IWD 2021: How can we achieve gender equity?

By Sophia Haynes | Director of Campaigns



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March 8, 2021 | 7 min read

It’s perhaps tempting to think that we’ve solved the issue of gender equity. Women in the UK no longer face the same very visible barriers they did 40 years ago and, as an industry, we have made great progress in building networks of trailblazers, drawing attention to the unique challenges women face, and developing mentoring for women at all stages of their careers.

But, while we have come a really long way, there is so much more to do. Women are no longer a novelty in the board room, but they are not equally represented with men by a long way. Women continue to be most likely to sacrifice career progression for family reasons and the gender pay gap in the UK has changed by just 0.6% since 2012. That’s almost a decade of stagnation.


Now, with Covid-19 threatening to turn the clock back on the progress that has been made, complacency around gender equity is a critical issue. So, with the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day ‘Choose to Challenge', what do we need to do in the digital advertising industry to keep driving change forward? And how can we work together to deliver? At IAB UK we’ve spoken to members of our Diversity, Inclusion and Equity group to get their views and ideas.

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In what ways have we cracked gender equity in this industry and what still needs to change?

Miriam Faber, content and campaigns Lead, Northern Europe, for Facebook, said: “Figures from the ANA’s AIMM report shows women now hold 52% of senior marketing positions. Although this is great progress, we’re a long way from equality, equal pay and equal expectations, and that’s especially true for women of colour. Covid-19 has impacted women disproportionately, reversing social and economic progress. In fact, figures show more women are leaving the workplace than ever before, as Covid-19 has intensified their (unpaid) work of caregiving and housework pressures. This needs to change. To quote Sheryl Sandberg: ‘An equal world will be one where women run half our countries and companies and men run half our homes’.”

Andrea Lobato, industry marketing manager, Europe, Pinterest, said: “The industry needs to focus on developing a pool of diverse and talented women who can go on to climb up company ranks in every sector so that seeing women in leadership positions becomes normal. Many of the current female CMOs are the first to hold that title so they are the exception, not the rule. If classrooms in schools and universities are fifty-fifty, offices should be the same.”

What’s the best thing that you or your company has done to raise awareness about gender bias?

Jane White, client service and strategy lead EMEA at Spotify said: “In 2020, Spotify’s International Women’s Day concept was ‘Listen to Her’, an idea born directly out of some amazing women in my team. The agenda shone a light on the untold stories of women and positioned us collectively as agents of change, through the simple power of listening. The most impactful steps have been both little and large, from running a live, female-led recording of The Moth storytelling podcast in our office, to encouraging the use of laptop stickers reminding people to simply ‘listen to her’ in that moment or meeting.”

“I'll name three things. 1) Regular education on topics like unconscious bias, 2) proactive conversations about gender equality or inequality, and 3) ensuring we follow a zero-tolerance policy for any behaviour that hurts this progress, no matter how big or small”, according to Megan Lum, head of HR, EMEA, Quantcast.

Meanwhile Nicky Holt, group commercial director at Bauer Media Group argued: “At Bauer, we are proud of how we use our brands externally to raise awareness of the causes we care about. We publish our gender pay gaps and have successfully campaigned for the law to change. Grazia’s ‘Mind the Pay Gap’ campaign was instrumental in changing the law that made it legal for companies of 250 people or more to publish their gender pay gaps.”

How can men support women to achieve greater equity?

Holt says: “Be an ally! Allyship is about knowing when to step in and when to step back. It’s about not making assumptions, but asking questions, being curious and listening to understand. My advice to men is to ask the women in your team if they are ok, really listen to them, and ask about their post-COVID aspirations. Better still, be brave, give them some powerful, constructive, and useful feedback that will help propel them closer to their career goals. Do it even if it’s difficult”

“Men have such an important role to play as allies. First, by recognising that there is still a long way to go to achieve equality. Second, by opening doors to women in all aspects of work, from formal spaces in every part of the company but also informal spaces like mentorships. Third by calling out men who do not support women. And, of course, by always using their privilege for good - some of the best allies I know make it a point to invite every woman in the room to the table, to get their voices heard," according to Lobato.

What piece of advice would you give to a young woman joining the digital ad industry?

Faber argues: “Know your worth! Look for companies and opportunities that align with your values – you will do your most fulfilling work when you do. Be prepared to be resilient and speak up. It's only by having uncomfortable and difficult conversations with people who challenge new ways of working that we can make real change.”

Ewelina Kapinos, head of HR, UK & Netherlands at Teads said: “Data shows that men will apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women will only apply if they meet 100% of them for fear of rejection or failure. My advice is to take the shot anyway. Focus on your strengths and rework your CV to show how you really shine in the areas that you do meet. Hiring managers will be able to look past a few skills that you may not have yet. The worst case is that you’ll get some real-life interview practice, which is incredible in itself. Enthusiasm and willingness to learn and grow will set you apart!”

Finally, Lum says: “Own your career - don't wait for it to be handed to you! Be proactive, raise your hand, lean in, and speak up.”


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The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK) is the industry body for digital advertising, committed to building a sustainable future for digital advertising. We do this by bringing the industry together through our 1,200 members including media owners, agencies and brands.

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