For International Women’s Day 2019, ExchangeWire speaks with senior women in ad tech and martech, from data scientists, to heads of marketing, to founders and CEOs, who are paving the way for the future generations of female leaders. They share their personal experiences in the industry; views on the frustrations and successes with gender diversity; and advice for achieving a thriving career in technology.
Women shouldn’t have to make a choice
“Unfortunately, the presence of women in the technology sector has not changed much throughout my career. Statistics show that the number of women in computer and engineering fields is decreasing, particularly in senior leadership roles. In 1999, I was the only female graduate in my Mechanical Engineering class. After college, I took a series of engineering jobs in male-dominated fields. I never felt that my gender held me back, however I have seen many female peers ‘opt out’ or leave the industry because they felt they had to choose between family and career. In fact, I recently left my senior position in the federal government to take an executive position in the private sector that allows me the flexibility to be present for my family.
“The demands of senior-level positions in the technology sector, and the dues that must be paid to get there, are high. Coupled with the starkly low numbers of female collegiate STEM graduates, leads to the dwindling number of women in senior-level roles. To change this, we must increase the number of women majoring and graduating in STEM fields and rethink how we define success, so women don’t feel they have to choose between family and career to rise to the top.”
Dare King, Executive Vice President, Babel Street
“You don’t look like a data scientist”
“Choosing a career in tech can seem extremely daunting, there is so much to learn and it can feel completely overwhelming. Rather than trying to be the expert at everything, I wish I had been told that it was OK not to be superhuman, and to focus on certain areas that were either my skillset or my passion. By surrounding myself with talented people at Cxense, I have been able to work on some amazing projects that have kept my passion alive.
“I have been fortunate enough not to face the same discrimination that I know has affected many of my peers. But I do wish the stigma that surrounded women in technology would disappear. I have been told, on a number of occasions, that I ‘don’t look like a data scientist’. Initially, hearing this made me question what a data scientist was supposed to look like, whereas now I know it doesn’t matter what someone looks like, and it should absolutely not determine what job role you are suited for.”
Ana De Sousa, Data Scientist, Cxense
We’ve become more aware of the disparities
“Over the course of my tenure in tech and media, we’ve undeniably become more aware. We’re more aware of what we’ve endured, what’s not acceptable, and what must change. Twelve years ago, I didn’t question why I was the only female at a startup. Eight years ago, the connotations behind being labeled the HBIC eluded me. However, things changed.
“Four years ago, when an exec’s interrogation of my nerd credentials included asking how life in the industry is different for a woman, I pointed out his very line of questioning as an example. The awkward flickering of awareness was visible.
“As we become more aware, we become more willing to challenge and drive change. I’ve seen more women stand up to income and title disparity. I’ve seen more men ousted for inappropriate behaviour.
“And yet, some things haven’t changed. Throughout the years, I’ve been asked countless times in interviews about whether I have or want children. Every time, I’m reminded of my mother and the uphill battle for employment she faced in the 1960s, in an era when being a married Catholic woman was seen as a maternity leave liability. Every time, I’m secretly relieved that my answer is ‘no’. Every time, I dream of a day when we stop asking these questions.”
Experience and life priorities help bring perspective
“From one reformed finance-to-tech career woman, my advice is to find your work wife (or wives) quickly and to start having open conversations about the differences that women and men experience. Women face unique opportunities and challenges in their careers, depending on two main vectors: their level within the company and their personal life stage. As these things change, so may your approach. I ascended quickly and built credibility in my entry-level and mid-level manager roles as a type-A, goal-oriented, candid speaker.
“But now, post-kids and having seniority, I find it’s sometimes equally as powerful to harness my candour and choose my battles wisely. It’s important to know that ebbs and flows of confidence and inferiority complexes never go away, but experience and other life priorities can help put what seem like monumental obstacles into a new perspective. As you move through your career, keep your head up, be your authentic self, and find likeminded allies with whom you can build a professional and personal bond.”
