As an exciting, challenging, and constantly evolving sector, the ad tech industry has changed the way online advertising operates, attracting the brightest minds and spawning a wealth of innovative businesses. The result is an industry in which everyone wants to work. Yet despite all this dynamism, there is a distinct lack of women in the industry, especially at the senior level.
The root of the problem
This issue actually starts well before the workplace even factors in. Although test scores and grades show that women are strong in mathematics and science throughout grade school and high school, when it comes to degree courses, women are significantly under-represented in engineering and computer science. According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, fewer than 14 percent of computer science degrees are earned by women. This means the lack of females is much more than just an industry issue. The challenge lies in attracting more women to college engineering departments.
While this challenge won't be solved overnight, the lack of female engineers and computer scientists has a direct impact on the ad tech industry. Because the majority of companies in this space began as innovative, small technology startups driven by engineers, there is a male-specific bias at the senior level that has been inherent in this sector from the start. Furthermore, the additional time demands and commitment levels associated with working for a startup are often greater than those of a more established business, which could also impact the willingness of women with families to join the industry. Finally, the fact that many of these startups are funded by venture capitalists or angel investors -- another male-dominated sector -- further perpetuates the issue, as most board members and advisors tend to be men.
Tricks of the trade from women in the field
While it might seem like the odds are stacked against women in ad tech, it's important to realize that working in this industry and being a good wife and mother are not mutually exclusive. Women should not have to choose one or the other. This false assumption deprives the industry of very talented individuals, especially when women feel they cannot return after maternity leave because the demands of the company don't support them when their priorities have shifted to support a healthier work-life balance.
For women who are concerned about not being able to dedicate enough hours to the job, they must understand that when it comes to the working day, less can actually mean more. It's not possible to equate hours spent at work with output, so if someone is in the office for 12 hours per day, it does not mean they are more effective than someone who is there for seven. What matters is how you control and use this time. It's important to realize that you are in control of your calendar and success. Rather than leaving your calendar open, use it to book time for key activities such as researching, brainstorming, and keeping up-to-date with the industry -- even booking days to leave early in order to spend time with the family -- and then stick to your plan (within reason of course). Although it might mean less time in the office than male colleagues, it can also lead to an increase in productivity. Focusing on priorities can make people far more efficient with their time in the office.
For women who do reach a senior level, you must ensure that the key skills you bring to the business are not suppressed, as the response to operating in a male-dominated environment is often to "de-feminize" in an attempt to fit in and be "one of the guys." Our advice is to reject this premise, realize it's unnecessary, and understand that it's a pressure you put on yourself, not something your male co-workers are forcing on you. Have the confidence to accept that you're different from your male colleagues, and remain true to yourself by using your own skills to add value to the business. This is especially important in a leadership role where authenticity is critical. You must mean what you say and say what you mean in order to gain trust and respect from your team, partners, and clients.
One trick we've learned from our male colleagues is to be sure the right people know about our career aspirations. Men are more forthright about articulating their successes and stating exactly where they want their careers to lead. Women can often be more passive, and if you don't communicate to your boss what you want from your career, he or she might assume you do not want increased responsibilities and the additional pressures they bring. As a result, you could be overlooked for career advancement opportunities, even if you are the most qualified person for the role. Speak up from the start, and make sure people clearly know what you want from your career.
As well as being more vocal, when it comes to technology, you can never be too inquisitive. This is critical to anyone's success. Overcome any fears you have and "dive into the technology." Sit down with the experts and don't be afraid to ask questions. Push people to explain things in a way that you can understand and ingest. The more deeply you can understand things, the more valuable you can be to your company.
A look ahead: The future is bright for women
Having more women in senior leadership roles will help address the lack of women in the industry for a number of reasons. First, they can become role models and mentors for other females as they overcome the obstacles traditionally associated with balancing home and work lives successfully. Women in senior roles can relate to the challenges facing other women who are entering the ad tech industry. At the same time, when it to comes to building effective and functioning teams, female bosses are less likely to consider the potential family aspirations of a female employee and will focus instead on what that person can add to the team and whether she is the right person for the job.
Over time, the ad tech industry will change for the better, and this will happen faster if we can incorporate more women in positions of true leadership and influence. It's important for companies to encourage women to fully understand and maximize their potential while also developing a culture that supports a work-life balance. Women bring different skills and strengths than men, which can make organizations more holistic and resilient. Companies suffer when they lose valuable, skilled employees, as often happens when, for example, women choose not to return to this industry after they have children, or they stop looking for leadership opportunities because they feel discouraged.
We all passionately believe the ad tech industry offers a dynamic environment that can create enormous opportunities for women to imagine, create, and lead, and we cannot see ourselves working anywhere else. We must all work together to ensure we can attract and nurture more women in the industry who feel the same.
Denise Colella is president at Maxifier.
Nicolle Pangis, president at Real Media Group, and Maureen Little, senior vice president of business development at Turn, contributed to this article.
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