Juliette Stead
Mar 9, 2020

Adtech's gender imbalance starts at the source

The gender imbalance in the tech industry is rooted in a much deeper problem: education.

Adtech's gender imbalance starts at the source

One look at the speaker lineup and crowd at an industry event and you’ll see there’s a rather large gender imbalance within adtech. Yet studies prove that businesses with a strong female presence at senior levels are stronger. In fact, a diverse mix of people with different backgrounds, attitudes, ages, and personalities will deliver superior results. It’s known that diversity leads to a better approach to problem solving, and prevents restrictive linear thinking. So in ad tech—an industry that must be innovative and agile to thrive—why is there so little diversity?

Since we are approaching International Women’s Day, I’m going to focus on the male-to-female ratio here. In my view, this isn’t just a 2020 problem; I believe it goes way back. Why don’t more women want to work in adtech? Why don’t more adtech companies hire more women? 

As well as being responsible for Telaria’s business across APAC, I’m also the proud mum of a delightful four-year-old. She is bright, inquisitive, and eager to learn. I would love her to grow up with the opportunity to explore her interests, and discover her passions. She can spend hours playing with paints, blocks, dolls, Lego, jigsaws, dress-ups, tea sets… the list goes on. And yet research shows that many younger children are only given toys that play to gender stereotypes and labelling. Besides reinforcing outdated and limited gender roles, this also means that girls—in the context of this discussion—are missing out. For example, playing with blocks (or similar) is proven to lead to brain development and boost children’s abilities later in life with maths, motor skills, hand-eye coordination, spatial reasoning, cognitive flexibility, engineering skills, and creative, divergent thinking. If we only ever give our daughters the ‘girlie’ toys, we’re potentially inhibiting brain development at an early stage, as well as an interest and aptitude in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects later on.

The gender imbalance when it comes to studying STEM subjects at school should give cause for concern, as well as the number that don’t proceed with these subjects once graduating. There are some excellent initiatives, both within and outside of the education system, to encourage all children—but particularly girls—into STEM subjects, and I’m hopeful that this will change future gender imbalances within the workplace. 

One initiative, ‘Code like a girl’, puts it beautifully. Their aim is to ‘empower and enable women and girls to be equal creators in building the future’. Sounds awesome, right? So let’s give our girls the foundations needed to succeed in traditionally male-dominated industries like adtech. I also think it would be wonderful if adtech invested in its own future by investing in STEM initiatives for children. It would be a constructive approach to fixing a problem from the ground up.

Elsewhere, what is stopping adtech organisations from hiring competent women, when female applicants are a very real option? Conscious or unconscious bias could be one of the factors creating a barrier. Not only when it comes to the point of interviewing, but even at those fundamental stages of writing an unbiased job description with inclusive language, or briefing the recruiter on an opportunity. Studies also show people often trust and hire people that are like themselves, as they’re a known commodity in the hiring manager’s eyes.

Gender balance in adtech is possible, and I have experienced that first hand. The industry has a long way to go, but that starts with using inclusive language, hiring well, without bias, and investing in the future. This will create an industry that is welcoming to all, with a strong and diverse mix of contributors. If we don’t change, we won’t progress. A homogenous industry will limit the growth and potential of our market in the short and long term.  

Juliette Stead is the SVP of APAC at Telaria.


If you're interested in new ideas and strategies to promote diversity and inclusion, we will be hosting Campaign Leading Change 2020 Conference & Awards (formerly Women Leading Change) on May 28 at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

Campaign Asia

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