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Raising Awareness for Diversity in Tech With Frances Donegan-Ryan [PODCAST]

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As host of Janes of Digital and part of the Bing Ads Global Community Engagement team, Frances Donegan-Ryan speaks with SEJ Executive Editor Kelsey Jones in this Marketing Nerds Episode on how talking about issues in race, gender, and diversity in our industry can make us stronger, as well as what to do when you see issues with inclusion or sexist comments happening.

diversity of world cultures vector illustration design

Can you give an overview of what Janes of Digital is and what events you have?

Frances: Yes, I’d be delighted to. Janes of Digital is an event from Bing Ads and Microsoft. We started it almost three and a half years ago now. It started based on a conversation that a colleague of mine and some other women in the search industry had, about how they found that at conferences, particularly search and also tech conferences, there wasn’t an organized or safe space for women to talk about issues we have. They also felt like a lot of the social activities that were organized didn’t feel safe for women.

We saw there was a gap and we felt that we could step in, help fill it, and help broker it. We still wanted it to feel like a fun evening event and pretty swanky and entertaining but safer and we actually got deep into some topics that were quite important to us.

Kelsey: Janes of Digital sounds great. Is there one coming up soon?

Frances: There is. Our next Janes of Digital will be at the end of March 2017 in San Jose. You can go to the Janes of Digital website ( to check out the dates and location and to register to attend. In case you’re not in the San Jose area, we live stream so you can still view it and participate, making cocktails at home so you can join the fun as well. We live stream straight on our Bing Ads Facebook page.

How do you think having those conversations at Janes of Digital and other events makes an impact in actually changing how women are perceived in our industry?

Frances: Some of the outcomes I’ve seen over the last three years of hosting these events are that I see more women realize they’re not alone, that there is support and shared experiences. I think this has been proven over and over in many studies that when people feel a sense of shared experience, it makes them stronger, it makes them less scared, and it helps build a connection between the community. As a woman, it makes you feel less isolated, less singled out, and that can help with some of the blame and shame around these incidents.

Something that’s been really brilliant about hosting Janes is that the attendance of our male allies and colleagues has increased from one event to the next. In our last Janes of New York, for example, I would say it was about 40% male and 60% female. As they attend, I see more of them ask questions because they also feel like it’s a safe space to ask questions that they’ve had but they’ve never known who to go to with them. I’ve seen changes in their behaviors, in their way of thinking, and even in the language that they use.

I think the other brilliant thing, even though we’re called Janes of Digital and we lead with women’s issues, because we have a panel, we’ve been able to invite a range of other minority groups: African-Americans, Asian-Americans, the LGBTQ community. I think it’s opened up even the eyes of many people in the room who would consider themselves a real champion of diversity. It’s opened up their eyes to the experiences and the stories that those minority groups have as well. I think it’s fostering a community that’s supporting all of us and being allies for each other.

What are some direct ways that employers or thought leaders can do to increase diversity beyond speaking up about it at events like Janes of Digital?

Many hands together: group of diverse people joining handsFrances: What my team has started doing at every team meeting is we save time to talk about diversity and inclusion. It’s on the agenda, it’s an official part of our team conversations. I think just making that time has made it easier for people to, again, ask questions and raise issues. Something else I do is every Friday, I send out an email to my team with a little diversity and inclusion fact or image, something small that you can read in a few seconds.

Just keeping it top of mind, I find it helpful. The other thing you can do, and something Microsoft has been heavily investing in, is company-wide diversity and inclusion training. One of the awesome things that Microsoft has done is to create a training called “Unconscious Bias.” There’s obviously overt sexism and racism and harassment, but there’s a lot of things we say, behaviors and decisions we make, that affect diversity and inclusion negatively. But we don’t know we’re doing them. There’s these unconscious biases that we all have based on the way we’re brought up, communities we’ve lived in, countries we’ve visited, etc.

Microsoft, in partnership with some leaders in the diversity area, created an unconscious bias training, and they actually made it publicly available to any person or organization. If you’re in a smaller company, or it’s not an area of investment, or you just can’t invest in it because you don’t have the funds to do so, Microsoft has made it free. If you go to, you can download the entire training, materials, and programs, and run it in your business or at your school or with your women’s community. I think that formal training, creating a space to talk about it, and people who are passionate about sharing with their team all help to foster a safe space to discuss it.

Kelsey: I was going to say that’s awesome. I didn’t know they offer that program for free, so that’s really cool. I just got a book called “Overcoming Bias(note: this is an affiliate link) by Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman. I thought that speaks to what you’re saying. Just reading about it and figuring out what you’re doing and how you could change it goes a long way.

