Succeed as a Woman in Technology? This Girl Can

Women in technology; women in STEM fields; women in ad tech; women in advertising – whichever way you cut the numbers, they reflect a set of industries that remain remarkably male-dominated. The needle is moving and there is no shortage of women and men fighting the good fight, not only to encourage more women to enter the field, but to encourage them to take up senior positions. On International Women's Day 2017, ExchangeWire ask how this is progressing.

The IPA released their annual diversity survey in January and found that junior levels in agencies were almost perfectly split between positions held by men and women; but the struggle is still getting that to filter up into senior levels, with only 29% of C-suite positions in media agencies being held by females. The situation looks far bleaker in the world of technology, where only 5% of C-suite positions are held by women. A 2016 gender diversity report from Facebook showed that only 17% of their tech workforce were female and at Twitter, it's only 15%. Google fare slightly better at 19%.

IT training provider QA carried out a survey to discover women's perceptions of technology, which highlights not only how challenging it can be to attract women to the field, but also how difficult it can be to keep them there. According to the survey, 50% of women in tech said that they were actively discouraged from starting in tech by their parents, schools, colleagues, and other family members. Around 80% said that they didn’t think a tech career would be attractive as a teenager, but around 100% have enjoyed an exciting tech career. The survey also found 80% of women think more female role models are needed; and 65% think the industry needs to do more to help achieve this. The results of the survey encouraged QA to produce a short film, which is worth watching, showcasing women from all walks of life that entered the technology field, including Dame Stephanie Shirley, a self-made billionaire who created an all-women coding company in the sixties.

ExchangeWire were keen to hear from inspiring female leaders throughout the industry and the response was incredible. From technology PR firms, through to media agencies, and everything in between, across the globe, women in technology give their take on gender diversity and success as a woman.

Bias in judgement between men and women must be addressed

“Anyone who attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona would have seen that women were few and far between, unless they were working on the stands that is. It appeared to me that the mobile tech business has a long way to go to address the gender balance; comparatively the media and advertising industry has a much healthier mix. I think one of the biggest barriers that still exists is the expectations that women put on themselves and on other women. We tend to expect women to tick every box of the job spec before we consider them, whereas men are often given opportunities based on potential. If we want to see genuine equality in senior positions we have to not only encourage more women to step forward, but also to address the bias in how we judge them. Often women will stop themselves asking for progression because they are concerned about the impact it would have on their life and their ability to manage work and home in combination. We need more leaders to be open minded about how jobs can be done and focus on the shift from presentism to outcomes and then more women will see that it is possible. The number of women I know who are in senior positions at work, and also still expect themselves to be on top of everything at home, is a concern because at some point it will all be too much. We need more support at home and more leaders prepared to hire on potential at work. Women in leadership positions have a responsibility to change the way their roles are perceived and that success is about the impact you have, not the amount of time you are able to give. Be bold for change and shine a light for others to follow.”

Joanna Lyall, Managing Director, Mindshare UK

Women don't like to acknowledge the issues they face

“Twenty years ago, I worked at McCann-Erickson WW, and I'd be lying if I said it wasn’t a man's world. Thankfully, powerful women like Nina DiSesa, the first woman EVP, executive creative director for the agency, inspired me. Today, I’m fortunate to serve as a principal in a two-woman-led national PR agency that serves dozens of advertising and technology companies. Our clients treat me like a member of their executive team. But, while Blast PR's woman-led position earns us attention, it has also been used against us. These days I spend time off the clock producing women in media discussions. In my experience, I've arrived at the following: women don't always like to acknowledge the issues they face. Understandably, some of us reject concepts that suggest we have limited potential, like the glass ceiling. The challenge is we must face the identity-centric issues that affect us – and unless we talk about these issues, we won't change them. We must talk.”

Lana McGilvray, Principal, Blast PR

Differentiate as a marketer, not as a woman

“Whether you are in the ad industry – which has many women in high places – or any other industry, there's one rule you must follow if you want to succeed: differentiate as a marketer, and not as a woman. In the end, success is predicated on merit, and there are no short cuts. As a senior marketing exec, I have had a seat at the table for years and have been an integral part of brand launches, acquisitions, and IPOs. At the vast majority of companies in our space, those who work hard and focus are the ones who will progress in their careers – no matter their gender. Ad tech is demanding and requires innovative and fast-paced thinkers; and women who want to succeed in the industry must approach it with fearless determination and a refusal to let anything get in your way.”

