From 22-23 February, FITC Amsterdam was an event held “on the future of innnovation, design and all the cool shit in between.” Girls in Tech NL had the opportunity to attend an inspirational and eye-opening two days, with 40+ International speakers, innovating topics, and conversations geared towards creativity and professional topics in digital media. This is the last in a series of interviews that Girls in Tech held with some innovative speakers at the event.
Kim Alpert, Director of Creative Technologies at DCI Artform, human.
I’m not too familiar with your topic, “Why Would You Can’t”, but what is it about?
I started giving this talk a little over a year ago, and it started it out as a talk about giving up your own inner bullshit and going after life. The year I started giving the talk, my life started making some crazy twists and turns, and I had to take up “Why Would You Can’t” my personal mantra and live it a little harder.
I can imagine that you’d get a lot of response to a concept like “Why Would You Can’t”, what are some of the more memorable anecdotes?
I talk a lot about my health problems, which is pretty personal – I go over my anxiety, panic attacks, and was also in a pretty bad car accident; it was then discovered that I had an ulceratic incident, and then developed C.Diff inside my ulcers. People who come up to me tend to relate to these issues, particularly with anxiety. I don’t know the number offhand but there are a lot of women who suffer from anxiety [as opposed to men]. David Eldberg, a physician that I saw, has a book called “The Triple Whammy Cure”, which talks about how women are predisposed, more physiologically, from a hormone perspective, to nervousness. In terms of treatment, it was very interesting to come at anxiety from another angle: what hand was I dealt, how am I going to work with it, and it let me step away from the negative.
What is your professional background? I presume that you were doing something before you started giving this talk?
I have a degree in digital media from Full Sail University; after college, I focussed a lot on interactive programming and motion graphics. As video online started to become more prevalent, that was where I sort of found my sweet spot.
I also learned a lot about digital strategy and marketing by coming up in the advertising world. My first big break was with Leo Burnett in Chicago, one of the pillars of the advertising industry. I’ve been in the “Ad World” for about 15 years and love it. I’ve moved from being in more of a production role to being a creative director to where I am now, and between was in digital strategy. I love the thinking and psychology behind strategy though I missed the creative aspect of it, and now have transitioned into being a director of creative technology at DCI Artform. It’s very different because I’m overseeing a lot of interactive and technological projects, but we work specifically in the physicality of retail. As a working artist, that’s where my art has been – in the video installation and video sculpture space, so this is the first sort of interesting grey area between the two where I’m getting to play and learn a lot about engineering. It’s very fun, I feel like it’s a kind of second childhood.
Do you think that the idea of “Why Would You Can’t” and similar narratives are somehow inherent in the advertising industry?
I think that the [advertising industry] rewards struggle in a really beautiful way. I also think that, as a woman in particular, the thing that resonated with me, is in Sheryl Sandberg’s book (“Lean In”), where she talks about the corporate lattice instead of the ladder. For me, this is very true, because I didn’t follow the so-called conventional, linear path to where I am now, which is usual in digital and technology. You kind of move around from thing to thing until you find a stop you really like.
You have to go after what you want in advertising; nobody is ever going to say, “Hey, your creative stuff is amazing, would you like be in charge of everything?” So, you have to have a certain amount of drive and with this comes a rollercoaster. I think that’s why a lot of people in the industry have these crazy, overcoming barriers types of stories, because that’s the only way to get to where you are. There are also a lot of people who don’t have these kinds of stories but their paths are probably more linear or slower-paced. I have a voracious appetite for work – I won’t say it’s for “success” specifically, but they do come hand in hand. I love what I do and I’ve gone after it aggressively, and a lot comes with that. My car accident, for example, happened when I was coming home from a work dinner – I would have had no other reason to be out at that hour on a Tuesday. Striving for success has put me on a pretty wild ride.
What do you see as your biggest challenges in the future?
One of the biggest charges for myself this year is to talk more about being a woman in the industry. It’s something that I’ve personally shied away from a lot in the past. When it’s come up as a panel question, I haven’t been dismissive, but I haven’t been discriminated against directly. I think I got it easy though, because I was a pioneer – it’s easier when you’re the only woman in the room, because everyone treats you like a unicorn. It usually goes two ways, either they don’t notice that you’re there and you’re invisible, or it’s so rare and special that there isn’t going to be that same struggle. Now I’m becoming more outspoken about it: I’m leading a panel at FITC in Toronto of women and the reason why I pushed for it, is because I know we need to have the conversation more than ever. From the younger women that I’ve talked to – they’re dealing with things that I never had to. From myself and other women who have been in the industry longer, we have the opportunity to give insights and information to help lead that generation from our experience, to keep the playing field even, and to keep people being honest and respectful towards one another.
Coming back to “Why Would You Can’t”… do you think that “I Can’t” is a more common narrative for women?
Absolutely, and I think we do it in really little, subconscious ways. There’s a quote from Sarah Silverman in my talk that I really love, which is to stop telling women they can be anything when they grow up, because if that hadn’t been said, those women would have thought that anyway. I think that’s really important to consider; we do little things like that and don’t think about the impact that they have. These little things chip away at people who maybe don’t have a lot of confidence, or don’t have a supportive network – these cultural cues start making their voices smaller and smaller. When all these small things that we don’t notice pile up, it becomes dangerous. We’re still fighting for equal pay in the US [and most other countries] in 2016, which is absolutely insane. There is very little reason for their be a pay gap where the work is the same and any physiological differences have no impact on the job. It offends me that it’s still a problem today and it’s a dark spot on humanity. There are so many people who don’t even realize that the gender pay gap is real, which is mind-blowing, and until there are solutions, we should be talking about it. If it were something other than gender, there would be people in the street protesting, but because it’s gender, it’s somehow allowed, which is very disappointing.
Do you ever have the idea of women are their own worst enemy?
Women are so competitive with one another and they can be really demeaning to one another, which is counterproductive to what we’re trying to do. There needs to be a pretty big shift, because it’s really sad. The “Mean Girls” mentality is pervasive across all disciplines, it’s just there, and I think we foster that in American media. We foster these negative ideas by putting prioritization on a lot of things that aren’t core values – beauty, youth – things that are completely devoid of a person’s true ability to participate in society and ideas.
What are a couple of takeaways or advice that you would give to our Girls in Tech?
Don’t hold back and be honest about what you want, what you believe, and who you are. I think a lot of women try not to bring that stuff to the table because of a fear of judgement – for example, there are a lot of women who feel that there is a lot of negative stigma with talking about their children in the workplace. When you’re contributing to your team, a good collaborator, are reliable and responsible, people see that and respect that. Anyone who makes you feel different because of your gender or any piece of you in that regard – those are not good members of your team. People with small, closed minds have small, closed ideas and you need to know when to identify that and simply move on. There are tons of opportunities out there, so don’t let the negative ones drag you down.