This week marked the fourth annual Exceptional Women in Publishing Women's Leadership Conference in San Francisco, with a theme of "Taking Our Next Step: Content, Community, and Collaboration." The 225 attendees, primarily women, gathered to talk about hot issues in publishing and media, from building sales across digital channels to publishing by and for women.
But as was the case last year, a significant part of the day's discussion considered the factors that prevent women from taking leading roles in the very technologies that will facilitate that next step. The keynote session-moderated by Kara Swisher of All Things D-featured Caroline Ghosn and Amanda Pouchot, co-founders of The Levo League, talking about their online community for young professional women seeking mentoring, sponsorships, and peer-to-peer support. The young women's enthusiasm was infectious, but Swisher kept the discussion grounded, referencing the current historically low levels of women in math and science, on corporate boards, and in high ranking jobs in digital media. The imbalance is particularly rankling to Swisher for Web 2.0 companies like Zynga, Pinterest, and Groupon, all of which have a predominantly female user base.
Ghosn and Pouchot believe that the lack of visible female role models in tech leadership jobs perpetuates the problem. The second panel, on "Content, Community, and Collaboration" provided a refreshing glimpse of what female leadership in media can look like. Swisher moderated a discussion between Jory Des Jardins, co-founder of BlogHer Inc., Francesca Levy, editor of LinkedIn Today, Jessica Verrilli, vice president of strategic initiatives and corporate development for Twitter, and Caryn Marooney, Facebook's director of Technology Communications. Marooney's bout of laryngitis, which required her to whisper into a microphone, tied in nicely with the fact that her commentary is constrained by the mandatory quiet period leading up the Facebook IPO.
The sheer power of these social platforms, particularly relative to female users, was evident in statistics provided by the panelists: Des Jardins pointed to 55 million women bloggers, and the fact that BlogHer's biggest referral source is now Pinterest. Marooney mentioned that on average, female Facebook users spend one third more time on the platform than male users and have 20% more friends, while Verrilli described efforts by Twitter to make discovery much more straightforward for new users, given that 40% of Twitter users still come only to "listen" and not post themselves.
Mobile was so high a priority for all four of these platforms that it nearly transcended the discussion. Marooney pointed out, however, that with Facebook accessible on 2,500 different types of devices, the most important device for the company's global growth is not the smartphone but rather low-end phones used in emerging market countries. Varelli mentioned Twitter's focus on the "second screen experience" and its intent to optimize how Twitter can be used to enhance a core media experience, like a television show or concert.
Throughout the day, discussion of cross channel content development and multi-platform content integration strategies was at the forefront, particularly in the breakout session around unearthing new revenue streams featuring Joanne Bradford, chief revenue and marketing officer of Demand Media, and Jen Vescio, vice president of business development for ESPN. Given the scope and scale of the efforts in those companies, however, it would have been useful for someone to translate how Bradford and Vescio's successes and systems might work for smaller publishers.
During lunch, the EWIP board presented its Exceptional Woman in Publishing Award to Michaela O'Connor Abrams, president of Dwell Media, and in remarks afterward she cited inadequate technology as her biggest challenge. "We have no shortage of great ideas for new content for Dwell, but it's not as seamless as you'd think to implement them," Abrams said. She's excited about Dwell's imminent move into contextualized commerce, incorporating the stories her organization tells around modern design into a commerce play.
And Abrams believes that women can play a unique role in creating that collaborative storytelling approach. "Women may be newer at the collaboration game, but they have an innate gift at creating experiences, whether it's a meal or a family reunion or a product." Matching up that natural bent towards collaboration with career opportunities for women in the technical side of the media industry seems like the most obvious next step of all.