and it didn’t work out well for her).

So although data suggests that women are indeed less top-down than men, describing the way women approach leadership with a negative word like “indecisive” is I feel misleading. Let’s just say that women can sometimes be more measured in their decision-making than men, and that can be a very good thing depending on the situation.

Women are unconfident

This is the one that is true. Ouch.

Check out this graph from the study I mentioned earlier: 

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I find this fascinating. Researchers found that women from the ages of 25 to 45 consistently underrate their own abilities (interestingly, they also found that men in this age group tend to overestimate what they are capable of!) 

There are some good things that come of this: women tend to be more receptive to feedback and focus more on personal development, and actually by the time we reach our late forties our “slow and steady wins the race” approach starts paying off and we become more confident than men.

But what kills me is that it takes us 20 years to get there.

That’s 20 years of women not asking for promotions because they are afraid they are not qualified – when, according to the HBR study, men with the exact same credentials typically take the plunge and assume they can learn what they are missing on the job. 

That’s 20 years of women then having less responsibility than they could handle, being paid less than they should be, and 20 years of women not serving as role models to help fend off the unconscious bias that naturally occurs when the majority of a company’s senior management are men.

Taking a leap of faith

When I was 26, I asked my manager John whether I could transfer from Boston to Buenos Aires and run Meltwater’s Latin American operations. I barely spoke Spanish and certainly wasn’t qualified to start wading through the bureaucratic nightmare that awaited me – but what resulted was one of the most important, interesting and successful periods of my life. 

Once I’d got a handle on Argentinian tax and business law, I restructured our business and increased our profitability by 20%. I recruited an all-star sales team and increased our revenue by 48%. And along the way I got to travel, to fall in love with a new culture, and to develop some incredibly inspiring friendships that still shape the way I see the world today.

I was admittedly very lucky to work for a company that takes chances on people and didn’t ask twice when I said I knew I could do it. 

Meltwater continues to take leaps of faith in me – these days as the company’s EMEA director for Fairhair.ai, I regularly address data scientists and investment bankers who I’m very aware know a lot more about their subject matter than I do, and I constantly need to learn as I go.

It is challenging and sometimes a bit scary, but I’ve never once regretted throwing my hat in the ring for positions that I know will stretch me. 

The confidence thing

But even though I have a couple of war stories that sound good on paper, I’m not impervious to the confidence thing.

In fact I feel its oppressive influence every day. I fit right into that graph. In my mid-thirties I’m constantly questioning myself, even though I know I shouldn’t.

My boss Leor (Meltwater’s only female executive director, and a fantastic role model for women in business) tells me I need to sound more self-assured in meetings, and I’m sure she’s right. 

But it’s not that easy to just be more confident because you know you should be.

The real problem

The real problem is that we women (or at least, those of us represented by the graph) are being illogical. The data says that women have no reason to be so self-critical, and yet we are. And we make decisions – not about business, but about ourselves – that are irrational. 

This is a flaw, and it’s an area where statistically we genuinely make worse decisions than men do.

The antidote 

At the end of the day, we can’t do much about stereotypes or unconscious bias, or the thousands of years of history that produced them.

But perhaps we can try to do something about the confidence thing.

Women in tech: let’s make sure that we are kind to each other as a starting point. Let’s call each other out when we see unreasonable self-deprecation, and encourage each other to take the same risks that men do. Let’s remind each other that we are statistically likely to underrate our own abilities, and that data also shows us that this instinct is not based in reason. 

Women are underrepresented in tech, and we are even more underrepresented in AI (a problem that is not getting any better). We need to try to do something about this if we can.

So the next time you see an opportunity that you want but feel you may not be qualified for, try to override your instinct and go for it. Do it for yourself, and do it for the rest of us women in tech. Role models are the best possible antidote to unconscious bias. That is how we will solve the “women in tech problem:” a series of leaps of faith that inspire belief not only in our gender but in ourselves.

It is the logical way to solve this problem. 

This article was originally published on July 23. 

 

3 Steps for Preparing Executives for Media Interviews

Let’s be honest—some executives are born to be spokespeople—while others need training.

