Women Leading Ad Tech - It's a Ratio Difference, Not a Glass Ceiling

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Though well-intended, recent press regarding the so-called “glass ceiling” for women in Interactive Advertising, or “Ad Tech” rubbed me the wrong way. Why? I think it sends the wrong message. It’s factual that there are fewer women in Ad Tech in contrast to other sectors. However, characterizing the industry as promoting glass ceiling type barriers that were common during the single-income household, post-Industrial, Mad Men era of advertising is overreaching. It is also untrue and unfair to the ample number of accomplished, hard working women in our space.


Personally speaking, leaving a research role in the Ivy league and then an account role at a traditional ad agency to move to the space in 1996 was one of the most liberating and role empowering moves I ever made. Gone were the days when the account managers and planners were merely a rung above the mail room and when career development growth and path was slow and irrational regardless of education or drive. Found were the 24-7 digital innovation launch pads - positions that were the wrong fit for many, but the perfect fit for ambitious, energetic, creative, smart professionals of a certain kind. The trade-off? Pretty much everything - but gender was not the barrier. As long as you were willing to work your tail off and focus on the real and not the hype, you had a good job, good pay, good culture, super-smart peers and a long career. It was and still is a high-opportunity space.

Moreover, Ad Tech had and still has many powerful leaders that also happen to be women. And, it’s not just the marketing women as if marketing is not one of the anchor disciplines of all businesses!

Gail Goodman for one. Gail has served as the CEO and Chairman of Constant Contact for many years. Anna Zornosa, former CEO of Topica (and now EVP/GM of Dealix), was another early female to Ad Tech as was one of her key competitors, another female founder and CEO, Janine Popick of Vertical Response. Around the same time, Fran Maier, current board member and President of TRUSTe, was co-founding Match.com.

There’s more. Think Jeanniey Mullen, now Global EVP/CMO of Zinio - a role that many of us (my male and female peers alike) turned our heads to acknowledge based on its boldness and clout. Jeanniey made a digital name for herself at Ogilvy, as did her super-smart and talented lady-peer, Melinda Krueger (now consulting for ExactTarget). Don’t forget Stephanie Miller. Who could? Stephanie was more or less the face for ReturnPath until her recent departure for Aprimo - where she serves in a similar role. But, it’s not just Ad Tech as we know it.

Up the corporate food chain in critical roles at the Big 3 and/or at the agency-partner level, there are more examples gracing the corporate board rooms with their acumen, value and style! Marissa Mayer, Vice President of Location and Local Services, is one of the more public faces of Google. Mayer’s been there since the nineties when she was one of the first engineers hired by the big G. Then, there’s Wenda Harris Millard of MediaLink. In my humble opinion, Wenda deserves a special call out. Why? Because some of the current male Ad Tech CEOs are playfully referred to as “Wenda’s kids!” Also in the C-suite, look to Google again. Sitting in that hot little Head of Privacy role, yep, another lady - the fabulous Anne Toth!

On the publishing side, there’s Amra Tareen, the former founder and CEO of Allvoices.com, a company that, in full disclosure, sold to ours earlier this year. Guiding publishers that need to survive the shift to digital is Laredo Group founder and CEO, Leslie Laredo.

Covering it all? Rebecca Lieb, one of the most respected and sometimes feared editors-in-chief. Now an analyst with Altimeter Group, Rebecca was known for her bullish dedication to writing stories versus the type of press release-like articles that self-respecting journalists half-laughingly refer to as “wet kisses.” We are all fortunate she continues to cover our space. Other notable female analysts that have a long history of serving and analyzing Ad Tech include Forrester Research’s Shar Van Boskirk, Joanna O’Connell as well as Altimeter Group analyst Charlene Li.

Pam Horan does the organizational role well as she leads the OPA. Other organizational leads include Nancy Hill at the 4As and Peggy Conlon over at the Ad Council.

Now, I will be honest. While there are women in great Ad Tech roles, I haven’t done my math on the exact ratio of women to men in our space nor do I care to. Again, I think it sends the wrong message. From primary experience, I can tell you that there are two areas in digital tech that I hardly see any women - the water cooler and the office pool. But, don’t take it from me. Here’s what three of the leaders mentioned above have to say about this topic!

“When I took the reins of ClickZ, I did so from its two founders, one of whom is Ann Handley, still an influencer in digital marketing at the helm of Marketing Profs, and (like me) an author of books on the industry. Over the years, my career and visibility has also been promoted by female colleagues, like the powerful Sue Bratton, who built the ad:tech conference into a juggernaut. I just joined the Altimeter Group due in large part to my unbridled admiration for the company’s brilliant and inspiring founder, Charlene Li. We women in digital marketing and Ad Technology know one another, collaborate and support one another not because we’re chicks, but instead out of real respect and mutual admiration. Anything less? That would be sexist.” - Rebecca Lieb, Analyst, Altimeter Group

“50% of the population has a great deal to offer tech businesses and boards. It’s about time we tapped into the broader perspectives and experience women bring especially given their overall buying power and influence. ” - Fran Maier, President, TRUSTe

“In my roles as Global EVP and CMO of Zinio and VIVmag, the worlds’ of publishing, advertising and technology watch our every innovation with great interest. And you better believe that the customers are watching and commenting too. No matter what the goal, challenge or opportunity is, I have come to rely on great advice from a group of female executives who provide insight and advice with candor. Women like Hope Frank, CMO of Webtrends, or Renata McGriff, Pioneer and Co-Founder of CARETALK are just two of the many successful and entrepreneurial women who service as role models as they understand that education, mentoring and support will lead to greater rewards to the community.” - Jeanniey Mullen, Global EVP and CMO of Zinio and VIVmag.


To close, why aren’t there more women in digital advertising? I wonder if it’s actually more of a branding issue. Medicine and other science-art based careers became fashionable once they were made attractive to women. On that note, perhaps what we truly need is the return of Rosie the Riveter, that wonderful, infamous Ad Council campaign that was used as the most successful advertising recruitment campaign in American history. Should we use email, social, display, search or content?

About the Author

sp_mcgilvray_lana.jpgLana McGilvray

Lana McGilvray is chair of the IAB Lead Gen/Email Committee and Vice-President, Marketing for PulsePoint. You can reach her via email or follow her on Twitter @LanaMcGilvray.