Katie Glass, VP of Global Business Development, TripleLift
A good business needs a balanced workplace
“As a firm believer in building a more balanced workplace, I think the best is yet to come for women in the tech space. Welcoming women, particularly into decision-making roles, expands the talent pool and secures the variety of viewpoints necessary to drive top results. A good business requires a collective effort from men and women. I’ve been fortunate in my career to learn from leaders who used their positions of power to uplift others, treating everyone from the CEO to the mailroom as an equal.
“It’s these men and women who continue to guide me in the belief that the best way to build an industry with a robust representation of women is to treat others – newcomers to the industry and veterans – as you would want to be treated. Respect and support go a long way.”
Beatrice Olivas, CRO, Motive
Women need to be an integral part of the strategy
“Ad tech is still rife with gender inequality. This filters down from the mechanisms of the industry, the gender representation of the board, even in the way female consumers are often considered. I see this particularly in regards to the in-app world; and it is something we are actively working on changing. We know that female gamers make up 65% of all active gamers, so why is the lion’s share of the gaming app industry tailored towards men?
“With so much geared towards the success of men, it can be incredibly hard for women to find their place, or to even feel valued. It’s enough to highlight women when it seems appropriate – ensure that they are an integral part of your strategy at all times.”
Christy Wong-Taylor, VP of Supply, Fyber
The change witnessed is encouraging
“Ten years ago, I transitioned into ad tech because it was an evolving, dynamic, and interesting space that appealed to me. I distinctly remember some of my first meetings with the founders of different DSPs and ad exchanges – because when I looked around the room, not only was I the only female, I was often the youngest, too. Those things never felt like obstacles to me; that was just the situation. But now, and for the past five years, I’ve been overseeing ad tech teams that have been fairly gender-balanced. It’s encouraging to watch that change.
“My advice to women interested in ad tech is: if you’re ambitious, driven, and interested in the space, then get involved, learn about it, build connections, and get after what’s interesting to you – just like you would in any other industry.”
Jenna Umbrianna, Chief Client Officer, Anagram
There’s so much left to do
“Whilst women have made incredible progress in the tech industry in recent years, examining the nuances of day-to-day interactions reveals just how much work we have left to do. Even now, women are much less likely to take credit for their own work, be as vocal as their male colleagues during meetings, or even apply for job roles unless they meet 100% of the criteria. We can all actively battle gender inequality by making small changes to our behaviour, such as actively asking women for their opinion in meetings, giving more public recognition for the work they do, and encouraging them to keep stretching themselves – things often taken for granted by men.
“Within the tech industry, there seems to be a lurking assumption that women cannot understand complex technical concepts – no matter their level, or how many years of expertise they have under their belts! ‘Mansplaining’ is just as much an issue in the tech industry as anywhere else, and needs to be addressed more often that it is. I’ve been lucky enough to have many supportive men both in and outside of the workplace; and men should never underestimate how much their support is needed. As women, it is also important we don’t let our voices get lost in the mix, and that we actively stand up for one another when they do.”
Rachel Foskett, Senior Product Marketing Manager, dataxu
Find people who believe in you
“I have been in the New York tech space for more than 20 years. When I first started, the new media and tech industry was still in its infancy, and challenges for women were minimal. In fact, there was a great interest in bringing talented women into the space. The true obstacles and challenges began with creating my own business, especially in funding new ideas. What I have learned is to find partners and employees who complement you in areas where you are weak and surround yourself with people who enhance your business plan for creation, development, and execution. For me, this entailed networking and culture. You need people who believe in you to not only launch your business, but to fund your business to be cash-flow positive.
“I surrounded myself with three people whom I knew could help NYIAX achieve its goals from a technology and exchange perspective. First, I brought on my co-founder, Mark Grinbaum, who is a legend within the financial exchange space with ISE. Then from an exchange, funding, and relationship perspective, we have Thomas O’Neill who is a legend on Wall Street, and Robert Ainbinder, who has been instrumental in funding NYIAX.
