Why it's time for action not words in addressing the gender imbalance in specific industries

Earlier in the week I attended the Digital Media Industry's annual conference on The Future Of Digital Media at The Maritime Museum in Sydney. Attendees were provided with trend information, valuable insights and the odd spot of self-promotion from creative agencies.

A valuable insight I hadn't counted on was the apparent lack of female experts in the industry. Out of the 14 presenters on the day only two were women. I did the count as soon as I received the list of scheduled presentations. Given that the digital media industry I know is packed with innovative women, I was more than a little surprised.

So I tweeted my concern, and the CEO of the industry body AIMIA responded. Below is our twitter banter.

Me: "Only 2 female speakers out of 14 at #AIMIA conference - disappointing given topic is Future of Digital Advertising."

John Butterworth, AIMIA CEO: "Sounds like you left the #AIMIA conference before the panel (with the 2 female speakers) had a discussion on this very topic!"

John Butterworth: "The panel's conclusion? Part demographics from the 90s still flowing through, part the relative newness of geek chic."

Me: "It's a shame I couldn't stay. If I had known that was the topic I would have rearranged my morning."

John Butterworth: "Audience question in the Q&A session with the speaker panel at the end. Ongoing topic in the industry, keen to get your thoughts."

So here are my thoughts. There are many innovative, clever women in this industry. Geek chic has nothing to do with it. What even is geek chic?

If I had been in the audience during this discussion I may understand the reference to "90s demographics".

I have had close dealings with some incredibly bright women in most of the major digital media companies: Yahoo7, Mi9, News Ltd and Fairfax. The organisations may have men at the very top but there are exceptional women in their leadership teams, albeit not nearly enough. Similarly many the leading adverting agencies employ women at management level. There was also talk on the day of the major digital media brand success Kidspot, the brainchild of a visionary woman called Katie May.

Why didn't we hear from any of them? In an article published yesterday by Women's Agenda the point was made that women need to see other women at the top to boost their career confidence, based on research conducted by Bain and Chief Executive Women.

We need to provide women with visible role models to change the perception that this industry is dominated by men. Only then will women believe they can get to the top in their digital media organisation.

I challenge the organisers of next year's event to be more strategic with the choice of speakers next year if there is a genuine desire for change. Action, not words.

Marina Go

Marina Go is Chair of the Wests Tigers NRL Club, a non-executive director of Autosports Group and author of the business book for women, Break Through: 20 Success Strategies for Female Leaders. She was previously GM of Hearst Australia at Bauer Media. Boss magazine named her as one of 20 True Leaders of 2016.  Marina has over 25 years of leadership experience in the media industry, having started her career as a journalist. She was appointed Editor of Dolly magazine at the age of 23, before spending the next decade editing a number of leading women's magazines. She has held senior leadership roles at Fairfax, Pacific, Emap, Bauer and Private Media, where she was CEO and founder of the career website Women’s Agenda.  

She is a director of digital startup Daily Siren, and also a member of the Advisory Boards of the Walkley Foundation, The Australian Republican Movement and Women’s Agenda. She is a former director of Netball Australia, Odyssey House,  Sydney Symphony Vanguard and The Apparel Group. She lectures on digital media at the University of Technology, Sydney, is a Mentor with the Women In Media and NRL Women programs and a UNSW Alumni Leader and Ambassador. She has an MBA from The Australian Graduate School of Management, a BA (Mass Communications) from Macquarie University and is a member of the AICD. She is a mother of two young men and passionate about diversity and equality. 

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