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International Women's Day 2021
Editor's Note: March 8 is International Women's Day. In the week leading up to it, SaltWire Network is sharing stories, all written by women, focusing on this year’s theme: "A challenged world is an alert world, and from challenge comes change." Each day, we will tackle a different subject area as we celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness, and encourage our readers to take action towards equality.
Alison Knott has always loved art and computers.
"I remember, in the late 1990s, being amazed when I got my first scanner and could have art on my computer screen within 30 minutes. It was so quick to do things and connect with anyone about a topic you love," says the Halifax, N.S. woman.
“I was a lonely kid and found a lot of community online via chat groups and forums in the early days."
All the bullying and nastiness of the internet that exists today would have been hard to take, however, admits Knott. School was bad enough.
“The internet was an escape from such things back then. I find it’s a lot less empathetic these days,” she says.
At the age of 12, Knott's family got a home computer, which inspired her. She took it apart, then put it back together. She also taught herself how to code websites.
Back then, Knott says, no one knew what to do with a girl who liked to code websites. Her options were limited. Her school’s guidance counsellor suggested pursuing a career in computer science, but she wasn't a good math student and quickly ruled that out. Robotics wasn't a good fit either. Instead, she took a different route, studying communications in college.
But deep down, Knott knew it wasn't the right career for her. She wanted to be a graphic designer.
Two weeks before her work placement, she applied for the winter semester at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University (NSCAD). She moved from her home in Hatchet Lake to downtown Halifax to start the next chapter of her journey, graduating with a bachelor's degree in design and a minor in drawing.
Within five months, she was working in the creative department at the former Daily News, and from there, worked as a graphic designer for Metro News Halifax, where she gained a love for marketing. It wasn’t long until Knott saw booming opportunities in web design and moved to a senior design position at a software company. There, she renewed her love of building websites and brands.
Her previous experiences collided, and she saw the intersection of design thinking, marketing, and getting your message across. This software position eventually led Knott into the world of freelance, paving the way for the consultancy business, Alison K Consulting, where she now helps grow web traffic for service-based businesses and non-profits through rebranding and web consulting. It requires a combination of marketing, coding, and design-thinking for the best results, she says.
Knott also spends time mentoring emerging female and nonbinary designers and marketers.
"I know the industry is still primarily held by men, and I want it known I am here to help create space for those that don’t see themselves represented, or are ignored," she says.
Mentorship means less about the actual skills, like how to code or design, and more about teaching other young women how to run a business.
"We focus on things like what they want to achieve in business, interpersonal concerns like networking, dealing with nightmare clients, and money," she explains.
"I do it because schools are focused on the skills and often don’t tell you how to market those skills once you graduate."
It's part of her desire to give back and help other young women in a way she was also helped over the years.
"I’ve had many mentors over the years that fast-tracked my growth as a businesswoman, community leader, and public speaker, so I want to pass that gold along," Knott said.
“We don’t need to struggle alone and learning from others is important."
Women in tech
When Knott began her career, she was in a field predominantly filled with men. As a graphic designer, both in school and in the working world, there were loads of women but all the art directors and lead designers were men.
Once she crossed over into web marketing, there were more women, but some specific areas of web and marketing are still male-dominated, such as technical SEO and security, she says.
“I see a strangely binary line in marketing, where coaching or working with nonprofits is an area where females are numerous, and in financial tech, or startups, it is male-dominated. This is so silly,” she says.
"I think the encouragement is there to get girls into web technology. However, we fall short as a community supporting them once they get here."
In the classroom, that means going above and beyond, making sure everyone feels represented and heard in a learning environment.
"In the workplace, we need to have a truly inclusive work culture, with women leaders," she adds.
"We can have the highest graduating numbers of women every year, but if that fresh blood doesn’t feel accepted, valued, and truly part of the tech scene, we will lose them."
That's a significant challenge that needs to be addressed, she adds.
"I’ve seen women full of potential leave the web industry because they felt excluded by the dominant male culture and didn’t find the support they needed in women within it," she says.
A few years ago, Knott says a group of former students approached her at an industry conference to tell her she made a difference as a female professor in their program.
"I inspired them because they could identify themselves in me," she says.
"It was a very humbling experience and a reminder to all women/nonbinary professional folks that even if we’re not actively mentoring, know future generations are looking up to us. Our very existence can be encouraging to others, and we should celebrate that and hold it to high importance."