Women in tech: how to be an asset to your all-male team
Throughout my experience as a product copywriter, I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with some of the most intelligent, talented and open-minded men in tech. And while it’s been great so far, working in a male-dominated field is something I’m still getting used to.
For the last 5+ years, I’ve spent my time at various advertising and branding agencies, usually in rooms full of women (in fact, I’ve only worked at companies with female CEOs). I’m a proud feminist, and while I often find myself wanting more gender diversity from my product clients, I have come to appreciate the opportunities I do have to make strides for women in tech, starting with being an asset to my (more often than not) male clients.
Here’s what I’ve learned as the only gal on the team.
Educate when you can
Often times, I’m brought onto a project to do an overhaul on the copy written by founders and/or their product teams. I could simply take their copy and fix whatever issues I see, but instead, I take the time to go through every page and make suggestions for how to change things and why the updates make sense.
From my perspective, it’s easy to think that poor copy = “he doesn’t care about marketing,” but more often than not, founders want to learn more, they’ve just been so focused on creating, developing and selling their product, that great copy is the last thing on the list (literally and figuratively).
By sharing your insight into how you think and teaching founders what works vs what doesn’t work, you’re setting your clients up for success when you’re not available and/funds run dry and they inevitably have to fill in copy gaps themselves (it’s a startup, let’s be real).
Another reason I take the time to educate my clients is to prove my value; copy, from a founder’s perspective, often isn’t viewed on the same playing field as let’s say, development, so it’s important for me to show founders all of the thinking and background work that goes into writing those perfectly phrased blurbs everyone thinks they can so easily write themselves.
And as shocking as it may seem, I’m often the only woman many male founders have ever worked with, so making sure I leave a strong, lasting impression is important not only for my own reputation, but for all women working in (or looking to break into) the startup / tech world.
If you’re brought on as a consultant (or full-timer) to a male-only team, look for basic ways educate your team on the breadth and value of your expertise. More often than not, they’ll appreciate learning how your skills add value to whatever they’re building (I mean, who doesn’t want to learn how to use words to sell more products, drive more signups or get more clicks?).
You’re the expert. Act like it.
Your startup team, no matter how geeky or bro-ish, hired you because you’re an expert in what you do. So if you get feedback from your team that you don’t agree with, or you feel the pressures of caving to the opinions of those outside your expertise, take a step back and remember: you’re the expert. Not the founder, not the CEO, not the guy in the corner who always has an opinion. You!
So push back. Speak up. If you feel strongly about something, remind people why you made a certain decision, present relevant information that supports your recommendations, or suggest alternatives that still allow your idea to live. Your team hired you, after all, to hear your expert opinion, so don’t be shy about giving it. Your team will respect you more and the product may be better as a result of your input.
Be a rep for your team
When you’re the only gal on the team, it can be easy to feel steam-rolled by a bunch of dudes who, by no fault of their own, often see things from their own perspective first (as we all do).
As a woman in a male-dominated field, you’re often the only one on the team who can speak to the “other side” of things — like weighing in on how female customers may feel about a certain product feature, or if a certain word feels overly masculine and may be a turnoff to female users who are seeing the marketing site for the first time.
When you’re being asked to review product or marketing materials, take it as an opportunity to (a) remind your team that people without penises will be most likely purchasing the product and (b) express how, from your perspective, the product or marketing approach may be perceived by other women.
Remember, it’s entirely possible for a product team to build products built for women without ever getting input from them, so be sure to represent, girlfriend.
Provide value outside your role
“Startup” is often code for a company with a small team and even smaller budgets, which means founders often expect every person on their team, to provide value outside their established role.
Have a background in social media? Offer to help get the company set up across their social channels. Got some strategy knowledge? Suggest being a part of product or marketing brainstorms. Know a thing or two about analytics? Get those spreadsheets going, girl.
Even if you’re not the one supplying the goods, chances are, you probably know someone who can help. Reach out to your network and connect founders with experts, or do some research and recommend services to help them get the job done.
Check in (frequently)
Just because you’ve completed a project, doesn’t mean your job is done.
Startup companies, by nature, are constantly evolving and iterating, literally every single day. The copy I wrote a month ago for a marketing site may not even make sense anymore, the ads I wrote 2 weeks ago may not be converting and maybe no one is opening those emails with all the clever headlines I thought would totally improve open rate.
It’s important (and meaningful) to be in touch with the people who rely on you to help communicate and/or sell their products.
I have a list of clients under my “to dos” for whom I’ve done copy work for; every week, the names on the list change as I write them individually to check in on how things are going, where improvements can be made and if they need copy help on new product updates.
Remind your clients that you’re in it for the long-haul — more often than not, your tenacity will be appreciated and rewarded in the future.
Annie is a New York-based product copywriter who works exclusively with startups and small businesses. Have a question? firstname.lastname@example.org