After all, even if you’re an expert on a particular topic, it can be nerve wracking to stand in front of a camera or speak while someone is recording what you say. The last thing you want is that deer in the headlights look, that blank stare or dead silence as the spokesperson freezes up in front of the camera or mic.

Feeling stressed in these situations isn’t uncommon. 75% of people have glossophobia, which is a fear of public speaking—of which media interviews are a form.

While positioning executives as industry leaders is invaluable, preparing them for interviews via any medium is nothing to gloss over.

How Should You Prepare an Executive for an Interview?

1. Determine Your key points.

“To succeed at media interviews, what executives need most are the one to three points that best support the organization’s brand, mission, or campaign. Often this is the ‘who and what’ behind the news, but it is just as crucially the ‘why,’” said Joel Schwartzberg, Senior Director of Strategic and Executive Communications for a major national nonprofit organization, a presentation coach, and author of “Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter.”

Schwartzberg says an effective way to source your key points is to ask,What one or two things does the audience need to know to activate their interest or behavior?”

The goal is for an executive to sound authentic, but it doesn’t hurt to draft key talking points in advance. You may even want to interview your executive yourself, then write up the results in paragraphs, as an outline, or in bullet form.

2. Don’t wing it. Practice makes perfect.

“Even the best speakers are going to have a bad time if they go into an interview and wing it,” says Erik Bernstein, vice president, Bernstein Crisis Management. “Know what you want your audience to come away remembering and how you’ll get them there.”

And when your spokesperson practices, it should be done audibly.

“Executives need to practice answering interview questions and making points out loud,” Schwartzberg emphasized. “Some may think it’s okay to practice in their heads, but that misses the point. This interview isn’t happening through telepathy—it’s happening out loud. So executives need to practice the task of having their minds and their mouths collaborate to produce meaningful points.”

What happens if a spokesperson doesn’t know the answer to a question? They should embrace the silence—and not to say something they wish they hadn’t. It’s okay for them to take a pause while collecting their thoughts. 

3. Prepare for the medium.

Be it for a digital or print publication, a podcast, or a video interview, follow these tips to get your executive spokesperson prepped for his or her moment in the spotlight:

  • Digital or print: These interviews often take place over the phone. If that’s the case, you’ll need to work even harder to ensure that you’re connecting with the interviewer. Be sure to take a pause occasionally. Check in to ask if the interviewer has any questions. Remember that not everyone is an expert on the topic you’re speaking about, so the reporter conducting the interview may need you to expand on certain points or explain the background.
  • Podcast: For a podcast interview, be sure to have a good mic. If anything will make a sound during your guest appearance (coworkers, pets, kids, etc.), take care to close your door.“ There should be no distractions. Turn off your IM, stop multitasking and responding to emails (the interviewer can hear you typing). Don’t eat food, chew gum, or drink from an ice-filled glass,” says Kira Hug, host of The Daily Hug.
  • Video: A live interview—or an interview that’s being videotaped—is more complicated than appearing either in print or on a podcast, simply because you’re on camera. That means you need to be aware of your appearance, the background and so on. Schwartzberg suggests, “Don’t fidget. Remove change from your pockets and don’t have anything in your hands that will distract or indicate nervousness.”

The Followup: Evaluate the Media Interview

After the interview, be sure to monitor the media for coverage using a tool like Meltwater. Evaluate the spokesperson’s performance and use this experience to improve for the next opportunity.

The more they practice, the faster executive spokespeople will learn the ins and outs of media interviews—and become more comfortable exercising this vital skill.

Next Steps: Are Your Executives on Board?

You’ve now got the tools to prepare an executive for media interviews. But you may need to take a step back and convince them that it’s worthwhile for them to spend their valuable time on brand coverage. Start by showing them what your competitors’ execs are doing. Do they have an edge as respected spokespeople? Is this an opportunity for your brand to take the lead on thought leadership? Business leaders tend to understand the value of a healthy rivalry. Read our tip sheet on benchmarking your brand against the competition for tips on sparking their killer instincts.

Once they’ve bought in, take them a step farther and onto social media. Read our ebook on social media for executives, and share with them examples of top companies whose executives are making invaluable contributions to brand awareness.

