Adriana Gascoigne: Girls In Tech
An Interview with Adriana Gascoigne
Adriana is the Founder and CEO of Girls in Tech, a non-profit organization, launched in February 2007 devoted to empower, educate, and mentor women in the tech industry across over 47 chapters internationally.
No stranger to growing brands and building amazing companies, Adriana has also served in Executive roles at RxMatch, (VP of Product Marketing) and QwikCart, (CMO), Ogilvy & Mather (VP of Digital - Intel), and SecondMarket (VP of Marketing) , the largest secondary trading platform, where she was responsible for branding strategy, event production and digital media efforts.
Gascoigne has not only worked in the technology start-up space for companies like, Indiegogo, Roost, Algentis, Democracy.com, Swyft, ImpulseFlyer, Poliwogg, hi5 (Tagged), SocialGamingNetwork (SGN), Jambool’s SocialGold (Google) and GUBA, but also serves as a Strategic Advisor. Jetway, StartupStockExchange, Involver (Oracle), Numiyo Technologies, Palindrome Advisors, CharityBlossom, DooChoo, and Change.org are some of the organizations she has had her hand in.
In 2009, Adriana launched SmittenWithMittens, which is now The YOUniform Project, a philanthropic program providing fair trade uniforms and educational resources to children in developing countries. She is also the founder of HelpLearn.Asia, an eLearning platform for small and medium-sized businesses in Singapore.
Adriana holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Economics from the University of California at Davis, received a certification from El Tecnologico de Monterrey in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and participated in Semester at Sea, University of Pittsburgh in 1997. Adriana is also fluent in Spanish.
You started Girls in Tech in February 2007 and it’s very visionary, especially considering the topic you discussed back then is not the same as it is today. What was the catalyst for starting it?
Essentially it was the fact I was working at a start-up and had 35 employees – I was the only female. It was a YouTube platform called Guba. I would come into work every day and look around the office and be like, ‘where’s the diversity?’ It’s just a bunch of 25-35 year old men. As much as I was okay with working with that demographic, I still felt that there could be minorities and more women. I decided to start this organisation to get women excited about the tech industry and be more exposed to different opportunities, whether it was in business development, product marketing, engineering, or design. We needed to have representation and different perspectives in product development. It’s very important for me to get more people excited about the tech industry.
Were you always working within technology?
No, I wasn’t. I started out my career in consumer brand marketing at JWT, and so I was in a very creative environment where I was managing different accounts like Disney, Mazda, Ortega Chilli, and Nestlé. So very consumer facing products where I would market and advertise campaigns based on whatever product or service they wanted to sell.
I was definitely very interested in that market and in marketing in general. But as I moved up in my career, I figured out that technology is really the place to be because it was growing exponentially, and also the tools that marketeers were using were all online.
Traditional advertising and public relations soon evolved into this more digitised model. Of course, I had to learn all of the new tools which was what made me really interested in this technology in the first place. I ended up starting in that industry and it evolved into tech and I never looked back.
And for Girls in Tech, there’s two of you that lead the ship?
Yeah, there’s two of us. I founded it in 2007 and my colleague, Kate Brodock, came on the year after.
This is not your full time role is it – you do this in addition to your job?
Well, actually funny you should bring that up. I actually resigned from my job to do Girls in Tech full time. I begin next month, so I’m very excited about that.
What are the biggest challenges and opportunities in 2015 that you’re excited about for Girls in Tech?
I think the biggest challenge is inter-organisational communication. Right now, it’s a good problem we have – we’re in 47 cities around the globe. But it’s very important to communicate and make sure that we’re all aligned in terms of our messaging, in terms of our program development, curriculum in terms of interacting with each other, so that we can share ideas and collaborate because that’s the whole point of the organisation.
Time is definitely something that we can’t help. But the tools we’re using are fragmented, so we need to make sure everything is streamlined so that everybody can participate in a larger discussion internally and we can go out in full force to distribute our messaging and our products and services to the rest of the women in the tech community.
In terms of bandwidth, it’s been very difficult because I have been working at another job. Now, I will be able to take full accountability for everything that happens in the organisation since I’ll be leading the charge starting March of this year. I’m very excited about that.
You said 47 different chapters or different groups?
47 chapters around the world.
Okay, wow, around the world. How many people are in these chapters? What do they represent?
We don’t know exactly. I mean right now, as you can imagine, audit takes forever.
Right now we have approximately over 20,000 members around the world.
Wow, and they host events for women in those communities or in those regions?
Yes. They host programs and deploy trademark curriculum in those cities. Essentially it’s a great problem to have so much exposure in all of these cities globally, but like I said, it’s sometimes challenging to the point of keeping everything streamlined. We’re working for that, and I think it will work out just fine.
We’re eagerly seeking support from corporations like Intel and other big companies so that we can sustain a 3-person staff and grow the organisation. That’s something we’ve been really focussed on. It’s something that I admit to not being good at – fundraising. I don’t like asking for money or favours for that matter. I have to really learn some new skill sets so that I can actually pace people to do work because you can’t scale an organisation without money. You can’t expect volunteers to be volunteers forever.
