Written by Sara Breeding for the Axosoft blog.
By now #ItWasNeverADress has organically reached over 18 million people on social media! That doesn’t take into account the reach of articles on CNN, Yahoo, Today, NY Times, TIME, Mashable, BuzzFeed, LifeShifter and other major online publications. Yes, I name dropped… only because it’s kind of a big deal. But no one has the inside scoop like we do!
What is #ItWasNeverADress about?
For those of you who don’t know, It Was Never a Dress is about breaking down barriers and shifting perceptions of women. The goal is to start a much-needed conversation about the underrepresentation of women in the tech industry and the inequality that exists for women in many spaces. This movement is not intended to criticize anyone; it’s an invitation to open our minds to small shifts in perception that can create major change in the conventional norms that hold us all back.
Where did the idea come from?
We (Axosoft) decided to partner with Girls in Tech to host their Catalyst Conference in our own backyard. We are huge supporters of the local tech ecosystem and want Arizona to be recognized as the up-and-coming technology hub that it is. As the main sponsor of the conference, we wanted to create a big idea that would resonate with women coming from around the world to share their stories and empower each other.
This is probably a good point for me to drop some knowledge on you about Axosoft’s culture… I’ll start by introducing myself and Tania Katan, my partner in crime on the marketing team. My name is Sara Breeding, and my “official” title is Marketing Unicorn. I’m not even really sure who first called me that at work—I think it had something to do with my diverse skill set and love of cutesy things—but before I knew it people were giving me all kinds of unicorn paraphernalia and my desk started looking like a crazy cat lady’s house, only the unicorn equivalent. Because we embrace a flat structure with no management titles—and my CEO Lawdan bought me unicorn ballet flats—the name has stuck.
Tania Katan is Axosoft’s Curator of Code, but don’t get confused, Tania’s background is not software development. She even jokes about starting at Axosoft several months ago with a “vintage” Macbook from 2009 and a prehistoric iPhone 4. Prior to coming to Axosoft, she was the curator of performing arts at a contemporary art museum, an award-winning author, performer, and producer. I like to sum up her personality and cross-disciplinary skillset into “she’s amazing!”
Anyways, when the two of us started to brainstorm ideas, the iconic symbol for women came to mind; you know the one… the lady in the triangle dress who often marks the restroom. “We see her every day. She’s been in that stiff, triangle dress, looking uncomfortable. And if she’s a symbol that represents women, no wonder we feel rigid and trapped,” said Tania. That’s why we set out to see this symbol differently.
As we started to reenvision this symbol, Tania suggested, “What if her triangle dress is really a cape?” That’s when I exclaimed it was never a dress! From there creative sparks flew: What if we were seeing her from the wrong side? Have we been staring at her back all along? What if she is a superhero?! Tania outlined the body in front of the cape in literally four lines; suddenly there was a super woman revealed; she was there this whole time. It was a profound shift in perception.
Why would Axosoft, a software development company, create this campaign?
At the foundation of Axosoft’s tool is the agile methodology. What that means is that our product focuses on people over process, champions collaborating, embraces change, and lends itself to moving quickly, innovatively and consciously. Our culture at Axosoft mimics this creative software development process and is part of the reason we were able to create the It Was Never A Dress campaign.
If you talk to our CEO, aka Cultural Harvester, Lawdan Shojaee, she will tell you, “We see our product as a tool, not different from a paintbrush, that software developers use to be as creative and innovative as they want. We view this campaign as being the medium women will use to paint the future for the next generation.”
Even though increasingly more aspects of our lives are powered by technology, women aren’t represented in the companies, organizations, and boardrooms that make technology happen. Today, less than 1% of girls are majoring in Computer Science, according to the American Association of University Women. And in the Harvard Business Review report, The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology, it’s stated that more than half of the number of women in science, engineering and technology leave the field and never come back. This report concludes that most women are driven out by hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.
So if you’re wondering what the ROI of this campaign is for Axosoft, the answer isn’t a hard and fast number. We’ll essentially measure success based on an increase in the number of women encouraged, welcomed and represented in industries like tech. Each story that is shared on itwasneveradress.com, on social media, or in conversation is a step towards success. When a woman like Erin Caton is able to use this campaign to shift perceptions for the next generation, that’s success. Of course, we hope to gain brand awareness and sell some software along the way, but none of these goals will garner major immediate returns.
What’s next for this movement?
We are working to create partnerships with organizations that share our mission, values and vision. We are in talks with organizations like Made with Code by Google to help inspire girls to see that Computer Science can make the world more beautiful, innovative, and healthy. We’ve already partnered with CodaKid and Girls in Tech to host kids coding classes and girls hackathons! Even the Arizona Commerce Authority is excited to help support these initiatives.
We’re now giving away free stickers, providing downloadable bathroom signs, and selling t-shirts! Our goal is NOT to commoditize the conversation; instead we are donating the profits of t-shirt sales to a scholarship we created with Arizona State University for a need-based student entering a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) field.
We will continue to provide education, opportunity, and access for girls and women interested in pursuing STEAM careers, building confidence, and becoming the next generation of entrepreneurs. Because as Tania would say, “When we see women differently, we see the world differently!”
I encourage you to visit itwasneveradress.com to share your stories and disruptions and use #ItWasNeverADress to keep the conversation going on social media! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for having a voice and using it!
If you’re interested in learning more or partnering with us in any way, contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.