Let's go ahead and get something out the way. What comes to mind when I ask you to conjure an image of the classic “private investigator?" If I had to guess, I'd say that you're thinking of a man, maybe in a trench coat, hiding in the bushes while peering through binoculars to spy on some sort of social deviant.
You're picturing that because that's how film, television and literature defined the profession for hundreds of years. In fact, until I became more familiar with the industry I couldn't name one female PI character. A little research reminded me of the female PI pioneer Nancy Drew, and then I learned how ahead-of-her-time author Sue Grafton was writing about Kinsey Millhone in 1982.
Like these strong females, I also seek to solve the world's problems. When I moved into the entrepreneurial world, I promised I would take with me the values I cherished as I advocated for the world's most vulnerable children at a large international child welfare organization. If I was going to start a company, my stipulations were clear: it must solve a meaningful need for an underserved population, and whatever we do we must do it better than anyone else.
Emma Roberts as Nancy Drew
In terms of diversity and inclusion, I promised to cast a wide net to build a talented, passionate and diverse team. How else could we truly create change without different perspectives informing our decisions and direction? I knew that's what it would take to make us scalable and able to do the most good.
As a mom of five, I'm constantly reckoning with the need to raise five mindful, conscientious and kind children and the need to just let them be kids. It's a daily struggle but we match it the only way we know how and that's by modeling behaviors that we want them to emulate when it's time for them to go out into the world.
With three young girls at home, I can't wait for their turn to change the world. Every day, strong women are fighting for their future. Our young kids might have no memory of a fight for equality among men and women. I believe it's thoughts like this that keep us women-focused.
If I zoom in on my corner of the world and take a close look at the intersection of tech and private investigation, I see a wave coming. With thousands of private investigators in our network at Trustify, we're seeing a surge in female PIs. Right now we're at nearly 20 percent female, but research indicates that will continue to rise. A male-dominated industry for hundreds of years, soon to be shattered by women!
Then again, should we really be that surprised? A woman's natural instincts are perfect for solving complex and deeply personal issues. Perhaps the most important trait an investigator can have is empathy. And research points to the fact that women simply are more empathetic than men. When people come to a private investigator for help, they're feeling desperate. They've usually tried everything and are searching for peace of mind. You need to understand what they're going through, see how hard it must be to walk in their shoes, and commit yourself restoring relief to them.
And let's not forget a woman's innate ability to read a room, listen for cues, look for signs and follow her intuition. I saw one of our PIs locate a family's mentally ill missing son on the West Coast who went missing in Florida. She had little to no clues or leads to work with from the outset. She traced a minimal paper trail, talked to everyone, questioned a feeling and followed her gut. Trustify's PIs will tell you that there's nothing more satisfying than closing the loop for a client, especially when you've witnessed their grief and heartache firsthand.
We've created a career choice that's gratifying and flexible for anyone, but especially working moms looking to stay in the workforce, make a difference and create their own schedule. We only ask our PIs to do what they're best at, investigating. We handle finding new clients, collecting payment and other administrative duties. In return, they save our clients from whatever problems they're facing and serve as the face of Trustify across the country.
When I set out to start a first-of-its-kind company, I wanted to build something incredible and to do that you need to build a first-class team. As we were putting our team together at our headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, I wanted top talent with diverse backgrounds, and I wanted to look beyond the people in our existing circles whenever possible. My husband, who is my Co-Founder, and I had met and worked with remarkable people over the years, but I knew we needed to look in other circles to find the right people for the job.
You need to be intentional about hiring in order to break the cycle and be exposed to new people. In a perfect world, Trustify would represent every gender, color, religion, and outlook. We're not there yet but we're getting closer every day. Based on a recent employee disclosure survey, 70 percent of our team identifies as female and 40 percent of our team is a person of color.
If 70 percent female sounds homogenous, then I'll remind you that we're a data-driven organization and research shows that female-led businesses are more profitable. We intentionally target females because we're willing to take a bet that productivity will be higher, culture will be stronger, workplace tensions will be decreased and revenue will increase.
It's really quite simple, if you value the women in your workplace then promote them. Don't just talk about it, demonstrate it with your actions.
Want to attract more women? Then forgo the office beer pong table (that never actually gets used) and offer a space designed with women in mind, including nursing-mother rooms. At our headquarters, we've been recognized by the DC & Maryland Breastfeeding Coalitions for our commitment to supporting working moms. Tech awards are great, but the working mom in me felt like Meryl at the Oscars when we were presented with that Gold Star award. Career high, hands down.
As important as it is for companies to commit to growing their female workforce, it's also incumbent among women to support each other in the workplace. Women believed in me before I even proved myself to anyone. I believe in women and the power of true mentorship as I have benefitted from the generosity of women who shared their time and insights and nurtured my own career development.
Try as we might, sometimes you hire the right person but for the wrong job. As a business owner, what you do from that point makes all the difference. The two most valuable traits in an employee are diligence and commitment to excellence. If I've found that in someone, I'll work hard to hold on to them and find a place and a role for them within the company where they will thrive.
Like never before, women are on the rise. Time's up on letting men take the lead. It's exhilarating to be at the intersection of two male-dominated industries where women are making their moves, leading with their voice and transforming the way business was once done.
And on the days when it's hard to see how the world is improving and that we, as women, are finally breaking through established good ol' boys clubs, let Trustify's team be an example. We're just getting started, we're thousands of people strong and we've reshaped a profession that was once only run by older, white males. If only Nancy Drew could see us now!
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.