That is another challenge for me personally. But we’re getting there, slowly but surely.
When you were starting Girls in Tech, did you ever have a mentor in your early days?
That’s a really good question because I had mentors early on in my career and about midway through my career, it just stopped. I don’t think that there are many mentors at executive level out there – especially in high-tech, and especially women. I do not have a mentor now.
I think men probably helped me more than women but to pinpoint just one person who I would say helped my career, I can’t really identify that person. I think I really saw that there was this gap that needed to be filled and I wanted to solve that problem. I feel we’re in such high demand because of that very reason – because those mentors don’t exist. Women don’t necessarily help other women excel in their careers and climb the executive ladder.
“Women don’t necessarily help other women excel in their careers and climb the executive ladder.”
Given what you guys are trying to do, helping with education and helping get women more involved in technology, how important do you think it is to have a mentor today for women?
Hugely important, on many levels. It’s somebody they can trust and ask questions to when they need to make some hard decisions about their career, to bounce off ideas with someone, someone to give them motivation and be able to empower them to do something bigger and better. Someone to pitch strategies alongside them, to do vision mapping exercises, to see what the path looks like, what the present looks like and what the future goals are.
I think it’s really, really valuable. It’s valuable to have any mentor of any gender of any age, but I think for women and for younger women, it’s important to have mentors that are women. I think you can relate to them a lot more. I think it’s important for minority women to have mentors that are minority women.
Also cultural nuisances are important – I’ve seen in a lot of programs where minority women connect better with people of their same culture.
What advice would you give for women on how to find a mentor?
I think they should do research, read blogs. Do research online as to what type of person that they’re interested in being in their personal advisory board, whether it’s something like accolades received or accomplishments achieved, or what area or line of business they’re in. They should have a criteria that they’d be interested in before requesting someone be their mentor.
I think they should join organisations like Girls in Tech so they can interact and meet with other women executives. But also, mentors could be younger. Mentors can be your same age. I think people think mentors have to be older and wiser, grey hair. No, they can be younger. It just depends on exactly what you’re looking for, what your goals are in your own personal career, and if those people have experience doing that.
They’d be surprised at how many people would say, “I’ll be your mentor.” I think that’s pretty much the core of it.
I was asked this weekend to be a mentor by somebody who is a current colleague. We’re just riding bikes and he said, “I’ve never really had a mentor but everything – all your experience and everything you are as a person, I want to learn from you.” So, he’s like, “Would you be my mentor?”
It’s an experience for me because I am mentoring more and more men. It’s very interesting. I’ve only been asked by one woman to be their mentor, and I’ve been asked by about seven men.
That number shows you right there, I think men are just more confident about asking. They’re not afraid to ask.
“I think men are just more confident about asking. They’re not afraid to ask.”
Like you said, just ask people and see what they say – it can’t hurt.
What do you think about companies today who look at diversity or women in the workplace as just another box to check to make sure they are getting good PR?
I feel like a large majority of corporations in high-tech have a very specific goal, like Facebook and LinkedIn just announced that they are committed to getting more female engineers into the company, in an initiative that they’re starting together.
Microsoft does this as well, and Apple. They’re doing different programs and corporate events and training programs to change the way that they attract women. It may be involve looking at different organisations or Universities, where they can recruit women directly, or changing the job description so that it’s more appealing to women, provide more flexible benefits, things like that.
That whole recruitment part is totally fine to adapt and customise because I agree, it’s psychological nuances that affect whether or not a woman is going to want to join a company or not, aside from pay and outside of the equity and the job itself.
But I think there are specific requirements that some companies have that is a little bit ridiculous to say, “We are just recruiting because we need a more diverse workforce.” I think the concept is good. I think you also have to think about merits. Merits obviously are very important. You can’t just hire somebody based on their gender or their skin colour. They have to be merited to that position.
We’re still in the school of thought of recruit women like hell, promote as much as you can, and in the right places. Get them excited about tech. Get them learning. Get them coding, get them designing. Expose them to role models and into the right skills.
But it still has to be based on merit at the end of the day. If they’re not the right person for the job, they’re not the right person.
Those companies that check the box, I think they’re going to have problems in the long run versus the companies that really do their due diligence on their background and do a good job in enticing women to come to the company.
For anyone wanting to work for a technology company, especially in places like Silicon Valley, there is no shortage of competitive talent – people with extensive resumes with direct experience and educational background who can bring immediate value to tech companies. Do you think women have the same advantage as men or face different challenges?
Women face different challenges due to the fact that “brogrammer” culture is present not only at the workplace (startups) but also, at large, high-tech corporations and venture capital firms (old boys club). The notion that women can feel fully comfortable, productive and assimilate in an environment that is primarily created and orchestrated by men does not exist. There are unconscious biases present in the fabric of day-to-day interactions in the workplace, including the way people of different genders communicate with one another, recruitment tactics, balance of idea-sharing during meetings, and sponsors (vs. mentors) in the workplace.
“The notion that women can feel fully comfortable, productive and assimilate in an environment that is primarily created and orchestrated by men does not exist.”
Has the landscape changed for the better today, compared to say 10 years ago? What still needs to change?
