Q&A: Jenna Golden, Sales Manager for Politics and Advocacy at Twitter
Jenna Golden is sales manager for politics and advocacy for Twitter in Washington, where she oversees the company’s political advertising sales to campaigns, advocacy groups and trade associations.
Golden and a partner from Google organized the first networking event for women working in political technology in Washington, which is now in its third year. Representatives from Facebook and Pandora have held similar meetings.
We caught up with Golden as part of a post on the working environment for women in the political technology sector. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Are there are fair number of women doing political tech?
“When you think about politics in general and the history of politics in general, it has been a male-centric bucket. I am essentially working with a mix of political campaigns, trade associations, committees, issue groups, government. So the advertising side actually has a fair amount of females working on this end.
“If we’re talking about engineering, that’s sort of a different ball game. But if we’re talking about sales and advertising, there are a lot of females working in this space, not just at Twitter, but my counterparts at Facebook and Google and Pandora. A lot of the agencies in town that are facilitating the media buys on behalf of these political clients are female as well.
“We actually formed this group a few years ago when we felt that there were a good number of females working in this political tech space on the advertising side. We were all interacting with each other at events in town and we were speaking on panels together. Or we were bumping into each other through client calls. And we really felt there was something there. We were all having the same struggles and challenges, whether it was client-facing or internally. And we were all dealing with the same types of actors. So we started having these conversations.
“About three years ago, I decided to team up with a counterpart at Google. We decided to host the first … event. It’s just an opportunity for us to get together and support one another in this space and know that there’s this connection among women.”
How did you sell this to your bosses or explain it to the business side? What does Twitter or Google get out of it?
“At Twitter, we actually have an internal group called SWAT – it stands for Super Women at Twitter. We are constantly pulling in interesting speakers or interacting with each other, whether it’s via email or in person. We’re discussing interesting articles, whether that’s about negotiating salaries or whatever that might be from a female perspective. It has very high level buy-in. We’ve had … our CEO Dick [Costolo] come to the SWAT events and pitch the importance of females in our company and moving ahead to leadership positions.
“I can tell you, it was not a hard sell at all. I pitched the idea to my boss and said I’d love to bring these women together in our space and start having conversations and think about how we can advance the advocacy and political space and work together to share ideas.”
What kinds of issues do those who attend these events share in common?
“In general as a group, there are always challenges of figuring out how to be assertive and ask for what you want, whether that’s the next step in your career or recognition for particular projects that people have worked on or salary increases. Just figuring how to navigate these spaces.
“Everyone’s very open to sharing. And a lot of this is very loose and network-y. We’re not always having debates or thoughtful conversations. Very often, it’s just, let’s get a lot of people together in a space. Let’s make sure we all know each other. We’ll make sure we follow up so that everyone has everyone’s information, so we can create connections and keep in touch moving forward.
“There have been some pieces of these events that have been more content-focused. For example, Facebook at their event a few months ago had Stephanie Cutter come speak about how she rose through the ranks in Washington and how DC has moved from a male-centric town to a more female-centric town. So there’s a mix of total networking and content-focused. I’d say a lot of it is just using each other as sounding boards to figure out best ways to navigate careers.”
The political tech industry is pretty new. Is there some kind of workplace cultural carryover from wherever people have come from?
“I think the political campaign stuff definitely bleeds through, especially when you’re thinking of firms and agencies. They’re built like political campaigns in a lot of senses, in that they’ve got to move quickly and they’ve got to be incredibly nimble. People are used to working campaign schedules.
“Generally speaking, I think we started our own thing here. Politics and tech are an interesting combination. But if you think about what was happening in Silicon Valley, that doesn’t necessarily translate to Washington. And then, obviously what was happening in politics translates here, but not entirely.”
Are these events across the political spectrum?
“It’s completely across the spectrum. We try to get people from all sides of the aisle there. And we actually get good turnout from both sides, too, which is great.
“Obviously, from a Twitter/Google/Facebook/Pandora perspective, we’re agnostic when it comes to that. We have reps that manage one side or the other and we’ll have both of those people there.”
Are people on the left and right bringing up different issues at work?
“No, it really doesn’t discriminate. It’s really pretty universal.”
Is there a concern that you detected in terms of the types of jobs that women at political tech firms have available, that there might be two stovepipes being created? The more data-centric people might be typically the male computer science backgrounds, and women might get relegated to the social media part, or things that may be a little less technical. And that may cut off some opportunities down the road.
“What I found is that people are looking for women who are looking to be more data-centric. And there are definitely many of them out there, especially in the political tech space. There are a lot of females that are doing things on the polling side and on the data firm side. And we work with a lot of those women.
“No, it hasn’t been a concern I’ve heard from people in this space. If women want to go towards there, there hasn’t been hesitation to go do that. I think generally we have a good mix of people touching the data side and the more social/pr/communications/sales side.
“I would say your thought is probably right, where a majority of the people in those more heavy data centric roles being male. But I haven’t heard of anyone wanting to move there and having trouble doing so.”
You’re kind of in between these two worlds of an established tech community here and back in California. What kinds of interactions do you have back and forth between those two poles?
“I think the biggest thing that we’ve seen over the last year or two is that everyone’s talking about it. Twitter hasn’t shied away from having those conversations. Google hasn’t shied away from having those conversations. We recognize as companies that we do have a lot of males in certain roles. It’s certainly something we’re working to fix and change and get the right people into the right roles.
“I think so much of it is not making it a hush-hush topic, not making it something that people are whispering about in the hallways, but allowing people to bring issues to the forefront and then trying to actually address them.
“What we find is corporate entities often come to us and say we want to what Obama did, or we want to what political groups do. So what’s interesting is that the political space has led the way when it comes to technology. So I think we have that piece here in DC. And I think the other interesting thing is that the female side has started to break open in Silicon Valley. So if we can pull both of those things together, it’s interesting where this could go.”
Do you think that just because of the nature of what people do at work – talk about issues, advance arguments – that the conversations within workplaces here are easier than if you’re making an app or a piece of software?
“I would say even if you’re very good at making arguments in your day job that doesn’t mean you’re good at advocating for yourself. I don’t know if those two things go hand-in-hand. I would say people are a lot more open when it comes to doing their job that they would be for themselves.”
Have you come across a generational divide? It seems like a lot of the shops in town are led and staffed by young people – very young people in many cases. Is this a conversation that younger women are more comfortable having?
“Most these firms are incredibly young, because if you think about the first wave of digital technology in politics and campaigns, most of that happened in ’08 and beyond. So what most [firms] have tried to do is staff up with people who have come from those campaigns. As a result, it creates a really young, skewed population of people working at a lot of these firms in town. I think it’s possible that it has something to do with it. They grew up with digital, they understand it clearer, so it breaks the barrier of what gender you are.”