Fostering Diversity in an Inherently Undiverse Industry

The 10th year of ATS London will take place on 9th September and, as is the case every year, it’s been an exciting, yet challenging time crafting our agenda and finding experts to join us on stage.

The biggest challenge: diversity.

Holding a mirror up to the industry

Ad tech is far from diverse. Google’s tech positions are 74.3% male, and 74.1% of leadership positions are also held by men. Similarly, at Facebook, 77% of tech roles are held by men, with them in 67.4% of leadership positions. At The Trade Desk, a relatively new ad tech company on the scene, now publicly traded, 74% of people on the leadership team are men. If you were to pick any ad tech company out of a hat, then you would probably find similar results.

At ExchangeWire, we’re acutely aware of this lack of diversity in ad tech since we meet, interview, and write about ad tech and martech companies as part of our daily activity. As a result, compiling the agenda for any of our ATS events is a massive task. We want the best speakers on the topics we have selected; moderators who are capable of fielding these discussions and can hold an impartial position in that discussion; and an agenda and speaker line up that’s diverse and balanced. In a perfect world, we’d be able to achieve that every time.

However in ad tech today, that’s not possible.

And that’s just in relation to gender balance, never mind wider issues of diversity.

With females making up 33% of this year’s ATS London speaker line-up, versus just 7% five years ago, it is a reflection of an industry that is still growing up.

A young industry

Every year we strive to find brilliant females to take to the stage and share their expert insights. Despite the fact that, more so than ever before, the spotlight is firmly set on championing women to join the stage, it never gets any easier.

ATS London is not a broad conference about media; it is firmly rooted in the non-diverse, unwieldy ad tech industry, and while we invite senior leaders to speak from across the ecosystem, and from far more diverse sectors within media, ad tech is still on a long diversity journey.

Many ad tech companies are still very young, and stereotypically, often started by a man with an idea and dollar signs in his eyes, but no consideration for diversity. Those same companies have grown extremely quickly and are now trying to diversify their businesses, with varying degrees of success.

Championing diversity

There are many amazing women in this industry (ExchangeWire itself is 70% female), and we give them a voice on our various platforms, be that on stage at our events globally, on our podcast, or editorially.

We hunt far and wide for new faces, different speakers, and diverse voices in the industry. We use our broad networks and industry tools that have been designed to uncover diverse speakers. We’ve also hosted Women in Ad Tech networking breakfasts prior to ATS events – across global locations, and launched a free-to-enter Rising Star award to recognise hidden and rising talents within Ad Tech companies.

But the industry needs much more of this.

Ad tech companies need to hire more women and people from diverse backgrounds, throughout their organisations and specifically, at senior executive levels. They need to create and foster environments that a wide range of people, of all genders, from all different backgrounds want to work in – a gradual process of shifting culture and mind-set that will literally change the face of these organisations.

These people then need to be given a voice; an opportunity to be considered by their leaders and peers to take part, and to build the confidence to do so.

#NoManels

Viral social media posts from men, disappointed that they’ve been asked to take part in a ‘manel’, do nothing to help move this along, if they don’t then recommend a brilliant woman to take their place. In all the conversations we have had with panel speakers, this has never happened.

Marketing and comms teams from ad tech companies, agencies, publishers, and marketers, that automatically put forward their ‘best man for the job’, despite the fact that you have specified the need for a female, does nothing to move this further.

Criticising event organisers, who try extremely hard to recruit a diverse line-up of speakers (not just gender balanced), and calling them out in ridicule across various social channels and platforms, without trying to have an honest, two-way conversation, does nothing to effect long-term change.

Right now, the most powerful tool we have is to keep trying.