Ensuring women can thrive in adtech

Ensuring women can thrive in adtech

As tech lay-offs disproportionately impact women, in an industry already far from gender parity, we take a look at actionable strategies companies can employ.

The tech industry has taken significant strides in improving gender diversity, with many companies making progress in ensuring their hiring procedures, workplace cultures, benefits packages and opportunities for progression are inclusive.

However, when you look at the numbers, the reality is our industry is not only lagging behind in reaching gender parity, it is actually heading in the wrong direction.

If we add into that the impact of recent tech lay-offs, which have disproportionately affected women, as well as the many challenges women still report, it’s clear we have a long way to go.

The truth about gender parity in tech

In 2020, the gender imbalance in tech was greater than it was in 1984. Women made up 35% of the tech workforce in 1984 but, by 2020, that figure had declined to 32%. When it comes to tech leadership, in 1984, 35% of tech leaders were women; by 2023, that figure had fallen to 28%.

Further compounding the issue is the wave of tech lay-offs starting in 2022 that have had a disproportionate impact on women. Although figures (from October 2022 to June 2023) show that an estimated 45% of those who lost their jobs were women, if women already make up a smaller proportion of the workforce, it means the gender gap is growing wider. We found further analysis that indicated women are 1.6 times more likely to face lay-offs than men, often due to less seniority.

Another reason for the disproportionate impact of recent lay-offs on women is that many roles being cut are in fields such as HR, recruitment, marketing or customer service. Ironically, the efforts of recent years to increase gender diversity in tech often involved creating roles in these fields, which — due to conscious or unconscious bias in hiring practices — tend to have higher proportions of female staff.

The ‘broken rung’ to leadership

With lay-offs likely to result in fewer women in the leadership pipeline, the need to fix the “broken rung”, where women face barriers in taking the critical first step up to a managerial role, becomes even more pressing.

A lot of work is being done to break systemic gender stereotypes around science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers and to encourage young women to join the tech industry. But in tech, only 52 women are promoted to manager for every 100 men (compared with 86 women for every 100 men across every industry).

A lack of prospects for career progression is just one of the challenges. Other factors include gender bias (conscious or unconscious); stereotyping; microaggressions, such as “hepeating” and “mansplaining”; being expected to take on extra, often unrecognised, work on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives; isolation (nearly half of women technologists say they are outnumbered by men in their workplace by four to one); and overwork.

Many tech companies are still failing to offer an inclusive work culture (72% of women in tech have worked at a company where “bro culture” was still pervasive) and women still experience a lack of flexibility or support around family responsibilities.

Women are leaving tech roles at a 45% higher rate than men. And if talented women take their skills elsewhere, we risk undoing all the work we have done to encourage women into tech in the first place. Fewer women will rise through the ranks and if young women don’t see people like themselves in leadership roles, it will discourage them from joining the industry.

Supporting, nurturing and retaining women in adtech is vitally important, especially amid a challenging economic climate. So what can adtech companies do to ensure women have every opportunity to thrive in their careers? Here are five actionable strategies.

1. Strengthen the leadership pipeline

Recruit women into leadership roles and promote from within. If women have the opportunity to fulfil their career ambitions, they are less likely to take their talents, expertise and skills elsewhere.

A diverse leadership team brings many business benefits, plus equity at the top encourages women in the early stages of their career to join the company as they can see real-world examples of what their future could look like.

2. Nurture talent

Retain women throughout the leadership pipeline not only by offering them equitable opportunities to progress, but also by making sure they have equitable access to training, projects and other resources. Then they will have the skills and expertise required to take that step up when the opportunity arises.

For example, Smartclip offers equal access to development programmes focusing on data, tech and professional skills (via learning providers such as Bertelsmann University, Coursera and Udacity), leadership development programmes, personal coaching sessions and knowledge-exchange workshops and events.

3. Work on your company’s culture

Boost employee retention and satisfaction by creating an inclusive and transparent culture, where open dialogue is always encouraged and everyone, at every level, is heard, feels valued and feels like they belong.

Leadership staff should be approachable and open to questions and feedback, and working principles should be developed and reflected on in a collaborative way, rather than just being imposed from the top down. Giving employees the ability to raise concerns anonymously if preferred ensures everyone’s voices are heard.

Even the smallest steps make a difference — for example, creating agendas before meetings gives everyone a chance to prepare their ideas, helping them feel more comfortable in speaking up.

4. Enhance flexible working solutions

Parental duties and care work still often fall on to women’s shoulders, so offer flexible, hybrid working opportunities to ensure women can continue to progress without risking burnout. Flexible solutions also give men more avenues to share parental duties. Be flexible with working hours in a way that suits people’s own requirements and responsibilities.

Understand the challenges that working mothers face and find solutions that make it easier for them to balance work and family responsibilities. Implement initiatives such as paid leave for people to look after sick children, ensuring parents can focus on caring for their child without worrying about their income.

5. Address unconscious biases

Take an honest approach to unconscious bias — at every level of the workforce. Even the strongest leadership pipeline or flexible working culture will be eroded if outdated attitudes or prejudices are still seeping into the workplace.

Addressing unconscious bias begins with workforce education. Take part in training designed to help identify and eliminate stereotypes, clichés and discrimination in behaviours and thought patterns.

Another way to help tackle gender bias is to repeatedly bring the topic of women in adtech into the conversation and amplify women’s voices — not just within the company but externally, too, with clients, partners, journalists, conference organisers and more.

Tackling unconscious bias is a continual process and there is so much that can be done, such as reviewing hiring, development and promotion procedures to eliminate any possibility that snap judgements could influence decision-making, and regularly examining pay and promotion rates.

An opportunity to take the lead

With diverse teams bringing multiple business benefits, including better financial performance, more creativity and innovation, and better problem-solving and decision-making, isn’t an economic downturn actually the time to encourage gender diversity rather than push it to the side?

In adtech, people are our greatest asset. In this ever-evolving industry that thrives on innovation, the many advantages of empowering female leaders, improving gender parity and inspiring inclusion should motivate everyone — not just those at the top — to do what this industry does best: take the lead.

A fuller version of this article can be found here.

Christian Osterhues (left) is vice-president, people and culture, and Shira Leffel is vice-president, marketing and product education, at Smartclip

Mediatel Jobs banner

Media Jobs