The tech industry needs to break away from the 'tech geek’ stereotypes and show how it needs people with a wide variety of skill sets, says director of advertising platforms and data solutions for Auto Trader UK, Lara Izlan.
Following her recent role as head judge of The Drum Digital Trading Awards 2018 and moderating the annual breakfast panel, Izlan speaks to The Drum on how to address diversity and equality within a male-dominated industry and whether the industry has moved on since the time she was invited on a diversity panel that comprised of five young Caucasian men.
Encouraging diversity and equality in the industry
One of the ways that the industry can be encouraged to be more diverse is by broadening young people’s understanding of what a technology company does, the types of roles it can offer, and the skills needed to succeed, says Izlan.
“Getting young people interested in STEM subjects early in their academic careers is important, as both conscious and subconscious career decisions are often made at a young age,” she explains.
Auto Trader offers a range of academic activities to inspire future generations of technologists including Code Clubs in local schools and partnering with other organisations to offer apprentices, scholarships and work experience.
“I believe we need to break the ‘tech geek’ stereotypes and demonstrate that the industry needs people with a wide variety of skill sets - from creative, to analytical, to commercial, to operational,” according to Izlan. “At the end of the day, we are building products and services for end consumers of all shapes and sizes, so it makes sense that we draw upon a talent pool of all shapes and sizes.”
A lack of diversity
Looking back at her own experiences, Izlan realises how fortunate she has been with the mix of managers and mentors she has had over the years. But not so long ago did the lack of diversity in ad tech come into a sharp focus for her, particularly at industry events.
She explains “I was regularly attending conferences that featured panel after panel, speaker after speaker, of only men. Many of these panels also lacked balanced representation of different ethnicities and age groups. A couple of years ago, at a large industry conference, I attended a panel on diversity that was made up of five Caucasian men in their thirties. Fortunately, the irony was not lost on the panelists at the time.”
This realisation motivated Izlan to take a more active role in trying to bring about the change that she wanted to see in the industry and set herself a professional resolution to accept speaking opportunities and be part of the solution.
But it’s not enough to get more women and diverse groups into the industry. Izlan emphasises that it is crucial that everyone nurtures talent at all levels in order to keep a hold of the best people.
While she experienced diverse teams in early to mid-level roles, diversity started to diminish as she moved into management, finding that leadership meetings had few other women.
“Sadly, this trend is common across most industries, and we know that there are a complex set of factors at play that can reduce female representation at senior levels. From my own experience, and the experience of my female peers, the lack of creativity shown by some companies in adapting their working models to account for different lifestyles is disappointing.”
Bridging the gender pay gap
Despite recent government reports indicating that the percentage of women on FTSE 100 and FTSE 350 boards are at record levels at 29% and 25%, significant improvement is still needed.
Auto Trader released its gender pay gap report in March 2018. The average woman is paid 18.5% less than the average man, which is a higher pay gap than the national average which is 18.4%.
Izlan says: “We believe that our gender pay gap arises from the under representation of women in certain highly paid areas, particularly STEM related roles, and in some leadership positions. However, we’re proud that the percentage of women on our Board and Operational Leadership Team is way above the industry and UK average, at 43% and 50% respectively.
“As a company there are several other ways we are addressing this challenge, including tailored recruitment processes, flexible working policies, career development programmes, coaching and mentoring for women and the introduction of the Auto Trader Women’s Network.”
Surviving and succeeding in the ad tech industry
Concluding, Izlan offers her five top tips on how women and young people can survive the tech industry.
- Look past stereotypes - technology companies need to fill a wide range of roles in order to successfully launch products and services that appeal to a diverse market. Be confident that by bringing your own experiences and passions to the table, you can build a successful career in the sector.
- Learn continuously - the technology industry is fast-paced, and constantly changing. No one is ever the expert for long, so keep asking questions. Be prepared to be challenged and stretched, and to challenge others in return.
- Think creatively - many of the questions and challenges in this industry are brand new. Whether you are a designer, a developer, or an analyst, be prepared to look at problems in a different way and put the most deep-rooted assumptions to the test.
- Be determined - nine times out of ten, you will not solve problems on the first try. It’s often said, because it’s true - be open to failure, accept it, learn from it, and then move on to the next approach.
- Seek inspiration - this is an industry that attracts the brightest minds, and thrives on debate and collaboration. Be part of the discussion. Find champions and mentors that can guide you. And when the time comes, pay it forward to someone who looks up to you.
Izlan is a judge for The Drum Digital Trading Awards 2018. A full list of the finalists can be found here. To purchase your table at the ceremony on May 31 at the Park Plaza, Westminster, London, click here.
The awards are partnered by IAB UK and sponsored by: The Trade Desk, Tapad and Aspire.