Inspiring Inclusion: Women in Advertising Mark International Women’s Day | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

Inspiring Inclusion: Women in Advertising Mark International Women’s Day


International Women's Day (IWD) is an annual reminder of the hard-fought achievements of women in the face of historical exclusion. The theme for this year, "Inspire Inclusion," furthers this dialogue by highlighting the importance of fostering a world where all women feel valued and empowered, with equal opportunities to thrive. At a time when women are striving against all odds to make a mark in the tech industry, organizations are being urged to acknowledge the areas where they can be doing more to support their female workforce and take steps to improve.

As we mark yet another IWD where gender parity remains a goal for the future rather than a reality of the present, here's what prominent female leaders across the tech landscape have to say about their experiences as women in advertising and what still needs to be done to achieve true equality.

Representation is key to stoke ambition.

Lauren Wetzel, COO of InfoSum:

"One of the biggest barriers to closing the gender gap in the technology industry is the lack of women in senior leadership positions. If women don't see other women at C-level, it feels like a much steeper hill to climb. But if they see women with successful careers progressing into the boardroom, they have a clear pathway they can follow.

"A key area that needs to be addressed if we want to see more women-led businesses is commitments to investments in funding for women-founded businesses. Companies founded solely by women receive less than 3 percent of all venture capital investments (HBR, February 2023).

"Addressing these challenges requires decisive action. Boards and leadership teams must redefine the future of work with women in mind. A transparent evaluation of diversity, equality and inclusion data across the organization is required, looking at recruitment, the current workforce make-up, representation in management, salary assessments and the like. As well as mining this data, leaders must educate themselves on the macro trends that show the realities for women at work. For example, the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2023 shows that just 20 percent of C-suite roles in the technology, information and media industry are filled by women."

Emily Barfuss, CMO at Ogury:

"Representation and inclusion are vital for every woman's personal development. Throughout my career, I have focused on supporting women in working towards a world where no woman has to be the only female voice in the boardroom. Through mentorship, I help women with writing and reviewing resumes, preparing for interviews, and even negotiating offers, something that a lot of women are struggling to consider as an option. For those still early in their careers, I encourage you to find women who motivate you, support you, challenge you, and lift you up – hold onto them and let them help you through your journey.

"Today, when I see equal representation – or even a female majority – in boardroom situations, I take time to reflect on the impressive amount of change that has happened since I started my career. We need to all encourage, motivate, and inspire each other to drive true inclusion. Representation not only inspires individuals but makes business sense as it leads to better financial returns for companies."

The invisible barriers holding women back need to be addressed.

Sarah Lawson Johnston, CRO at Covatic:

"At a time when women make up less than a third of the world's tech workforce, it's vital to address this disparity at the root of the issue by removing the perceived barriers to roles in technology, and encouraging women — before their careers even begin — to foster skills and interest in the tech industry.

"The theme for this year's International Women's Day, "Inspire Inclusion," is a call to action that resonates deeply within our industry, where diverse perspectives are crucial for innovation and success. As a woman at the start of my career, I found it invaluable to see other women in the roles I aspired to. Now, as a woman in tech leadership, I know that women's biggest hurdle is the 'broken rung' in being promoted to managerial roles, so staff inclusivity and development make a long-term difference.

"For this reason, we have invested in building truly inclusive recruitment and training processes which have resulted in 44 percent of our workforce being female and 46 percent from diverse and international backgrounds."

Karina Klymenko, head of creative and compliance global at MGID:

"In my 12-year career, I've experienced how the tech sector presents both opportunities and frustrations for women. On one hand, working in an industry that is still developing fosters a feeling of mutual growth, where the lack of precedent offers a chance for women to shape a role — even a company — around themselves. On the other, it can feel like women can't win: We are expected to 'go for it' as much as our male peers, but we are met with skepticism when we take on challenges because of our gender. This is why female mentorship and networks are so valuable in stereotypically male sectors such as tech; they offer spaces to share such experiences without judgment and receive guidance on navigating gendered expectations.

"Inclusion has shifted from being an option to a "must." One of the key values of any successful company today is respecting employees in all their differences, cultivating an atmosphere of trust both between employer-to-employee and colleague-to-colleague. Personally, I am particularly inspired by women in countries at war, like those in my own country of Ukraine, who have left jobs and families behind to defend their country or who keep working despite sleepless nights and screaming children. If these women can blaze their own trail in tech, we all can."

Carolyn Bao, VP of marketing at AppsFlyer:

"While we have seen some hard-fought gains at the top, women continue to fall behind at senior levels in America and Canada, representing just one in four C-suite leaders, and women of color only about six percent. At a national level, universal childcare, paid parental leave and flexible working arrangements are vital to the inclusion of working parents, especially mothers. Yet we also need organizations themselves to hold core values of inclusion and support, particularly in highly competitive and ever-evolving industries like marketing. Recognizing and respecting the contributions of working mothers in and outside their employment is key to parity of access and opportunity in all workplaces.

"To inspire inclusion across the industry, I'd encourage women to share authoritative and expert content on a consistent and intentional basis, beyond the confines of their employment, across podcasts, blogs, and social media. Encouraging women to consolidate their unique personal brand, not only helps in building a visibility that keeps them professionally agile, but also supports in forging opportunities and connections for the next generation."

Voices of women from all backgrounds must be heard.

Manuela Cadd, head of global strategic partnerships at Vudoo:

"Early in my career, navigating the ad tech space as a non-native speaker with a strong accent presented unique challenges. Despite seeing few female leaders, I wasn't discouraged. Starting my own company was not just a personal ambition but a mission to prove success based on knowledge, regardless of background. This 'blessing in disguise' gave me the confidence to forge my path and inspire others."

"Women in tech will face obstacles, but my advice is to persist. Don't be intimidated by technical jargon. Build a strong network with mentors both inside and outside the industry to support your success."

Anne Coghlan, co-founder and COO at Scope3:

"Inspiring inclusion in the workplace requires internal examination first and foremost. For example, deliberately creating leadership opportunities and promotion pathways for all people and reviewing company policies and how they can be equitable across the workforce. Being intentional about hiring, and specifically hiring more women and people with diverse skill sets throughout the organization especially into senior positions, makes that possible. It also means more junior employees can have mentors and sponsors who both look like them and who are allies, which I found incredibly important in my career.

"These types of changes don't just happen on their own, they require concerted effort, and the burden cannot and should not just be on those in the minority groups to make a difference. We need everyone to lean into this conversation; to learn, test, and try together to tackle this momentous task."

Alix de Carné Carnavalet, global director of talent acquisition and DE&I at Equativ:

"Creating an inclusive workplace should always be a key priority for any business leader. While this absolutely applies to gender; for example, integrating more women into traditionally male-dominated sectors, like tech – it also refers to the inclusion of different segments of diversity such as cultures, languages, values and working norms.

"Amid today's dynamic landscape of M&A activity, fueled by ever-evolving technology trends, we're seeing more companies facing challenges in unifying their employees from different companies, backgrounds, and countries. It is vital to implement the right strategies to ensure a cohesive organization. By embracing a 'one-size-never-fits-all' approach, businesses can build a culture based on transparency and mutual respect, with the range of different working styles and perspectives actually giving them a competitive edge."

Key Takeaway

The call to action for inspiring inclusion extends far beyond a single day. To ensure that gender diversity in tech and advertising does not remain a mere pipedream, the continued efforts of individuals, organizations, and the industry is essential. By amplifying the voices of female leaders, promoting inclusive practices, and actively challenging stereotypes, we can collectively pave the way for a future where women in tech not only have a seat at the table, but actively shape the future of innovation and progress.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.