Leading as a woman in adtech

25 February By Laura Quigley

McKinsey’s 2018 report says advancing women’s equality can boost growth in the Asia Pacific by $6 trillion. However, according to studies, Only 2.9% of ad tech CEOs are female, a lower figure than the 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Dismal figures indeed. What are the reasons the industry is still so heavily male? Well, among others, the key challenges women face, according to me, are:

Lack of confidence and courage

Hewlett Packard documented a finding a few years ago. “Women working at HP” applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. This hesitation may stem from a variety of cultural and institutional factors, but we need to stop doing it – don’t hesitate, have courage and be more confident in taking our career progression forward. It’s not just in adtech, but in all industries. We wait forever to get all our ducks in a row, dot our i’s and cross our t’s and miss out on the bigger picture.

“Have the courage to take on leadership roles, even when nagging doubts creep up about your readiness to lead.”


The perception that technology is primarily a boys-club

Ad tech very much started off as a male-dominated industry, although you could say that rings true to a number of industries. The challenge with technology in particular is that it stems from a long-running trend of men chasing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) qualifications, while women tend to lean towards the Arts or Marketing. Encouraging more women to qualify in STEM is something a number of schools, companies, and governments are trying to address.

Driving disruption in the ad tech world

Adtech is an extremely dynamic, fast-changing industry and often involves late night / early morning calls long hours, global travel, and it becomes taxing for women to then manage their family obligations and raise kids. Due to a lack of a support network, they may drop off, postpone having family or get off the fast track. Having to make a choice, to me, seems extremely regressive. Women should be able to pursue both career and family and the wider support networks- society, companies, and government- must act as enablers. Having worked in roles in EMEA, ANZ and APAC I’ve met extraordinary leaders and mentors who have shaped my perspective, and the key learnings are:

1. Get out of your comfort zone

Women can be reluctant to be assertive and are perceived as risk-averse. They continue to fear they will be perceived as overambitious when they position themselves front and center. In Sheryl Sandberg’s’ words- When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.”

The best way to combat this issue is to have an opinion, find your voice and be brave to put it forward regardless of the outcome. Being wrong and failing are part and parcel of life.

2. Have courage and confidence to grow

Own your career and become willing to “fake it until you make it,” as so many of your male counterparts do. Have the courage to take on leadership roles, even when nagging doubts creep up about your readiness to lead. Step up and get the company to invest in your growth by investing in leadership courses, training etc. Simply put, if you won’t ask you won’t get.

3. Grooming women leaders

Companies that have at least 30% gender diversity overall, and more than 20% at the senior level, outperform their less diverse counterparts in key leadership and business outcomes according to a new study from DDI, The Conference Board, and EY.

Having team members with different backgrounds and life experience enables a broader-based approach to problem-solving and encourage innovation which positively influences the bottom line. Ad tech needs to make diversity a priority in all candidate sets, especially for board-level, C-suite, management and engineering positions.

Employers need to identify ways to empower female employees, give equal pay for equal work, flexible working hours, expand their skill sets, expose them to additional roles and prepare them for more leadership positions. Implement internship programs targeting female STEM students. We have a long way to go before we bridge this gap and in words of Mahatma Gandhi “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”


This article was first featured in Marketing Interactive.