We asked you to send three emails to promote women in your networks. The results were inspiring—and frustrating.
Earlier this month, we asked you to help solve the gender gap in your industry by promoting women in your networks. Our request was simple: Identify three up-and-coming women you feel are under-noticed; think of three powerful people who are in a position to hire, publish, or mentor them; and send three emails connecting the up-and-comers with the established folks.
The results were alternately inspiring and frustrating. We received a lot of good vibes for launching the #promotewomen campaign—thousands of you read, reblogged, tweeted, and wrote your own stories to boost the signal. We even registered some real-world impact—we heard directly from women nominated for bonuses, contacts eager to promote female talent to GOOD, and organizations launching their own efforts to promote women in the wake of the campaign.
But we also heard from people who couldn't be bothered to send three little emails, including plenty of people within our own organization. The #promotewomen campaign inspired a lot of enthusiasm around the idea of narrowing the gender gap in creative industries. But when it came to actually doing something about it, we learned that we are all well-meaning, but a little bit lazy.
Here at GOOD, we loathe defaulting to that tired online call-to-action: "Sign a petition!" But we also recognize that real change takes time and effort, and we are all busy. We can all do better. Here are three lessons we learned from #promotewomen. File your own suggestions for making our future actions better in the comments, or hit me up directly.
Don't overthink it. When we asked our coworkers why they didn't send three emails promoting women last week, excuses abounded. "I liked the idea but I actually don't know any women who are looking for work," one said. Another told us that when she "thought about the kickass women who I thought should be promoted," she decided they were "doing really well on their own" and didn't need her help. Another GOOD employee knew of some up-and-coming women she wanted to promote—she just didn't know who to promote them to. The #promotewomen campaign "relied on two variables, the recommendee and the folks in position to hire," she told us. "For future campaigns, it would be easier to only rely on one."
Points taken. But speaking as a woman who's doing really well on her own, I can always benefit from new contacts in my industry, even if they're essentially my peers—we're sure to have different strengths and networks, and can pull each other up in surprising ways. In fact, GOOD's editors are firm believers that the most effective form of mentorship doesn't come from linking up rookies with crusty old veterans, but from connecting industry professionals with people who are just a rung or two higher than them on the job ladder. So don't be shy to link up unexpected reaches of your networks—you might be surprised at how helpful it is. And if you're not sure what type of people your contacts might be interested in getting in touch with, ask.
Tweak it. We recognize that no specific online campaign is a good fit for everyone. It was great to see people excited about #promotewomen modify the campaign to meet your own needs. Some of you couldn't manage to send three emails—but you could send one. Many of you joined in to thank the established folks who have promoted you in your careers—it's important to promote people who promote women, too! Terror Magazine, a publication that is "organizing the world's greatest girl gang" to promote women's work, applied for a $500 grant through GOOD's fundraising site, GOOD Maker (you can vote for the project here). The Grindstone published a list of women's publications it loves. Our own writers spilled more ink on the topic, getting specific about why promoting women is good for everyone.
We believe that #promotewomen has the potential to be such an effective campaign because sending three emails is an easy action that has the potential to really help women. "It's the difference between cold-emailing an editor who is inundated with intros and pitches, or getting personally introduced by someone who knows, trusts, and vouches for your work (and professionalism)," one woman told me after a friend put us in touch in the spirit of the campaign.
But talking about the issue is important, too—sharing stories about the dire gender gap in your industry, and the potential of networks to solve that problem, helps remind well-connected professionals why it's worth it to take five minutes out of their day to help women they know. Here's another story, from GOOD managing editor Megan Greenwell:
The first time I interacted with professional journalists made me think they were all terrible people. I had broken a story in my high school newspaper that attracted some national attention. There were reporters waiting outside my house and at my locker. I did plenty of interviews, but I turned some down. And that made some people very, very angry. "Do you know who the fuck I am?" one ladies' mag editor screamed at me (I didn't.). "Personally, I would just as soon drop the story altogether. I'm on three other deadlines right now, and as you might imagine I have better things to do with my time than get into a pissing contest with uncooperative teenagers," another ladies' mag editor wrote in an email. While I suspect it was just coincidence, it was typically the women who were the meanest.
Shortly after the madness died down, I was invited to speak at the Journalism and Women's Symposium conference. I thought seriously about skipping it because I was so burned out on hostile, competitive women reporters. But I figured it might look good on my college application, so I booked a plane ticket to Seattle. Within an hour, my faith in professional journalists had been restored completely. Women went out of their way to talk to me, not as a curiosity, but as someone with an interesting perspective on journalism. A few offered me internships. Rather than hitting the hotel bar after dinner, a large group of them sat in the lobby with cups of tea so I could join. I haven't been back to a JAWS conference since then, and I never ended up working for any of those women, but the weekend showed me that there were women in the industry who were genuinely interested in promoting younger ones. It's not much of an exaggeration to say I might not be a journalist today without them.\n
Promote yourself. #promotewomen is a campaign targeted at connecters—industry insiders who are linked to both up-and-coming talent and more established people. But that shouldn't stop you from engaging in a little bit of self-promotion. This campaign was partially inspired by a conversation I had with a well-connected colleague. I didn't wait around for him to promote me—I told him to do it. And after launching the campaign, I heard from plenty more women who were eager to promote themselves and their own organizations.
It shouldn't fall on women to solve the gender gap. But we can help provide a roadmap for others to give us a hand. Promote women today—then tell your networks to promote you.