Frances: Something else Microsoft has done just this year is that for every group at Microsoft, diversity and inclusion goals are now part of the senior leader’s scorecard (the top KPIs that they’re tracked on and earn compensation on). Say they met all of their revenue goals but did not meet their diversity and inclusion goals, that would not be considered an A+ scorecard or an all-green scorecard. The advancement of diversity and inclusion and the clear examples and demonstrations of it within these groups are now tied to their pay, tied to their bonuses. I think that makes it more real and more serious with those leaders. It’s one approach of that leader setting the example. Then I think training is a good approach for all of us who are in the middle that might not have the authority yet that a leader has but can help shape the culture.

What are some tips you would give other people on how they can speak up when they see issues with inclusion happening?

Frances: I do think that being more public about what I’m experiencing has helped me. That is probably based on my personality type and my insecurities. I pull energy from other people around me, so if I know that they understand me better and can support me, that gives me energy. Some people, depending on their personality type and learning type, pull more energy from themselves and need more time to process what’s happened to them. Some advice I would give is even if you don’t react right in that moment, it doesn’t mean that it’s not something you can address or talk about later. If that’s not your personality type, don’t force it. That’s not the only way to deal with it. Take the time you need. Don’t feel that if time has passed, there’s nothing you can do about it.

I was harassed at work by people in other teams around me. I went through every stage of blaming myself, saying, “If you hadn’t have done X, Y, and Z, then this wouldn’t have happened to you.” But when another woman comes to me and they tell me that, I’d be like, “Why do you think that? That’s the silliest thing ever!” You go through it yourself. I went through all of those stages of blaming myself, of just being sad, of telling myself maybe it wasn’t as bad as it was and I was overreacting and I was exaggerating it. I went through every step of that even though people looked at me as an expert in this area.

Then I made the decision to report it to our human resources team and went through a difficult and painful process. The investigations continued, and different results came through, and different decisions were made. When I got to the end of it, I remember sitting down and thinking, “I don’t know if I would do this again. I don’t know if I would report it again.” It was a really sad realization when I know that I would have given advice to other women to report it and to go through it. I wish someone had prepared me and said, “Absolutely. This is what you must do not just for yourself, but for women in the future who they might harass and will have an extra layer of protection and help because you have reported it.”

It’s really not easy. I applaud anyone who does what they feel they can to stand up for it and try to change a behavior, but it’s not easy. I know that, other women know that, and we’re still here for each other. I would still encourage people to do it. I would let them know it’s not going to be easy and prepare yourself for that, but it is the right thing to do. History tells us that the right thing to do is often not the easy path. I would hope that women take strength from that.

Kelsey: I know that isn’t easy. I’ve been through that myself. I had an experience where this company I used to work for, it was all male dominated and I reported stuff, but my manager was friends with the guy doing it so nothing happened. It was a very powerless feeling. As much as I felt that, I still had to remember that I had the power to leave, and so I did. Now I’m sure there’s tons of other ways I could have handled that, but I spoke to HR, I spoke to my manager, and nothing happened. In that situation, maybe it’s not the best place for you to be.

I think whenever I feel uncomfortable, I try to remember what power I do have. Even if it’s a very uncomfortable situation and I’m by myself, I’ll just get through it. I’ll just say yes or say whatever I need to say to get out of that situation with that person, and then I’ll do something on the back-end. I’ll write an email or I’ll follow-up later when I’m feeling not as uncomfortable. I still think that does make a huge impact.

Frances: In general, we put the safety and health and welfare of our children or our partner or our family ahead of ourselves. I fully understand that women might not have the same choices to leave a situation that’s detrimental to them. But if you are not your own ally first, you won’t be able to be someone else’s ally. The first ally that you need to support is you, or the first person you need to be an ally to is yourself. We often don’t put enough focus or value on our mental health and how important it is to be strong in that area, and have kindness for yourself and have other people who are kind to you, because it will be difficult for you to support other people and to be an ally for others. It will be almost impossible if you’re not first an ally to yourself.

To listen to this Marketing Nerds Podcast with Kelsey Jones and Frances Donegan-Ryan:

Think you have what it takes to be a Marketing Nerd? If so, message Danielle Antosz on Twitter, or email her at danielle [at]

Visit our Marketing Nerds archive to listen to other Marketing Nerds podcasts!

Image Credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita

In-post Image #1: yupiramos/DepositPhotos
In-post Image #2: mangostock/DepositPhotos

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Raising Awareness for Diversity in Tech With Frances Donegan-Ryan [PODCAST]

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