Julie Ginches, CMO, ViralGains

We must do more than pay lip service to gender diversity

“There is no denying the benefits of a diverse company – stats prove time and time again the financial benefits of having women on board. And we have come a long way, but the unconscious bias still exists and that will remain the hardest barrier to breakthrough. We are making great strides – compare the industry I joined nearly 20 years ago, to today where there are lots more strong female leaders – but you only need to look at board representation to understand there is still lots more we can do. There are encouraging signs: returning-to-work support initiatives, and women’s leadership courses give confidence, as well as mentoring and network building through groups like Bloom. But flexible working needs to become a natural part of our day-to-day – presentism does not equal effectiveness. We need to make sure we are not just paying lip service to the issue. Breaking down the unconscious bias at all levels will take time, effort, and continual repetition of the message.”

Rachel Forde, CEO, Mediavest

There's a difference between macho and talent 

“I read an interview recently featuring [UK Labour Party politician] Harriet Harman. She was asked why she didn’t stand for the Labour Party Leadership and she replied that the world is full of pushy men who push themselves to the top and that women just don’t have the confidence to be that pushy. Harriet pretty much admitted that after two successful posts as deputy leader she really should have had the confidence to have gone for the post. Reading this really struck me – it is amazing how someone of her calibre, standing, and experience still lacked the confidence to go for the post that she was quite clearly the best candidate for. I don’t think it’s a difference between men and women; I know plenty of brilliant men who don’t go around pushing themselves forward either. I do think there is a difference between macho and talent. Lots of macho loud voices, some of whom have very little real talent, male and female, get heard; and those who are not macho, but who have stacks of talent, male or female, can often not be heard because they are not shouting loud enough. It’s not their style. It’s up to organisations to ensure the structure supports the quieter ones and ensure they are heard and that may improve equality for all.”

Clare Hill, MD, the Content Marketing Association (CMA)

It takes tenacity and ambition 

“While only 5% of tech leadership positions are held by women, I, personally, never felt a part of this statistic, nor do the numbers at Taptica represent this (half of our management team are women). The ad tech space is built on tenacity, ambition, and hard work. Leaders in this space are strategic thinkers and not afraid of confrontation – it’s an industry where the fearless with the right skill set and passion can make it. If you want it, it’s yours. My advice to the women in this industry is to know what you want and go fight for it, be tenacious in knowing the trends and have the guts to take those calculated risks, build relationships, connect with thought leaders, and hammer out those 'controversial' topics, and most importantly have fun! People won’t always be on your side, so be prepared to venture out of your comfort zone, be ruthless, be ambitious, power through, and be the best person for the job.”

Galia Reichenstein, General Manager, US, Taptica

Ad tech allows women to put natural talents to use

"There has been progress for women in advertising and I would now love to see more women venture into the industry. Since digital advertising is still fairly new, many of the career paths in the space do not require a specific education or background. Several companies actively search for candidates with unique backgrounds, outside of the space. For example, I was previously a meteorologist. Joining the advertising technology field can be a great opportunity to begin a new career – one that provides a flexible schedule, while allowing women to put our natural talents to use. The increase in programmatic media buying led to a need for tech savvy, multitasking problem solvers. I cannot think of job requirements more innate to women! We wear multiple hats on a daily basis – professional, mother, wife, mediator, teacher, and the list goes on. I would love to see more women put those hats to good use in internet advertising. The more women who join, the more progress we can make together.”

Stephanie Snow, VP of Ad Operations, Intermarkets 

Workplace culture needs to pivot for greater inclusivity

"Have we come a long way? Well… we haven’t seen a dramatic shift in women assuming leadership roles. However, the tide is rising for greater equality in junior and middle management roles. From an agency POV, gender equality has gotten a big boost from TBWA, 72andSunny, and others. Hiring women – and minorities – for creative leadership roles is a major focus where diversity is lacking. For tech, I see (and hear) women’s voices more often. Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Mae Whitman from HP, and Diane Greene at Google come to mind. And from the furore behind Susan J. Fowler’s account, I do think the sea change is beginning to take shape. Workplace culture needs to focus on pivoting our language and relationships to be more inclusive of everyone. Creating support systems at work and in society will help women achieve that balance.”

Marita Scarfi, CFO, PebblePost

It's about solving the work/life balance

“Barriers do exist for women trying to achieve senior level positions; but the stigma exists, in part, because we’re hyper-focused on gender equality in the workplace. Yes, we need it, however drawing attention to it perpetuates the stigma. This isn’t an advertising or tech industry problem – it’s an everywhere problem. Women start off even keeled with men at the start of their careers, but drop off significantly during childbearing years. That is no fault to women, but a derivative of our lack of a nationalised maternity leave program [in the US]. For many, it’s an either/or scenario. Many workplace environments are not conducive to managing the mother and managerial roles. If we solve the balance between home and work effectively, women thrive.”