Part 2 of Press Lounge Dialogue Tackles Media Measurement and Data Insights

Meltwater’s Ben Kessler moderated a second panel discussion at the Press Lounge in New York City in May, this time on media measurement and data insights. Discussion was focused on the variety of data types and how PR can put data to good use. “One of the questions we get often is how to use data not just to learn about the brand, but to also affect business outcomes,” Kessler said in his opening remarks.

Comprising the panel and appearing before the assembled business communication leaders were Ernie Knewitz, VP of media relations at Johnson & Johnson; Weronika Sobolak, global solutions partner at Facebook; and Kimberly West, director, external communications at Mars Incorporated. Panelists spoke to the issues raised by Kessler and took questions from the audience. Several discussion topics and the conclusions they generated follow.

Data confirming high levels of trust accelerates communication and meaningful relationships.

Similar to the first panel discussion moderated by Meltwater, reputation was again a focus and starting point. When asked to explain how a positive external reputation can drive business results, one panelist spoke of data that confirmed visuals of the company’s scientists in lab coats inspired trust, and how this fundamental trust allows them to communicate more quickly and effectively in markets around the world. Their data empowers them to take a more active and constructive role in local issues, including advocating for female business leadership in countries such as Japan. At the same time, the company is also making its female leaders available to the media, in service both to the message and the company’s authenticity.

Another panelist spoke of the role data plays in helping to understand levels of trust with consumers unfamiliar with her company, explaining how media metrics have revealed the up and down movements of her company’s reputation in the course of the awareness-building work they’re doing in new markets.

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Companies in which PR and Marketing have aligned KPIs enjoy greater success.

Managing the dichotomy between PR and Marketing surfaced again in this second panel discussion. One panelist shared her observation that the consumer packaged goods companies with the biggest market share are those that align internally and have overlap of key performance indicators (KPIs). Another cited reputation management as a primary example of where the two departments have to work together. While Marketing’s data encompasses months and quarters, and PR measures results in real time, both sets of data come together in the reputation index score. “This KPI factors into everyone’s compensation and bonus across the company. That’s how seriously we take the need for collaboration.”

Differentiate between metrics that drive decisions and metrics that are solely for monitoring.

One panelist suggested Marketing’s task was more straightforward than PR’s because it’s easier to quantify and qualify the outcomes of actions. While it’s true that digital marketing adds another 200 possible signals to watch, “the good news is that not all of them matter.” The key is to distinguish between metrics that will drive actions and responses and metrics that deserve monitoring only. Beauty care served as an illustration. In a purchase cycle determined to last eight weeks, reach, frequency, and impact require a marketer’s immediate attention, with any lift in sales factoring in only later. While engagement, likes, and comments are often a key KPI for many brands, they typically do not correlate with business outcomes.

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High data volume is both a blessing and a curse demanding an investment in resources.

Large, global companies often generate thousands of articles per week, especially during earnings season. This level of volume is highly desirable yet entails tremendous responsibilities, especially when divided across both traditional and social media channels. One panelist spoke of the necessity of committing tools and funds to monitor and engage with their audience, saying “We have to be involved in the comments. If there’s a crisis, the durability of that crisis is a topic we devote enormous resources to.”

A more cheerful take was offered by another panelist. “The analytics that we have access to right now are fascinating. We might spend the bulk of our time talking about one program, only to see that story getting much greater traction. Data can reveal just how much influence you actually have as a communicator and tell you where to begin doubling down.”

Data wins arguments, but only choose data points that help shape what you want to say.

This last point is related to the earlier topic about PR and Marketing having goals and KPIs in common. One of the panelists spoke of the considerable investment they make in ensuring their social media rises to the top. Paid search plays a huge role in this and serves as another example of the Marketing and Communications teams working together. A second panelist spoke of launching a new brand and having PR play the leading role in shaping the plan, proposing one specific KPI to focus on, defining a milestone, and aligning the various teams. With one specific KPI for everyone to rally around, success can be clearly defined and measurable. This can also lead to greater efficiency, because when people know what they need to focus on they can reduce the number of meetings, emails, and phone calls. Clarity around messaging offers another way to introduce more agility to the organization.

For further insight into media measurement and the value of data, you can download our ebook on the topic.

