Female Tech Sexism: Holly Brockwell Power Chats

Gadgette is a new publication for women about tech, style and life. Covering tech in a way that’s inclusive and useful, the online magazine is led by Editor-in-Chief Holly Brockwell, former Editor of ShinyShiny. Holly has been writing about gadgets for the best part of a decade, having worked on two iPhone launches, three UK mobile networks and BlackBerry 10, winning an award for ‘Best Use of Technology’ in the process. The Gadgette team is made up of staff journalists and freelancers who also write for the Huffington Post, VICE, The Vagenda, BuzzFeed and The Debrief.

Have you had first-hand experience of sexism in tech? Definitely. This year has seen an enormous rise in the amount of people talking loudly about tech sexism– which is amazing – but sadly one of the results has been for sexist comments to go much more underground. Now, instead of putting a sexist comment in a press release or advert, people who hold those opinions will say them behind closed doors, when they think they’re “among friends.” We recently covered an audio press event where we were told that women are much less interested in the sound quality of headphones than men, and are more bothered about something that looks good and won’t mess up their hair. In addition to calling out the sexist remarks, we then ran a satirical response called ‘7 ways to wear headphones that won’t mess up your hair,’ which our freelancer Sammy did a superb job on and has been one of our most popular pieces to date.

Unfortunately, because these comments are now made in less public settings, people who don’t want to admit there’s a problem will accuse you of having made it up. I mentioned in my recent Guardian article that I was asked to flash my breasts to see a new smartwatch – and a significant number of commenters accused me of lying about it. I actually considered asking the event space where it happened to see if they could find it on their CCTV, since the guy who said it mimed me lifting up my shirt. But ultimately I realised that people will always find a way to excuse or deny sexism, and you couldn’t stop them even if you had a head-mounted GoPro on all the time. Those people are on the wrong side of history, and they’ll be left behind.

How has technology positively impacted on your career? Can you switch off? And if so, any tips on how to find some non-techie Zen? Tech makes my job a whole lot easier. Last Friday, I was on a train to the Midlands editing articles in the CMS on my phone – that’s something that just wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago. Being able to store everything in the cloud and access it from any device is massively helpful, as are apps and services that sync across web and mobile – Google Calendar and Keep are my saviours.

I’m not sure I do ever switch off from Gadgette, but that’s not because I can’t – it’s more that I don’t want to. I love what we’re building, so checking the analytics or starting a post while in pyjamas on Sunday morning makes total sense to me. Love is a type of addiction, after all.

If I do feel overwhelmed (which sometimes happens when my inbox is full to bursting), I go out to dinner with friends and don’t check my phone all evening. Being away from the screen does good things for my brain.

How does Gadgette approach women differently and why do women need a different approach? I’ve been asked many, many, many times why we need a tech site for women. It’s funny how people only consider something ‘gendered’ if it’s for women! This was my response to someone who asked me recently why Gadgette needs to exist since tech is gender neutral:

I don't agree that all of tech is gender neutral. There are pretty significant differences between men's and women's wrists, which impacts on smartwatch design - and aesthetic factors come into it too, as women don't generally want something that looks 'masculine' (unlike most smartwatches right now).

There are lifestyle factors too, particularly in wearables (women can wear a fitness tracker on a necklace or sports bra, men are less likely to) and phones (a lot of men put their phones in their pockets, whereas women tend to keep it in a bag). However, I do agree that broadly, tech is the same across all humans.

But that's not the point. The point is that women are used to reading tech publications that are still majority male and consider male opinions 'default', where if they venture into the comments with a female username they'll be vilified. Hopefully one day all tech publications will be gender neutral but until then I think it's fair enough to give female tech fans a safe space to talk.

Interestingly, while we’re majority female, a lot of men do read us at the moment. There’s no reason our content can’t also be interesting to men (in the FAQs we make the analogy that you don’t have to live in New York to read the New Yorker) – it’s just that we take the female viewpoint into consideration much more than I think other tech sites do. We’re a tech site by women, for women, and succeeding at that is valuable for everyone.

Do you consider yourself a woman working in tech? Definitely not. I write about tech, but I work in the media. Part of our remit on Gadgette is to talk to and about women who do work in tech, but I wouldn’t want to co-opt the struggle of being the only female engineer in a room of men. I do think we need a lot more women in tech media, though, and that’s something we’re working to help.

A day in the life of Holly Brockwell goes a bit like this: The first thing I do after I’ve finished swearing at my alarm clock is check Twitter. There’s always a whole lot of interesting news and updates from the people I follow, which gets me thinking about what I might want to cover on Gadgette today. I start work at 10am, so my journey to work is somewhat leisurely (I get a seat on the tube and everything) – and I often write the bare bones of an article in my notes app on the way in. Recently, I wrote an entire post about WiFi on the tube while using WiFi on the tube.

In the office, I’ll make a cup of tea and then get to writing. I try and get a piece out before midday, then usually head for a working lunch with a PR person or tech rep. In the afternoon, I’ll have a meeting with Alex, Editor of our sister publication The Memo, where we’ll go over analytics and make plans for the coming week. At some point I’ll check in with my WhatsApp group of fellow tech journos to see if they’re coming to the same press event as me in the evening, then head over there to see an exciting new product, take pictures and eat tiny pieces of food carried by unreasonably good-looking people.

On the way home, I check on our analytics and Twitter account, read my email to see if any fires need putting out, and then mysteriously lose three hours between walking through the front door and going to bed. Two minutes later, my alarm’s going off and I’m swearing again.