Female leaders on how diversity closes the skills gap

Only one in four C-Suite leaders are women. How can the growing tech and performance marketing industries pave the way for change?

“Diversity is inextricably linked to the skills gap” making diversity in the workforce a commercial imperative. 

Hear from 14 female leaders in performance marketing on why a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce is “not just another corporate box to be ticked” but crucial to creating a better future in tech and beyond, and how this can be implemented in businesses around the world. 

“Women only make up a third of the global technology sector’s workforce, dropping to a quarter for technical roles,” said Jocelyn Lo, Global Director of Brand and Communications, Seedtag

“We should all be concerned that the digital world — which we all have a stake in — is being built by half the population most of the time. How many innovations are we missing out on by excluding women? IWD’s ‘DigitALL’ theme is a wakeup call for tech companies to not only address the under-representation of women in businesses but also ensure that they are heard, respected, and valued.”

“Tech will be the facilitator to a better future”

"The first step is to start really listening to women in the industry,” said Natalie Cramp, CEO of data consultancy Profusion. “There's plenty of talk about diversity, but in many instances the conversation is dominated by men. I know more often than not their intentions are good, but change will only happen if they stop talking for a moment and listen to what women who actually experience the industry say needs to happen. 

"There's a huge amount of gatekeeping in the tech industry. Many hiring decisions are biased towards particular technical qualifications, backgrounds or coding languages. Tech founders should hire for transferable skills and teach the tech or data knowledge required. 

"Ultimately the tech industry can play a much bigger role in tackling one of the root causes of underrepresentation – the lack of women studying STEM. The stats haven't changed enough in the past few years, so it's clear more must be done. Research shows gender stereotypes are formed as young as seven, the net result seems to be that when young girls get to secondary school many are locked into a path that precludes a huge number of career choices. The tech industry can and should help break this cycle by educating young people, teachers and parents on all the possibilities and benefits of STEM careers, addressing stereotypes and providing work inspiration and experience opportunities."

Lucia Mastromauro, Managing Director UK, Acceleration also emphasises STEM in education: “More investment is needed to provide girls early on with the tools to navigate an increasingly technology-led economy. 

“This means emphasis on mathematics, physics and problem-solving skills in the curriculum, but building this foundation shouldn’t be the role of schools alone. The tech industry also needs to take collective responsibility for empowering females, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to enjoy careers in technology and all of the opportunities it affords.”

“The intersectionality of gender and digital exclusion brings to the table deeper issues than often discussed. Tech businesses with leaders who fortunately have not experienced digital exclusion themselves, would benefit from gaining a broader perspective to be able to contribute to solutions. A great approach would be to enlist women with first-hand experience to consult and advise on how they create career opportunities for women and support them in their development.” 

Charlie Johnson, VP International, Digital Element: “Technology is a powerful tool that can elevate the voices of all – whatever their gender – who choose to speak up. Take, for example, the recent protests in Iran, which saw women using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that establish a protected internet connection and hide their online identities, allowing communication when they would otherwise be isolated. The open web allows everyone to access and share knowledge globally, amplifying new voices and facilitating new ideas like never before. While the battle for equality continues, tech will be the facilitator to a better future.”  

“Diversity is inextricably linked to the skills gap”

Sarah Gilchriest, President of Circus Street: “Creating a more gender diverse workplace is both a moral and commercial imperative. Having a plurality of experiences and backgrounds creates more points of view, positions and ways of thinking. But it can be easier said than done.

“Companies that lack diversity more often than not suffer from institutional problems that prevent underrepresented groups applying for roles, being hired or developing into more senior leadership roles. Research indicates that unconscious bias can play a major role. People either hire or promote new team members that are like themselves or have perceptions of particular groups that lead them to believe they would not be suited for a particular role. Many business leaders also argue that diversity is inextricably linked to the skills gap – there simply aren’t enough people from underrepresented groups embarking on careers in areas such as development or data science to help representation. 

“Breaking these cycles requires a more proactive approach from businesses. Businesses simply can’t wait for the skills gap to close by itself nor can they assume that hiring and promotion practices will change without intervention. So how can organisations take a big step forward and help to close any gender gap? One answer can be found in developing an upskilling program. Businesses cultivate the talent they already have and hire more diverse team members with a view to developing their skill sets in a way that is relevant to both your business and their aspirations and abilities.”

Sue Azari, E-commerce Industry Lead, AppsFlyer: “I’m a firm believer in “what you can’t see, you can’t be” – so when I started my career, the lack of diversity at senior levels was challenging. The increase of female CEOs – such as in the retail industry, which has grown 11% since 2021 – is positive, but it’s still only the beginning. Businesses need to reflect their social and cultural environment to align brand values, messaging, and purpose with consumer needs. Capturing this diversity is how we level the playing field and address bias, especially in the tech industry. 

“We know women have more purchasing power, and we know that female-led businesses are profitable, so it’s clear there’s value in more work being done here.” 