Yes, the landscape has changed for the better, however, we still have a long way to go.
Now that we have the data, analytics, and psychological studies surrounding the inequality that women vs. men face in the workplace – pay, promotions, how they are treated etc, we need to do something about it! We actually have to hold companies, executives, and employees accountable with policies that encourage respect and friendly, productive, and supportive work environments. Companies should be encouraged and rewarded when they publish data surrounding diversity and promote the programs that they are launching as a result of that data. For instance, I spoke earlier about Facebook and LinkedIn and how they just implemented a program to encourage more female developers and engineers to apply for jobs. They are instituting a process which is focused on creating an environment and training programs where women can thrive and climb up the ladder if they choose to do so.
Another huge change is the number of organisations, non-profits, and for-profits that have been launched specifically focused on empowering and educating women to become leaders. Universities rarely teach EQ or soft skills, including leadership skills, so this in addition to confidence-building is very important for women who are just as smart or smarter than men, but tend to be more timid or less likely to tout their accomplishments and speak up during meetings. Joining an organisation like Girls in Tech will enable like-minded, powerful women in the tech industry to learn and grow with each other and provide role models and specific skills that can help them excel both professionally and personally.
There feels like there’s an ongoing debate about women juggling careers, relationships, and being a mother and being able to have it all. What is your take on this discussion?
I think that women can have it all – career, relationship, family, social life – but with help.
It’s very challenging to juggle so many important things in one’s life and do them all equally well. With help from a husband/partner, nanny, the company (childcare, etc.), a flexible work environment and policies it becomes a lot easier for women to manage a career and a family successfully. The common multi-tasking woman also needs to release some of the tasks and responsibilities – not always feel obligated to take control of all of the domestic duties – childcare, etc. Delegating to a husband or partner can free up some of the time needed to focus on career or personal activities.
Check out the book ‘Getting to 50/50’.
I will do! What is your advice for women who want to get promoted and move up the corporate ladder? What qualities do you think they should possess?
One word – confidence. Also, a good sense of self (self-awareness) – what you’re good at, what you love to do, what you’re passion about; really truly understanding what your purpose and passion is in life, and fully going for it! Understanding your ‘true north’; following your moral compass and values. As a rule I would offer these five broad recommendations.
– Build a personal advisory board
– Find a sponsor
– Be proactive about training programs
– Take risks / challenges / opportunities
– Ask A LOT of questions
You used to work for Intel as Intel Insider product manager. Their President, Renee James, recently announced a $300M commitment towards workforce diversity, to address the fact that the Global IT industry needs more women in Tech. What would you recommend them investing that towards?
There’s no one thing but instead a series of responses…
Minorities, recruitment and education.
Focusing on different methods, mediums, and channels to recruit minorities, which does not only mean women – but rather women of all races and people of all races. It’s a fundamental flaw in Silicon Valley’s infrastructure – white men building products for white men. Reinforcing diversity in the tech workforce is crucial in terms of comprehensive product development; creating a corporate culture that encourages equality, creativity and balance.
As well as this it’s important to reinvest in the community which fosters STEM education for young girls. It’s fundamental in helping build confidence and provide exposure and excitement around an industry that is traditionally very male dominated. Teaching fun, interactive workshops that inspire girls to ask questions and drive interest in technical fields is the key – Girls in Tech has created several programs such as the ‘Global Classroom’ (which teaches girls how to code and design websites), iPhone/Android app building workshops, ‘Microsoft 101’ (which provides an overview on how to use basic Office programs), and business plan building / product launch workshops. GIT Tech-Shadowing gives girls an opportunity to hang out at a high-tech company or a startup for a day, or our Girls in Tech Summer Camp, which offers field trips to tech museums, workshops, and tech companies.
Another key development should be coding and design classes for women. Girls in Tech’s online learning platform addresses the current and future representation of women in technology, entrepreneurship and STEM by providing learning communities in an environment with the attributes and technologies that females gravitate toward. Courses provided through Global Classroom (GC) will be delivered to women and girls around the world, across all devices. It’s through the strength of socialisation, networking, engagement, and mentorship within a conducive environment that learners will obtain exceptional skills and knowledge in the technology, entrepreneurship and STEM fields. GC puts technology and entrepreneurship in context with project-based social learning in a global community.
This is a holistic approach to inviting women and girls to take and define their roles in these fields. Of equal importance, by networking women and girls globally, we create diverse learning environments and outcomes crucial to understanding different cultural and political dynamics, which is key in preparing a future headed toward globalisation.
That sounds great. What is it that motivates you?
Making a sustainable impact in the world by educating and empowering girls and women and inspiring other people to think big, take risks and use their unique talents to achieve successful results.
How can ZIDILIFE fans support Girls in Tech today to help women interested in technology?
ZIDILIFE fans can help by creating awareness about programs and events such as Girls in Tech’s Catalyst Conference coming up in Phoenix, AZ on April 26-28 and be a part of the discussion – tweet about current events and news that can help create a voice for an under-represented community.
In addition, it’s important to emphasise continued support of daughters, sisters, mothers, friends, when they are striving to do grander things like start a company, take that promotion, or balance a career while having a family.