Michelle Brammer, Director of Marketing, eZanga

To succeed, women must get in the game

“The ad tech industry has hit a critical tipping point with women’s equality, and things are starting to change quickly – especially internationally where companies in the space seem to be outpacing the US when it comes to achieving a strong balance of male and female employees. In fact, at GDM Group nearly half of all our employees from management to entry-level positions are women. Today, there is an entire group of women who have moved into the industry and they are not facing the discrimination that the women who entered before them did. There are still challenges to overcome, but one thing is clear – in order for women to succeed in tech, they have to get in the game. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and examine things from a different perspective. You can help shape the environment around you by just applying the qualities women are best at, multitasking, taking responsibility, and attention to detail.”

Alice Melnik, COO, Global Digital Marketing Group

 Women need to elevate each other

“We’re starting to see positive movement on the workplace equality front, and at least we are all talking about it socially and via the media. One of the biggest barriers is around visibility and networking. It’s about getting yourself in the room with the right people and then figuring out how to get noticed and how to insert yourself in the macro conversations that move a business forward. Unless you have someone in the inner circle who believes in you and invites you in, it’s often hard to get there. As women, we need to get a seat at the table. That’s the hardest part. Something all strong and talented women in our industry can do a better job of is helping invite other strong and talented women in by suggesting them for new opportunities and helping to develop one another. We have to elevate one another as we grow in our careers.”

Jaime Bettencourt, SVP, Business Development & Account Management, Mood Media

Silicon Roundabout is far more progressive than Silicon Valley

“Compared to when I started in the advertising and tech industry, there are now far fewer barriers to entry for women. In many companies, equality is alive and kicking and women are flourishing in tech roles. However, there can still be disparities in salary. I was shocked to hear recently that a former director at a leading agency discovered that her male replacement was paid double her salary. Even given potential differences in experience, this is too vast a gulf to ignore and accept. The topic of women in tech is always a contentious one, as we’ve seen recently with the negative press surrounding Uber and the issue of sexual harassment. But, it’s important to note that markets do differ dramatically. Silicon Roundabout is far more progressive than Silicon Valley – if recent reports are to be believed. So, despite some companies failing to deliver on equality, others are ahead of the game. All that is needed now is consistency across the industry and for gender to no longer be a factor – for either side.”

Julia Smith, Director of Communications, EMEA, Impact Radius

There's a disconnect between awareness and willingness to take action

“The single most important change we can make to achieve workplace equality is more diversity on boards and at senior management level. We’re at a stage where there’s been widespread acknowledgement of gender inequality within the industry, with a lot of talk about willingness for change. Yet there’s a disconnect between this awareness and willingness do something, and what we see day to day. The ad tech world is still largely run by men – just look at the percentage of women on boards, in senior management, or on stage at any industry event. There is a gap in our industry between recognising we need more women in senior positions, and achieving this, and we need to break this gap down into simple, practical steps. Start by carrying out unconscious bias training for everyone at your company (especially at senior levels), ensuring that senior men are speaking out for gender parity, and bringing in senior women from outside of the industry to see what we should be doing better. Then invest in learning and development so women can be promoted from within the company, and ensure you are tracking progress via the number of female employees at all levels and across teams.”

Georgiana Haig, Product Manager & founder of WiQ, Media iQ
Harriet Cunningham, Account Manager & founder of WiQ, Media iQ

Individuals must find their own path to the top

"The media industry has come a long way with regards to female representation: it’s one of the best industries for women and the imbalance you see in other industries seems to be disappearing. We do still have some way to go and leaders across all industries have a duty to promote talent and mentor people in their teams to encourage minority groups to reach the top and achieve their full potential. If we want to achieve total equality in the workplace then, yes, it’s down to industry leaders to set an example. But, at the same time, it’s also on the individual to seek advice and find their own path to the top, but not at the expense of other women."

Jane Loring, Vice President of European Sales, Playbuzz

Women still lack confidence in their ability

“I have been in the sector a while so have witnessed some shockers. And there are still cases now when, as the most technical person in the room, a client might ask a male colleague for a second opinion. Although I have seen changing attitudes, there is definitely still room for improvement. In my experience, many women are still lacking confidence about their ability and there are not enough good role models and mentors around them. As the ad tech community becomes older, we can provide these role models and pave the way for younger members of the team, whatever their gender.”

Hannah Beanland, Director of Technical Operations, Forensiq