Women in ad tech

Women in Ad Tech: Challenges and Triumphs in a Male-Dominated Industry

Meet the trailblazers for women in ad tech as well as their stories, the challenges they face and how they have learned to adjust to a male-centered culture.

Thirty years ago, Susan Credle occupied the absolute bottom of the corporate hierarchy at the BBDO ad agency. She took over for receptionists when they had to leave their desks — a secretary’s understudy and so-called “bathroom break girl.” These days, she’s responsible for a lot more than temporary typing. Anyone who has seen an M&M ad featuring anthropomorphic candies or one of Allstate’s “Mayhem” ads is familiar with her work as creative director.

Alongside her ascent are hundreds of other women in the advertising industry, but they are still having trouble breaking through into advertising technology. Only 2.9% of ad tech CEOs are female, a lower figure than the 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs who are women.  The barriers to entry include a complex cocktail of inertia, bias and a lack of visibility.

As more women seek to enter the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field and participate in the traditionally male-dominated corporate society, ad tech represents a rare combination of the two. Women who enter this field are more than trailblazers; they are inventing new types of trails as they go.

Signs of Ascent

Overall, the landscape of women in ad tech is looking much more positive these days than even just a few years ago. At Annalect, more than half of our overall hires this year have been women. There are even a few anomalies, such as Australian ad tech firm Innovid, where the women outnumber the men. When asked about what it takes to be a female leader in the digital arena, Innovid Managing Director Gillian Kane responded, “Grit. You have to be committed and passionate about the medium. You need to look at every day as a new experience.”

Other positive portents include the visibility of women CEOs like Drawbridge’s Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan. She began her unconventional career path as a planetary scientist whose PhD work contributed to a NASA New Horizons mission.

She then joined a mobile advertising company that was later acquired by Google before moving on to found Drawbridge. These days, she focuses not just on the quality of work she puts out but also on how her decisions may appear to others.

“One of my professors at Stanford said: ‘Remember, as one of the few people of your type — women engineers — you stand out. You stand out when you do well and you stand out when you underperform because there’s so few of you. People remember you even if you mess up.’ And that’s stuck with me for the last 10 years,” Sivaramakrishnan.

Another example of a woman CEO, who understands all things data and tech, is right here at Annalect. Erin Matts, previously AnnalectChief Marketing Officer, was recently promoted to lead as CEO, North America. In this role, Erin focuses on translating media and ad technology into data-driven strategies that help clients to communicate on a one-to one basis with their customers.

However, the very nature of challenging paradigms can often make others feel threatened or defensive. Digiday notes that women in leadership roles “are more likely to be seen by men as bossy or aggressive than as strong leaders,” an observation that Susan Credle shares. “I still to this day, when I feel the blood boiling in me and I just want to let it all out, I cut it by 90 percent because I’m a woman.”

A Bright Future for Women in Ad Tech?

In total, women make up around 14% of CIOs and 16% of the entire tech industry, according to Women of Silicon Valley Roundabout organizer Maddox Events. The importance of increasing this number cannot be overstated. “Diversification promotes innovation and, with the importance of technology and the unyielding growth of the digital economy, perceptions need to be changed,” asserts Exchange Wire’s Lindsay Rowntree.

Luckily, progress builds off of progress, so the female pioneers who have planted the seeds in their industry will only help change get easier. “The goal was always to find and hire the best possible candidates,” Adelphic co-founder and chief strategy officer Jennifer Lum tells Digiday. “We’ve just done a better job of casting a broader net.”

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