1. Interviews with Experts

Women in MarTech: an interview with Anne Tomlin

Let’s rewind a year – it’s February 2020 and International Women’s Day is on the horizon. We decide there’s no better way to start our ‘Interview with Experts’ series than with Q&A sessions with some of the email marketing industry’s most trail-blazing women.

It starts with conversations about the gender balance at industry conferences. And how women are under-represented in these public arenas, and more so at senior levels within the industry.

But as I interviewed more women, another clear imbalance in gender representation appeared in marketing technology (or MarTech, as it’s often shortened to). Here were women who were not only specialists in email marketing strategy – some of them were also coders and developers, making their way in a very male-dominated world.

One of these women is Anne Tomlin, an expert in HTML email coding and founder of an email development company in Texas, USA.

But then Covid-19 really hit and many of us battened down the hatches trying to keep up with the changes lockdowns wrought on all aspects of our lives. And these interviews began to gather dust (figuratively speaking).

Until now.

With International Women’s Day 2021 just days away, here’s what Anne has to say about gender equality in her field of expertise.

Data from a Pearson Frank Java and PHP Salary Survey found that just over one in every 10 developers is a woman – why do you think this is the case?

It can feel like you have to prove your voice is valid in all jobs when you are a woman, but it seems to be even more the case in development. Even more effort is required to be respected in development because of the pervasiveness of a boys-club mentality. I’ve seen women developers leave for other marketing roles because of this.

Examples of coded emails from Anne Tomlin's portfolio
Example of Anne’s email design work

How did you first get into coding and email developing? And what do you most enjoy about this work? 

I got into coding because of my brother. I studied three languages in college, so he thought I’d pick up PHP pretty fast. He was right, but I found I didn’t like backend coding, so I switched to front-end.

My transition into email specifically was a similar story to most email coders – I was asked to code an email at my front-end job. The weird thing about me though is that I enjoyed coding emails from the very first time I coded one.  I love the challenge coding emails present – there is such a strict structure you have to use that makes you think in a different way spatially.

It also presents such a challenge in getting an email to look right in all 50+ major email clients. But the sense of accomplishment you get at the end is all worth it! It’s the “I just did what a lot of other people can’t – I may actually be really good at this!”

I would definitely recommend a career in martech to the next generation. It’s a rewarding career with a tremendously supportive community. Your work is seen by thousands if not millions of people so you know for sure your work is impacting people. It’s also a career in which you are always learning and experimenting. You definitely won’t be bored as an email developer!

I’d also encourage the next generation to be entrepreneurs; I am freelance and it is the best thing I ever did. Working for yourself provides more freedom over your time and location. As a business owner, you get to see the result of your hard work right after you finish a project, so it’s a more immediate sense of accomplishment in addition to knowing you did that work and you are benefiting from it directly.  

What challenges have you personally faced as a woman working in a male-dominated field?

Personally, I have found that, when discussing code with other developers, women developers have to provide more information about their choices to be believed than their male counterparts. When this has happened to me, I find that I have to explain my code from the smallest detail up while male developers don’t.  I also have had to answer the same question phrased differently multiple times.

If women are under-represented in technical roles within marketing, they’re even more so in leadership roles and as keynote speakers at conferences – what do you think can be done to address this imbalance?

I think this issue needs to be addressed even more upfront than it has been.  No doubt getting this topic to be recognized has really improved in the marketing community the past few years, but there is still resistance. Perhaps more exposure on a daily basis to female under-representation is needed.

Anne Tomlin regularly talks at industry events, including Litmus Live in 2020
Anne regularly talks at industry events, including Litmus Live in 2020

What inspired you to speak at the 2019 Email Innovations Summit in Las Vegas and what did you learn from this experience?

I wanted to speak because I saw the same issues coming up with multiple clients and thought many people could benefit from having this information before hiring a freelance developer.

It was my first talk, so I learned quite a lot, but the thing that made the biggest impression was that there is such a thing as practicing a talk too much. I must have given my talk to my cat at least 40 times before the conference, so I sounded stiff because I had rehearsed the same way over and over again.

You’re a member of Women Of Email – why are groups such as this important and how has it helped you in your career?

I think Women of Email is an amazing organization! They have a mentoring program that helps new comers to the email world feel more empowered. They also advocate for women speakers at conferences, which I think has done a great deal of good in promoting women speakers at conferences since its founding.

There have also been countless stories of how members negotiated salaries, got new jobs, and resolved issues by getting advice from other members. Personally, it definitely helped me with periodic imposter syndrome just by hearing that others have been through the same thing.

Gender diversity does appear to be improving each year but what positive change would you like to see in the industry in the future?

I’d like to see more women-led development teams in marketing. It is rare to find a woman in a leadership position in development and I think actively addressing this would do well for respect for women developers.

How has the past year and the pandemic affected gender equality in MarTech?

The women that I’ve collaborated with this past year have been just as dedicated to their jobs, but definitely expressed feeling tired or stressed more often. I think a lot of that is due to having to work from home while juggling home responsibilities.

I’ve not come into contact with any women in my field that decided to quit or were laid off, so I can’t speak to that. Another thing that is happening but not being reported on is management and coworkers leaning on their female colleagues who do not have children, assuming they have more personal time that they can sacrifice for work. 

This year’s IWD theme is #ChooseToChallenge – how do you think women wanting to break into technical roles in marketing can challenge the status quo? 

In email development, there are extremely few women in exclusive developer roles. It’s such a niche market to begin with that the makeup is greatly skewed in favour of men, so, just showing up is challenging the status quo.

I’ve also noticed in email development that the great majority of “experimental code” is written by men.  Actually, I can’t think of the last time a female email developer debuted a new technique or even blogged  or tweeted about something new in email code. I’d encourage anyone interested in being an email developer to experiment with code so women developers are more represented in the email developer space.

And finally, what advice would you give other women seeking technical roles in the marketing industry and women interested in speaking at conferences and events?

I think the first step is addressing imposter syndrome. Recognizing the worth of your knowledge can be difficult, but realizing that everyone feels that way, including men, can help quiet uncertainty.

Secondly, seek out others that are in or have been in the place you want to be. Speaking with people about your goal can help rid yourself of doubts you may have because you know what to expect.

Lastly, advocate for yourself. It can feel uncomfortable to sing your own praises, but do it and do it often. If you’ve done something you feel proud about, email your whole team about it and share it on social media. The more exposure others have to the things you have done helps you and women in general.

Contact Anne for your email developer needs via emailsyall.com or follow her on Twitter.

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