Grete Ling, Head of Growth, App Radar: "The key is to treat everyone equally. To not assume things based on someone’s background and to create a company culture that is open and inclusive. To that end, I think all companies should focus on investing in developing their people, professionally and emotionally. Self-analysis and mental health are more important than ever. This applies to everybody, not just women."

Parental leave: not “just another corporate box to be ticked”

Emma Lacey, SVP EMEA, Zefr: “The tech industry has been at the forefront of modernising parental leave policies, which is all well and good, but parenthood doesn’t stop when your maternity leave ends. 

“As a mum of young children, one of the things I value most in the workplace is being trusted to juggle work and home responsibilities. In my opinion nothing beats people working together in person; but I also think we shouldn’t discriminate against parents needing some flexibility to be able to do the school run or to attend their kid’s sports day. Being able to choose my working location and flex my hours, allows me to be both more present for my family and more productive for my company.

“Companies of all sizes, in all industries, could better support mothers – and fathers – by normalising parental leave, treating all family situations and forms of parenthood equally, and providing mental health support around issues such as returning to work or navigating mum guilt.”

Lydia Kothmeier, Vice President of Operations at Storyblok: "It’s really important that businesses, especially those involved in tech, go beyond viewing gender equality and the wider diversity mandate as just another corporate box to be ticked. It’s about breaking age-old biases and barriers and creating a place where every single person – be it male or female – feels equally valued, included and heard. For example, it doesn’t matter if we have a part-time or full-time team member or a person who will be on maternity leave for a while. 

"For us, the right attitude and experience is much more important than working hours. Excitement, passion and curiosity isn’t something that can be quantified by figures or charts but must be lived and breathed from the top down. If your team senses a lack of authenticity, it’s likely that they will be less inclined to get on board and the impact of even the most comprehensive diversity strategy will fall to the wayside. In this way, it’s about curating a culture of equality that is not just part of your corporate strategy but deeply ingrained in your entire brand philosophy."

Maria A Pereda, Strategic Partnerships Lead, Capchase: "Create a culture where opportunities are given based on true impact on the business and not based on who has the loudest voice. We also need to see more opportunities for women later in their careers, such as returning mothers, to retrain and reskill themselves into tech. It’s important that people realise it’s never too late. Just like myself, entering tech slightly later in my career, there’s always an opportunity to diversify, upskill or even reskill."

“Only one in four C-Suite leaders are women”

Alison Hawkins, Integrated Solutions Director at DoubleVerify: “As this year's theme for International Women’s Day reminds us, each of us can do our part in embracing equity within our own sphere of influence. We need more women of all backgrounds leading our businesses, managing our teams being the face of our industries and more. 

“Everyone has a different lived experience and to create equity, this must be embraced. For me personally, it’s essential to give my teammates the space to come to work in a way that’s honest to them. As leaders we need to create open environments – whether in one to ones or in team sessions – in which everyone can have a voice, share concerns and is empowered to develop. I’ve experienced first-hand that this culture creates a successful team environment where the business is able to adapt support based on each individual’s needs.”

Anne Stagg, UK CEO, Merkle told PMW: “A key theme for me is mentoring and allyship. When I got into the [UK CEO] role, I had plenty of allies and mentors around me who nurtured me through the first six months. Having those sounding boards is important; as an industry we’re seeing a lot more coaching programmes, networking programmes and opportunities to talk to people. 

“We need to change the narrative in the industry when we talk about women in tech. When we talk about women in tech we talk about STEM subjects; there is a plethora of careers in technology businesses that have nothing to do with maths and science. The whole taxonomy in the industry needs to evolve. 

“If I look at our organisation and the progress we’ve made in our gender equity right up to our middle management layer, we’ve got a great gender balance, but it takes time for that to flow through to senior management level, and for those initiatives to bear fruit. It’s easier if you’re in a growth business to put those challenges right as you create new roles and not hamper the progress of those already in the organisation.”

Rachel Thornton, Chief Marketing Officer, MessageBird: “According to a recent McKinsey report, only one in four C-Suite leaders are women and with more hurdles to climb, it can be challenging for women to climb the ranks or be seen as true leaders.  

“Encouraging everyone to have a voice and ask questions is so important as it can open up a dialogue through open conversations and collaboration. Also key is a stronger investment in training and development programs that help women build the skills necessary to succeed in leadership roles." 

Gosia Adamczyk, Director of HR, Verve Group: “When there is one day on a calendar bringing light to an issue, it's up to all of us to make the other 364 days matter to prove the cause matters enough to enact change.  

“No matter if one is in creative or in ad-tech; no matter if one is a man or a woman, meaningful change takes place when we prove to our employees that we're doing something about it – and measuring the change to prove that progress is being made.

“We should not use the excuse of diverse talent shortage in our industry, anymore. We need to start building the future--support new talent development, work with local interest groups and do our best to invest in a more inclusive environment.”