The Silicon Divide

We often talk about the gender gap in Silicon Valley—there are far too few female computer engineers and startup founders—but there’s one field where women do dominate Silicon Valley: public relations.

Most research suggests that about 70 percent of all public relations professionals are women, and that number seems to hold up when you look specifically at the breakdown in tech PR. Anecdotally, when I deal with press people at tech companies, they are overwhelmingly women. In the vast majority of cases, these women are pitching startups founded by and dominated by men.

After a spirited discussion with the Motherboard staff, it turns out I’m not the only one who noticed this. I decided to do a little experiment. I went to the SXSW Interactive festival in early March—a Super Bowl for tech startups and for the PR people who represent them. I checked all of the emails I got from PR people for the first 10 days of March, which were the first few days before I got to the festival and the first few days after I left. I got emails from 127 different women PR people, and just 48 men.

I deal with public relations professionals on a daily basis, but I rarely think about what their job actually entails behind the scenes. After I started thinking about it, I wondered if it was weird for women in the so-called “pink collar” PR profession to primarily represent male clients and work in-house at companies that are primarily men. And so, I called some women who are in the profession and talked to them about their jobs.

It’s impossible to generalize the experience of an entire profession, but I quickly learned that, for a lot of women, working in tech PR is a way to get into tech—if you work at a small startup, you’re often wearing lots of different hats and, at companies with smart founders, they’ll be involved in major decisions at the company and will have the opportunity to climb the ladder.

There are, of course, lots of challenges as well, which the women I spoke to can articulate much better than I can. As always, thanks for listening to Radio Motherboard.