1. Interviews with Experts

An interview with Leah Miranda: Gender diversity in the email marketing industry

Sat in the audience of an email marketing industry conference and you may be forgiven for thinking it’s a male-dominated industry. The same could be said for even Googling ’email marketing experts’.

You’ll find many male names in the results but not so many female names.

In the past, the speaker panels and stages of such conferences have failed to fairly represent the genders. Yet more recently, women like Leah Miranda and fellow industry experts are making it their business to change that representation.

An email developer and senior manager with over a decade’s experience in marketing, Leah has spoken at a number of events. So ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day, I caught up with her to discuss gender diversity and her experience in the industry.

I see you’re certified in Front End JavaScript web development. That’s a very male-dominated field – have you faced any challenges as a woman working in the technology side of marketing?

That’s a great question. I’ve faced both internal and external challenges as a woman in tech. Internally, I’ve always struggled with imposter syndrome. When I started my career I was a history and social studies teacher. In other words, I didn’t have any technical training. Fast-forward a couple of years and a career change, my interest and passion for technology grew, leading me to complete several boot camps and a year-long school to further my skillset. Despite my training and continued training, however, there’s always a part of me that feels I don’t belong in tech – that I haven’t proven my worth yet. It’s easy to spiral with negative self-talk so when imposter syndrome surfaces I remind myself that I love what I do, I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and, most importantly, it’s ok to still be learning. 

Externally, I’ve had my fair share of working with the stereotypical “tech bro”. In meetings, for example, there was the pressure of not only giving the right answer, but also then having to explain how I came to the right answer. It reminded me of geometry class. Do you remember in geometry when you had to do a proof? We had to show this is how we came to the conclusion, through all of these steps. Yet in the same meetings, my male counterparts with the same level of experience weren’t required to provide explanations. Fortunately, aside from a few “tech bro” colleagues, I’ve been able to work with some incredible men and women that have helped support me throughout my career.  

What got you into email development in the first place?

I never thought I’d end up coding for a living. I started in event marketing, eventually transitioning into content marketing. I remember wanting to add a bulleted list to a blog article I’d written and I was told ‘you can’t do that, it’s too complicated for you.’ Frankly, being told I can’t do something just didn’t sit well with me, so I turned to Google and learned how to code a bulleted list. Talking about coding a list sounds silly now, but that’s really when I fell in love with coding. I’ve since moved on to more advanced languages like JavaScript and Python, but I’ll always remember the pride I felt typing out <ul><li></li></ul>. 

And how has that helped you in your marketing role over the years?

Having a technical background has opened up a lot of doors and opportunities – helping me move into an email operations role and focusing on automation. Aside from career opportunities, it’s also helped me become a more empathetic leader. I know that might be a weird thing to say, but in marketing operations you’re working with a lot of developers, and having a technical background, I have a better understanding of how much time and effort is involved in a seemingly “simple” request.

You’re a member of Women of Email. How has this network helped you? And what needs do you think it answers in the industry?

Women of Email is a wonderful organization and helped me in my transition from front-end development to email development. I got into email thinking, ‘this’ll be easy, I already know how to code’ – goodness, was I wrong! WoE members were so generous in providing coding assistance. Not only were they there to help through the difficult times, but they were also always there with an emoji or gif to celebrate the good ones.

If you’ve ever been in a meeting where you’re thinking, ‘I’m not crazy right? This is a best practice. We shouldn’t be doing ‘XYZ’ right?’ then this group is one you need to join because they’re always there to confirm you’re right and will even send you an article or two to help support your case. This group has been really instrumental in helping me overcome challenges in my day-to-day work life, and I hope to one day provide as much support and encouragement to others as they’ve given to me. 

And do you think those challenges are something that women face more often than men? A few of the women I’ve spoken to so far have expressed that sometimes, especially in data and technology, being taken seriously by men is a bit of a challenge. Women struggle to get that to that place of confidence where they can say ‘yes, this is the answer’.

Yes! I think this goes back to my example of having to prove you know the right answer. In meetings a male co-worker can say, ‘the answer is 43%.’ And it’s taken as fact, but women on the other hand not only have to provide the answer, but then endure questions like ‘Are you sure? How did you get that answer?’ or even worse they’ll turn to another colleague and ask them the question. This is something I’ve experienced at multiple jobs, and it’s about as much fun as you think. Not to mention the effect it has on your confidence since you constantly have to prove you know what you’re talking about.

Over the years I’ve learned to combat this issue by saying ‘if you want me to go through the nitty gritty, we can schedule some time later, but for the purposes of this meeting, the answer is 43%, so let’s talk about what that means for our next steps.’ I know that may seem a bit aggressive, but it’s more about standing up for your expertise.

I’ve also experienced instances where my manager is in the meeting with me and in an effort to assist will immediately jump to my defense providing the details of how I got to a specific answer. While it’s great to have the support of a manager, sometimes it can have the opposite effect. One of my favorite managers had an excellent way of supporting me when asked ‘Do you agree with Leah?’ she’d respond ‘yes, I defer to our expert.’ While simple, that answer helped empower me in those meetings, and it’s a technique I use with my own teams today. 

Leah Miranda speaking at the Email Innovations Summit

You’ve spoken at a few industry events. What first inspired you to become a speaker? And have you ever encountered any gender prejudice at these events?