The Role of Traditional Media Tools in Trend Forecasting

When speaking of forecasting, what we’re really talking about is predicting behavior. The ability to see into the future offers outsized rewards to those who are good at it. When hockey great Wayne Gretzky was asked to explain his success, he said the secret was to skate to where the puck was going, not to where it was. Anticipation and early perception were rightly seen as being critical. 

In sales and marketing, anticipating consumer behavior is a holy grail. 

“Before a product, idea, or lifestyle choice is brought to a consumer’s attention, someone has to understand, ahead of the curve, that there’s a receptive audience,” says LA-based trend master Janna Stark in the ebook, Seeing into the Future: Trendspotting and Forecasting. Success in trend forecasting is contingent on projecting into the future and predicting where a market will be months and even years from now. If the view is murky, the decision-making will be no less muddled.

If you were in the auto industry, wouldn’t you have liked to know 15 years ago that SUVs would soon overwhelm sedans in terms of marketplace popularity? And now today, for even higher stakes—pitting all-electric vehicles versus hydrogen versus hybrids—you’d stand to gain by knowing what the experts were saying and what role consumer sentiment might play in determining the outcome. 

The Who, What, and Where of Recent History

We’ve looked at the connection between successful trend forecasting and social listening tools. This time we take a more expansive view, by including traditional media tools that present their own unique strengths in tapping into the zeitgeist and helping us become “archeologists of the future.” Here too metrics will allow us to examine the speed, geographic trajectory, and demographics by which a trend is spreading and give us an early read on whether the trend is destined to be a global phenomenon with global implications.

As with social listening tools, there’s a need here for us to take a historical perspective, in the knowledge that the past often repeats itself. Finding patterns and assigning a value to them is a key component in trend forecasting. The source material exists in the databases of traditional news media and is made available on the internet. The who, what, when, and where of the past 100 years will all be found here. Plumbing the archives for frequency of mentions, reach, audience, and sentiment is made possible by the analytics tools found on a modern media platform. 

That same platform should also include an influencers contact database. By exploring the published articles and ideas of the people presented here as experts in your industry, you can get a good handle on the issues of the day and the challenges that need solving in the near future. You can then take what you learn here into the field with you and run these ideas past real people. 

Using Keywords As Signposts 

From your reading and conversations you should be able to formulate a list of keywords you want to monitor more closely. You may choose to have the most important of these pushed to you in the form of alerts. You can also use your keywords to construct the newsfeed your team sees at work. Everyone will become more cognizant of what’s happening in your industry and become trained to look for patterns and early indications of future trends by using keywords as signposts.

Add more conversations to the mix—lots of them, from light and casual to more in-depth—and it won’t be long before your spidey sense tells you that you’re getting the hang of it. Add the findings from your social media listening and soon enough people will be seeking you out for industry forecasts and predictions of the future.

To learn more about traditional media tool trend forecasting as well as the value of social media listening tools, watch the webinar Secrets of a Trend Forecaster Revealed: How PR and Marketing Can Shape the Future. 

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Why Marketing and Comms Should Start Working with Trend Forecasters—And How to Find the Right Ones

Of all the challenges that marketing and comms teams face regularly, predicting customer behavior might be the hardest to come by—and the most tantalizing. After all, seeing what consumers might do in the next month, season, or year would certainly solve a lot of problems. Understanding where your industry is headed—well before your competitors—wouldn’t hurt either.

The requisite crystal ball may not exist, but your marketing and communications teams can make use of the next best thing: a skilled and experienced trend forecaster.

What Is Trend Forecasting?

Legitimate trend forecasts need deep expertise, a sense of informed discernment and a sponge-like absorption of user behavior. 

Brian Solis is author of the new book Lifescale and Principal Analyst and Futurist at Altimeter Group. He says it’s part art and part science, and not at all precise, but when it’s done well, it transcends pure communications.

“Communications as an industry is just largely mechanical,” he says. “And the better professionals in the industry really care about their relationships, they’re really knowledgeable about their subjects. But to go and look at the future and become a value-added resource to your network, that’s an entirely different league.”

Trend forecasting requires the ability to sort quickly through massive amounts of input. This includes current customer tendencies, data-supported behavior and choices, outside influences, and the likely outcomes of those influences. It means charting the likely future course of emerging trends. None of this is typically supported by certificate or degree programs alone. It requires a deeply rooted familiarity with a specific field and a carefully cultivated network of experts and influencers.

