Time is nigh for senior women in digital marketing industry

As one of the youngest industries in existence, it’s disconcerting that the digital marketing industry is perceived as one of ‘the least transformed and most chauvinistic’ today.

Jarred Cinman, Managing Director and co-founder of NATIVE VML, points out this worrying gender discrepancy saying,  “It comes down to many of the businesses in digital being the product of entrepreneurs, not having had enough time yet to mature to the point where women have moved up through their ranks.”

Vanessa Gibb, NATIVE VML Head of HR, has a similar take on this “startling lack of transformation.” “The high prevalence of men in tech-focused industries around the world may well be due to the risk-taking tendency inherent to the mostly male individuals who launched these businesses,  to environmental factors such as access to technology, to business wisdom, mentorship and start-up capital.”

Cinman concedes there also may have been the presence of “a bit of a boy’s club” which actively or passively kept women out of senior roles. “For many other societal and cultural reasons, there are very few female entrepreneurs and, as such, very few who are owners in these businesses. It might also be that digital businesses are regarded as part of a ‘geek’ industry, making it an unappealing prospect for women. But these are just hypotheses – ultimately I don’t know why there are so few strong women in other digital businesses as we at NATIVE do value and promote our female staff,” he says.

However Cinman does find that it’s a more pronounced phenomenon in third world markets. “The US and Europe have both seen a lot of strong women emerging in digital – for example Carly Fiorina, Marissa Mayer and Meg Whitman. With NATIVE VML’s broader network we have a global Chief Creative Officer, Debbie Vandeven. And both international jury chairs for this year’s Bookmark Awards were women.”


Consequently Danelle Stiles, NATIVE VML Head of Project Management, is less pessimistic about the state of affairs, stating that while senior management is mostly made up of men, the industry has evolved from the ‘man’s world’ it was when the digital era started. “As an example in my team of 15 project managers, 13 are female, of which four are team leaders. Today it’s much more fair game.”

Yet nobody disputes that more transformation is required going forward. Cinman believes there needs to be a concerted effort within the digital industry to mentor, encourage and promote women. “This requires an attitude change on the part of men – to see women as similarly capable. But it also requires women to step up and demand their place, as unfortunately women often become part of the problem by allowing themselves to be passed over for promotion, deferring to strong male colleagues, tolerating male chauvinism and sexual predatoriality – and even believing they are somehow inferior. Instead women need to insist on being paid the same as their male counterparts, and they need to come back to work after having children and continue their careers,” adds Cinman.

Leanne Godden’s, Group Account Director at NATIVE VML, advice to women is to find a mentor to assist with their career growth, helping them make decisions and find solutions and opportunities. “It’s vital to treat your work as a career, and not just as a job you come to every day,” she says.

Gibb agrees, saying it’s up to women to stand out from their counterparts. “The strength women need to build on is their diversity – different ways of thinking and bringing new insights to the table. So use that.” Being Head of HR puts her in the privileged position of also working towards the greater good of the industry – ensuring it’s more representative and diverse in five year’s time. “The digital marketing industry is ready for female leaders from different backgrounds. Clients are asking for a change,” she concludes.

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NATIVE VML is a strategically and creatively-led agency whose ideas are born digital, but often extend beyond the digital canvas. With a staff compliment of over 170 people across both Johannesburg and Cape Town, NATIVE VML is one of Africa’s largest digital agencies. NATIVE VML offers a full-range of integrated digital marketing services, from strategy and creative ideation to production and media. The agency’s positioning is simple – “to produce purpose-driven work that lives in people’s lives.” They pride themselves on being able to marry client’s objectives with the insights necessary to create work that is meaningful to them and their customers.