AMC’s Mad Men paints a picture of a male-dominated world, in which women either stayed home with the kids or enlisted as secretaries while their husbands took on huge clients on Madison Avenue.
While this stereotype has largely changed and women now account for 46.9 percent of the U.S. workforce, women in senior management positions in the growing ad-tech industry are still severely under-represented, seeming to better reflect Don Draper’s era than the twenty first century.
Although a very male-dominated industry, it’s hugely dynamic, constantly evolving, employing many smart individuals, and none of us could imagine working in any other sector. However, it can be challenging, especially for females. So, based on my years of experience in the ad tech world, I’ve compiled our top tips for women who want to break through the allegorical glass ceiling and succeed as an executive without sacrificing family or sanity. Good luck!
Embrace what sets you apart from your male co-workers.
Women tend to diminish their abilities or doubt their qualifications far more than men do. It’s fair to say that all of us have worried about being ‘one of the guys’ in order to fit in with our colleagues and customers and felt we had to mirror our male colleagues. However we’ve realized this is not necessary and no one had asked us to be one of them. Women are different than men. We speak differently, we act differently, we are innately compassionate, great listeners and excel at problem solving. Be yourself and play to both your personal and gender-specific strengths.
Be vocal and make sure your boss knows your aspirations.
Be sure to establish open communication with your boss – and maybe even your boss’ boss – especially in regards to your career trajectory. Men are more aggressive about letting everyone know what they’ve achieved and where they want to go, whereas women tend to be more passive or equate their success to good luck rather than their own skills. Put yourself on the radar of the people who not only need to know you have goals for yourself, but can help you achieve them.
Invest in building your own brand
Identify the personal qualities you bring to your business that are distinct from your colleagues and make sure this is recognized. Visibility is important – don’t be shy in highlighting your successes to ensure you receive the credit for them. Use all opportunities to share your thoughts about your company and the industry, be that via networking, writing articles or publishing blog posts, to bring you greater exposure and position yourself as a source of expertise. Also take advantage of any speaking opportunity that might arise: although conference agendas are dominated by men, organizers are crying out for good female speakers to address this imbalance.
Talking is good: find a mentor you relate to.
Your mentor should be someone who you feel can offer both the emotional and technical perspectives you need to grow your career. They need to have experienced the work and family challenges you’re facing and make you realize that you actually aren’t crazy when attending a ballet recital or ducking out of the office early to go to a pediatrician appointment the week before a big pitch. Talking is positive, so never see mentoring as a form of weakness: men do it all the time but just in a different environment.
Working long hours does not mean working effectively.
Who says that the person in the office for 12 hours a day is more effective than someone who works seven hours? It’s simply not true. Rather than leaving your calendar entirely open, book time for key activities such as research, brainstorming, keeping up to date with the industry, etc. See if you can even book days to leave early to spend time with your family. As a result, you will probably find that you are more efficient without spending more time in the office because you’re shifting focus from everything to just the most important things.
Base hiring on improving your team’s bench strengths, not who may be next on maternity leave.
When in a position to hire, women will often focus on the person and their qualifications rather than predict what their family might look like in a few years. All of us have been in a position multiple times to hire female candidates despite our male counterparts questioning whether the prospective employee may go on maternity leave in the future. This should not be a determining factor and women themselves should not stop forwarding their careers because they are planning a family. If someone is right for the job, that’s all that matters.
Don’t pay attention to what everyone else is doing.
Success in ad tech doesn’t mandate that women prioritize work over family – but that impression is often what drives many women away. While women like Yahoo!’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, may have cut back their maternity leave, this is their personal choice and others may choose a different career and parenting approach that works for them. No one should have to put their life on hold. Find a way to make it work for YOU.
Make a plan to balance your personal and work lives.
If you find that you love your career in ad tech and also have a family – or plan to start one – don’t immediately assume you can’t do both. Make a plan with your spouse to balance work and family, rather than simply reacting to demands on your time. That way, you both will know what’s happening, there won’t be any surprises and you can support each other in both career and personal aspirations.
Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can.
To succeed and lead within an ad tech company, you are expected to know the product and its underlying infrastructure. For many women, this is the hardest part of their job. Don’t be afraid to sit in a room with an expert (either an engineer or a product person who knows their stuff or a veteran who has been in the industry for decades) and get answers to your questions. The deeper your knowledge of the industry and your product, the more success you will have in your career, and the more valuable you will become to your company – be you male or female.
Remember to take care of yourself.
While you need to take care of your work responsibilities, you also have to take care of your family and yourself! Find time to exercise, even if it is at 5 a.m., and, as hard as it sounds, try to eat healthy – even on the road. If you are not happy and healthy, the rest will never work.
With reporting by Nicolle Pangis and Maureen Little
Denise Colella is the chief revenue officer at Maxifier, a company that provides inventory optimization services to online publishers, ad networks and leading media companies throughout North America and Europe.
Prior to joining Maxifier, Colella was the CRO at AudienceScience, and a vice president at Yahoo!.
Follow her on Twitter @decolella
VB's research team is studying web-personalization... Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.