I’ve seen a few comments and posts on LinkedIn recently that we shouldn’t talk about politics on LinkedIn. I’ve seen this aimed at women in particular.
“Politics”, particularly in the current climate, has a bad rap. It has traditionally been considered impolite conversation. But, at its core, (informed) politics is about trying to understand and define how society works (or should work). It is about power and how we run our society. It is about dynamics between humans and human decision-making.
The decision in the ballot box is inherently similar to the decision to buy or engage or click. An understanding of the former gives you a much more sophisticated understanding of the latter. Particularly, how that decision is manipulated, the art of persuasion and the dark side of that psychology… and also how ignorance can be exploited and the ethics behind that.
Politics is about reconciling your own values and ethics with others’ (who may be different) and find consensus. It is about how we design (yes, I said design) our vision for how the world should be, how people should interact with both government and each other, and society should be set up to protect those who are vulnerable.
How is politics related to running a digital agency?
When I tell people that I am a politics grad who “fell” into the web and tech, they seem confused. To me, the connection has always been natural. It’s probably why I saw the Cambridge Analytica fiasco and Trump and all this awfulness coming years ago.
How is the discipline of politics not completely related to what I do, what my values are, and how they manifest in the agency I am trying to build?
Business (especially as a woman founder in tech) is about living your values. It is about building systems and creating culture. How are they not inherently related to each other – especially when intersected with women’s issues?
I am a woman in an industry dominated by men and I don’t just design and build websites: I am also doing something bigger.
I’m designing and building a business that is inherently (and unashamedly) political:
- by providing opportunities to women (I state quite honestly that I will hire women in senior positions as we grow – not because we are a “pink collar” business, but because kick-arse women deserve it);
- by providing mothers with a workplace where their kids always come first, and trusting that they’ll get stuff done;
- by giving everyone a reasonable workload, and protecting both staff and clients from a toxic dynamic;
- by hiring people who need a shot after being out of the workplace for a while and training them up;
- by being open and honest with our clients about our margins, our boundaries, our fuck-ups, and our struggles, and being okay with uncomfortable conversations;
- by paying our staff more than the bare minimum the government tells us we have to (ie a “not doing simply what’s legal, doing what’s right” approach);
- by refusing to do free emotional labour, or expect my staff to (what the men call “project management”, “account management” or “consulting” and get paid for);
- by refusing to engage with unethical internet marketing practices, black hat SEO, or use data unethically or exploitatively;
- by knowing, in my heart of hearts, that we can actually be successful AND be decent. And show that there might actually be a better way of doing business.
Under capitalism, starting a business based on kindness is a political act.
The market and compassion are not mutually exclusive, contrary to how it might look. The free market can work better if we can persuade people to buy based on their values, because most people are decent. There is a movement afoot. People are waking up, and are screaming for a better way to do business. Not just some hokey corporate lip service to values, but truly living them.
And importantly, the single greatest political act a woman in a male-dominated industry like tech can do is to:
- start and run a business (patriarchy definitely doesn’t want us to do that and the tech bros don’t like it);
- speak up for other women who might not feel they can, especially when the consequences can be terrifying;
- bypass the oppression of old corporate paradigms and cultures whilst doing so;
- refuse to “behave” or “smile” or not face head-on what is happening in my industry (and the broader world) right now;
- by understanding that I will always be an outlier as a result of that – no matter how smart, pretty, nice and behaved I am, because women are socialised to continually try harder to win what should be an inherent right (to be heard, believed, revered, respected). And to understand all of that and push on anyway.
I’m acutely aware that, as someone who started out as a political scientist, that I am more comfortable in this space than the average bear.
I’m aware that politics, especially in 2018, makes people uncomfortable.
Politics, design, marketing and tech intersect.
Design & tech, as a discipline, is fundamentally about connecting humanity and making things a little bit nicer for everyone and soothing people’s pain.
Social Media and the original vision of human connectivity that we first thought it represented… is circling the drain. Digital Marketing, Design & Tech needs more multi-disciplinary thinkers, who can try to do business better.
Those of us who have built the internet (in small and big ways) have to start taking responsibility for what we have created. Try to make good on our mistakes. Try to make better things, do better work and get back to what we thought it would be.
Social Media, Business, Feminism, Politics, and the greater world we live in are entirely relevant to MY business. In my business, everything is political. Especially in a week where politics has been particularly ugly and a group of cruel, pathological misogynists in power are gleefully mocking sexual assault victims before our eyes. When government departments and banks are bullying citizens with their private data. When people – for some reason – haven’t figured out that a good start would be for us all to just block Trump on Twitter and ignore him.
My business is a manifestation of my ideals of how things should run. It’s also the best way to find like-minded people that I want to work with, who share our values, and will pay us enough to help us realise those values in a world of greed, narcissism and sociopathy, and together try to be the change we want to see.
Business IS political. Do it. Talk about what you care about. Tell me you’ve done it. I’ll have your back.