“No one creates a business on their own. It takes a group of people with a similar idea to believe in its success and execute. My luck was networking to find these people and together we created a team, which enabled our joint success in the creation of NYIAX, the world’s first upfront marketplace and advanced contract-management platform.”
Carolina Abenante, Founder, CSO, General Counsel, Executive Vice-Chairperson, NYIAX
Cultivate a strong network of people
“What I wish I knew when I started out in my career is:
a) That success isn’t linear. It can sometimes feel like you are taking steps sideways or experiencing setbacks, but they are all building blocks to becoming a formidable leader.
b) That it is much harder to train attitude and new behaviours versus other technical skills, and how important it is to apply that philosophy when building out a team of people to work with. I now exclusively hire and surround myself with people who are self-motivated and positive-minded, first and foremost. Other skills can be developed more easily over time.
c) How essential it is to collect great mentors. The investment you make in cultivating a strong network of people you can consult along your career journey will help you get past any challenge.”
Adrienne Donovan, VP, People, Tapad
Don’t do it alone
“Over the last few years, we have started to see an increase in the number of women in ad tech leadership roles. Many of these women created their own paths to get to that role, but most didn’t do it alone. I was lucky to have had a couple of good mentors who guided me in the space, so I understand the importance of the network and tribe you create over the years.
“Along my career, I have learned a few things that have helped me and can hopefully help other women: 1) Have confidence in yourself. As women, we are sometimes our own worst enemies by thinking we aren’t good enough or that we don’t know enough. But, we are more than good enough and we know more than we think we do. 2) Leverage your differences. As women, we can bring different insights and solutions to a problem. 3) Recognise and support other women in the space. As women leaders, we need to be role models and coach the next generation of female leaders in ad tech.”
Geetha Neelakantiah, SVP of business development, Semcasting
Significant strides have been made
“I started my career when digital advertising was in its infancy, which enhanced the industry’s gender and age diversity due to its dynamic and growing nature. It was truly the wild west, which helped even the playing field and created an immense amount of opportunity, particularly for entrepreneurs like myself.
“Across ad tech, we’ve made significant strides towards gender diversity and equality – and I’m very proud that 48% of Amobee’s new hires in 2018 were female and 41% of Amobee’s overall workforce is female. There is still much work to be done as an industry, with a focus on having more women in senior leadership positions and more women securing VC funding.”
Kim Perell, CEO, Amobee
Strength in numbers
“A woman’s path to success in the tech industry is never as linear as a male counterpart’s. Any number of obstacles impede us in our goals – not just in the sore lack of diversity pervading the industry, and the scarce number of women championing leadership roles, but also in the opportunities available to us to progress in our careers. Still, women across the globe are driving immense change, and more so than ever before. Our strength in numbers is proving particularly powerful, especially in the support networks we establish amongst ourselves.
“For women, it has always been vitally important to build long-lasting, effective partnerships with each other. Being able to equip women with the right tools to succeed in their working lives will make such a significant impact to anyone, but especially to those looking to break into the industry. We certainly have quite a way to go in terms of achieving gender parity, but I have no doubt in our capability, as women, to empower one another.”
Rebecca Mahony, Chief Marketing Officer, MiQ
Excite people about tech from all backgrounds
“The fact that gender inequality is putting a strain on the digital and tech industry will not come as news to many. It is of course important to recognise these challenges, and continue to measure and produce statistics that make industry, government, and education sit up and listen. It is, however, important to remind ourselves that we have the power to act to make sure we tap into the incredible potential of our UK talent and be part of making a difference.
“This means we need to go out into schools and get people from all backgrounds excited and fired up about a future in digital and tech. At the same time, we need to establish the right pathways into a digital and tech career starting from all walks of life. Our industry is one of the most creative and innovative – we need to be equally creative and innovative in our approach to making sure female talent sees the digital and tech space as its natural home.”