I’m a former teacher so getting in front of people and teaching them something is always fun. I first started speaking in this industry probably about two or so years ago and since being at my current company, I’ve really had the opportunity to ramp it up. I’m very fortunate to work for a company that values going to industry events and sharing best practices.

As far as discrimination, there have been a couple events where it’s been a little bit odd. In my experience, it’s usually occurred during Q&As. Specifically, I’ve encountered situations where I get questions that my male counterparts don’t usually get or when on a panel with them, most of the ‘technical’ questions are directed to them. For instance, I was on a panel with a male coworker – our designer. We’ve created some incredible projects together and were excited to discuss our areas of expertise and our methods of collaboration.

Despite our introductions, however, all technical, datatype questions were asked of him and I got the fluff questions like ‘when to use emojis in email.’ He was a great sport about it and would politely redirect by answering ‘Well, I’m the designer, so I don’t do anything with the data. Leah’s the person to ask.’ Needless to say, it was a weird experience for both of us.

And then I’ve been at a conference before where I made mention of my wife, and it kind of went left instead of right. It was odd to experience that sort of reaction at a decent-sized tech conference. So yes, I’ve encountered prejudice at a couple of events, but I do think it’s starting to be less prevalent than it was two or five years ago, which is really hopeful. But we do have some more work to do to address and eradicate this issue.

Why do you think women are underrepresented at these events, as keynote speakers and even in leadership roles within the industry? And what do you think could be done to address the imbalance?

I’d be very curious to know the stats on how many women are actually applying for these speaker roles. I know that was something that I struggled with. I’ve been in this field for over a decade, and I still think I probably shouldn’t apply because I could name four other people who are smarter and who should speak instead, which is not the best thought process. So, that may be one hindrance in terms of representation.

You see this in leadership as well – women typically believe they need to master something before moving to the next level. It’s common to see women interested in transitioning to a more senior role, to feel the need to prove that they can both do their role and the job functions of the role above. This is great and shows initiative. The problem is, I think we get stuck with leadership saying, ‘Oh, well, they’re currently doing everything that we want and then some, without needing to promote, without needing to give them any sort of recognition,’ which is tough. Whereas, I’ve seen male counterparts apply for a job two levels above them and have the confidence that they’ll either learn the skills or just ‘fake it til they make it.’

This is a very simplified view of the imbalance, but I think it still shows the importance of encouraging more women to apply for keynote speaking and leadership roles, to refine our recruitment methods and nurture candidate pipelines from underrepresented groups to be more inclusive. I think Women of Email are really great with this. I saw a couple of women saying, ‘Hey, I’m going for a speaking opportunity. Would you mind reviewing my talk?’. And the responses these women received from email industry leaders were amazing. So I think providing more women that encouragement to apply is what we need within the industry to make a difference and Women of Email do a really great job with this. 

In terms of gender diversity in the industry, you mentioned you have noticed things have changed in the last couple of years. What specifically do you think has changed and what’s driving that change?

I think our general culture has changed. My wife and I talk about this a lot, about how the media leads that change that you see culturally. That’s a whole other dissertation we won’t get into now! Essentially, however, women in leadership used to be a punchline. Women were called bossy (or other words that start with ‘b’) and that sort of joke was allowed and deemed “funny.” Now, we’ve culturally said, “No, that punchline is not acceptable.” In the email industry, we’ve had the creation of some amazing groups like WoE and some really great male leaders who are recognizing the lack of diversity in the workplace and helping to change it.

One individual that immediately comes to mind is Logan Baird who is quite possibly one of the most supportive human beings I have ever met. He is a champion for diversity, and it’s great allies like Logan that are helping create change in this space. 

We’ve also had some trailblazing, amazing women who said, ‘I’m going to go out, I’m going to do it’, like Jen from Women Of Email. Jen Capstraw has been inspirational busting into this industry and establishing herself as a top-notch expert. And she’s been instrumental for many by then saying, “Okay, I’m going to hold the door open for women everywhere.” It’s really exciting to see allies from all groups champion the creation of a welcoming, inclusive industry. 

So things are changing, which is great. Specifically, what changes would you like to see in the industry over the next coming years?

I would like to ride this representation wave, if you will. Yes, I want more women on the stage, but I also want us to tap into the LGBTQIA+ community, women of color, and people with disabilities. Because we all experience the world in different ways, and, to me, that’s wonderful! I want to hear from speakers and individuals who can provide diverse perspectives on topics like accessibility and learn to design and code emails that can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter how they interact with the content. So, I guess that’s my longwinded way of saying, yes, things are changing and I don’t want to belittle that change, but we still have a ways to go. I believe, wait, no, not believe, I know, we’ll get there by having conversations like the one we’re having right now. 

And my last question for you is, what advice would you give other women interested in speaking at conferences and events, or seeking senior roles in the marketing industry?

Just go for it! And remember who you are. I know it sounds cheesy, but before I apply for anything and before I go on stage, I just say ‘remember who you are – you’ve got over a decade of experience, you’ve got this, this, and this’ and it’s this kind of self-talk that we need to go out and stretch ourselves.

So my advice to women is just go for it. Remember who you are, you are amazing!. Goodness, I’m starting to sound like a Pinterest board, but I stand by my advice. And while I hope you’ll always succeed, don’t be discouraged by a ‘no.’ If someone tells you ‘no’ or you don’t get that job or speaking gig, that’s ok too. You are still the same amazing person so don’t let that ‘no’ stop you from applying again. 

Keep in touch with Leah on Twitter or Linkedin.

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