Predicting Trends Solves Problems

Trend forecasting solves otherwise intractable problems when it’s implemented properly into your corporate comms and marketing workflows. By understanding future scenarios today, you can act fast, before the competition gets a leg up. You can then shape your message and disseminate it before they do.

Vikki Willmott, Global Head of Content and Publishing at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, says that the value a reputable trend forecaster can add to your team rests in a shift toward proactive planning, rather than the default reactivity so many corporate comms teams get stuck in.

“Because of the fast-moving pace of today’s media and comms landscape,” Willmott says, “it can be easy to become heavily focused on responsive comms. What are people asking for immediately? What’s our point of view? How quickly can we deliver it? By looking forward, planning, and being prepared for what’s ahead, communications becomes more meaningful—and far more effective.”

If that sounds like a useful shift in perspective, a trend forecaster can be a worthwhile investment. 

Finding the Right Trend Forecaster for Your Needs

Trend forecasting is new enough that there are no established best practices or solid hiring resources. Our experts suggest a few qualities to look for in a potential forecaster or futurist. 

Wilmott suggests the primary trait is curiosity as well as “the ability to turn behavior into insights,” but adds that more concrete skills are also crucial. “Genuine research skills are key. This can’t be about churning data into pretty graphs, but a real ability to spot patterns and communicate what they mean.” 

Solis also cautions that you need to know your own field well in order to hire a decent forecaster. That sort of deeply-plugged-in sense of your field means you’ll be more likely to hear those resonant messages from authoritative voices of genuine forecasters. 

“Having conversations with those individuals directly is where I would start,” Solis suggests. Use those conversations to feel out the influencer or expert as to both their personal interest level in new challenges and any contacts they have who might fit the bill. 

Make use of your own contacts in this process. Ask colleagues for recommendations, not just for trend forecasters per se but for skilled and knowledgeable influencers. 

Both our experts also agree that it’s important to drill down on your purpose and intention when hiring a trend forecaster. Know what type of audience you need to understand if you’re looking into consumer trends. Experience is crucial but so is passion. Look for a person who can clearly communicate clearly both their expertise and their fascination in the audience and market you’re working with. 

Avoiding Fraudulent Forecasters

While legitimate trend forecasting has been around for years, so have fraudulent “experts.” 

Remember “normcore?” Forecasting firm K-Hole predicted the trend in 2014. It consisted of brandless clothing designed to stand out only by its bland lack of distinguishing features. What many may not have realized at the time or since is that K-Hole was an art collective indulging its passion for creative (i.e., completely made-up) endeavors. Then a weird thing happened: The fake trend became real. While this might a case study in how to start a trend of your own, it won’t serve you well in finding a trustworthy partner.

How can you tell if you’re talking with a forecaster who lacks the expertise or maybe is even a fraud? Solis says it really comes down to a combination of your own intuition and experience. “It can be very difficult to know because unless you’re keeping a scorecard of what they say and what happens, it’s very difficult to spot them out. It’s really going to be based on what feels right, what sounds right, the process that these individuals go through to work with you.” 

Your own expertise can help you recognize forecasting problems before they become disasters for the company. You can also give them a trial run and then evaluate the value of the information they deliver to your team, Solis suggests, adding that, at least to some extent, “it’s unfortunately trial by error, or trial by success.” 

Working a Trend Forecaster into Your Current Flow

Wilmott points out there are different kinds of trends, each playing a distinct role in comms and marketing. 

First, she says, “there are trends about consumer behavior, which should be involved at the very top of your process when you arrive at a creative platform.” 

Next, be aware of more tactical trends, which should help you shape your content strategy. “Understanding the various forms means you can work out which resources are most useful, and how they can be integrated into your way of working.”

So, how can you best incorporate trend forecasters into your comms and marketing workflows? In some respect, Willmott says, you use trend information the same way you would any kind of data or insight. It’s only useful to the extent that you truly let it seep into your entire process and inform your messaging choices.

Next Steps: Position Your Brand as One to Watch

Read our ebook Secrets of a Trend Spotter, Revealed for a behind the scenes look at how trend forecasters get their finger on the pulse, and how to tap their full potential.