Natalie Gross, President of the British Interactive Media Association (Bima)
Influencer marketing shows how diverse this industry can be
“Influencer marketing has certainly come a long way, but there can always be more female leaders in our industry and in the tech world in general. Many of the influencers themselves are phenomenal businesswomen who have gone on to launch their own brands and products. Influencers are able to truly establish themselves professionally both on- and offline by creating amazingly personalised content that delights their trusted audiences.
“The influencer marketing industry offers such a diverse range of women paving the way for other women, particularly as influencers are vocal advocates for various important communities: disabled women, women of colour, mothers, and budding female entrepreneurs. This is truly remarkable to see, and leaves me proud – and optimistic – for the rich opportunities that this industry offers to women.”
Jenny Tsai, CEO & Founder, Wearisma
You don’t need to be a ‘techie’
“I’ve been in tech nearly my whole career. For me, it’s exciting to be able to translate something complex into something simple and consumable – whether B2B or B2C. For women looking to break into tech, I would say find a technology you can get passionate about and remember that being in tech doesn’t mean you have to be a techie or a coder, per se – although the industry needs more females in that field! There are many roles available within tech that let you get into the action and excitement without learning to code. Also, do your reading – it’s important to keep up with the trends and what’s going on so you can be informed and add to the conversation.
“My mother was a huge inspiration to me growing up. She followed her passions, and was also bold, tenacious, and not afraid to try something and fail. This entrepreneurial spirit has been in my DNA from the start. In my life and career, I’ve been inspired by many entrepreneurs – male and female – and I encourage all women to seek out those who inspire them to dream big.”
Diane Perlman, CMO, Blis
Inspire future female tech leaders
“I’ve seen a lot of improvements during my experience as a female in the tech industry. One of the most rewarding has been the increase of women in leadership. Being a part of this advancement as a female executive at Simpli.fi, I’ve made it a priority to inspire women within the organisation and help them achieve their career goals in becoming the next generation of technology leaders. I encourage all employees to not be afraid of getting involved and to take on as many responsibilities as possible in order to gain experience.
“As our organisation and the tech industry grow, female leaders must adapt. I’ve realised that I now mentor more than I did eight years ago when I first started with Simpli.fi. I feel very fortunate to work for a supportive CEO who understands the importance of work/life balance, and I’ve instilled this same focus within my team, too.”
Elizabeth Brockey, Chief Customer Officer, Simpli.fi
Surround yourself with inspiration and support
“It’s hard to avoid the under-representation of women in technology and, more specifically, in ad tech. I feel hugely fortunate to work in a business where the main focus is on nurturing talent, so the best employees advance in their career, regardless of background, including gender, age, race, sexuality, and disability. In an industry where the turnover of employees is notoriously high, instead, businesses should be operating as a meritocracy, cultivating talent from an early stage to motivate and encourage staff to progress.
“It’s also important that businesses ensure women are well represented, not only throughout the business, but also in senior management, where it often falls short. At Taptica, 70% of senior management are women, and this is something I am extremely proud to be a part of. My biggest tip for anyone looking to go into tech would be to surround yourself with inspiring and supportive people. The support of mentors at Taptica has helped me get to where I am today.”
Ruth Manielevitch, VP Global Sales, Taptica
Break the ‘boys’ club’ legacy
“Unfortunately, exercises like the gender pay gap report only touch the very tip of the equality iceberg. There is undeniably still a lot of work that needs to be done. Looking to the future of women in tech, it is important that we get girls excited about tech through further and higher education.
“In this vein, we also desperately need to break the ‘boys’ club’ legacy that perpetuates the exclusion of women at senior levels – and clouds the dreams of younger girls who will otherwise buy into the myth that tech is solely reserved for men. Enabling a generation of female tech-preneurs to ask for and secure funding is just another key component in shifting the paradigm.”
Debbie Zaman, CEO, With