As well as being VIOOH’s Chief Marketing Officer, I am also the Executive Sponsor of VIOOH’s Diversity & Inclusion committee. As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, I spoke to four inspirational women about their careers and experiences across the advertising and data industries.
The panel consisted of Melissa Milgate Global - Partner Lead at Google, Alys Donnelly - Head of Programmatic at Kinetic WW, Anita Caras - Research Director at Verizon Media and Valentina Bono - Senior Data Scientist at Tesco. Discussing career highs and lows, advice about combating imposter syndrome, the importance of mentors, and encouraging self-advocacy for job promotion opportunities, the lively chat delivered practical advice and personal stories to our women (and men) at VIOOH.
Five top takeaways from the discussion include:
Utilise support from mentors
At the start of her career, Valentina took the decision to shift the focus of her career, but felt insecure, and wasn't sure if she was making the right decision, or if it would be a success. She had a (male) mentor who really supported her and enabled her to make a positive shift in her mindset to help proceed in her career. It gave her a boost of confidence which really helped her. Finding mentors from across your business or network can be hugely valuable both to carve out opportunities and to act as a sounding board. Don’t be afraid to approach people to ask if they’d be a mentor.
Get yourself out there, what’s the worst that can happen?
After working at Microsoft for 10 years, Anita found herself in a position where her area of work was being transitioned to AOL, Anita felt like all of her hard work was at risk of being swept away; With a new job, new boss and new people to impress plus the likelihood of roles being merged, she knew she had to take action. She sent out an email to the VP of International requesting some time for a chat, so she could make herself known. She remembers being incredibly scared when she sent the email late on a Sunday night, but that email secured a meeting, giving her the opportunity to explain why she should be considered for a role at AOL (which she subsequently got).
Anita warns us of our inner critic, that our craving for comfort and security may hold us back from taking a great opportunity/ a calculated risk. Taking control of her career, her own self advocacy and articulating her value gave Anita a great lesson. It’s a skill she’s relied on several times since. Anita feels strongly that the sooner we [as women] take that responsibility for our own self advocacy, the sooner we may see the rewards. She advises that it’s always worth asking ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ You may not get the job, but there are rarely any guarantees either way, and you’re not losing out by trying. When we’re clear on the risk, the reward and our strengths, it can spur us on to do great things. Have belief in yourself.
When her dream job came up at Google, Melissa says she didn’t feel she was quite ready for the role and didn’t apply. While having a coffee with the hiring manager a few weeks later she mentioned her decision. His reply was, ‘Why didn’t you apply, I would have hired you in a minute but we’ve got someone else now’. She says that the thought never crossed her mind to actually apply for the job – and says it was a real example of how imposter syndrome affects all of us in different ways. How many opportunities have we missed out on with this thinking?
Melissa recommends finding good close friends, a mentor or someone in the business who you can sense check your thinking with. They’ll likely call you out and counter negative thoughts which could be holding you back, helping you to identify all the positive reasons you should apply. It’s important to verbalise fears and have them challenged.
On the everyday imposter syndrome moments, Alys recommends journaling to reiterate benefits and look at what went well. Take a moment to check in with your progress and see how much you’ve achieved.
Melissa says the best boss she’s ever had was someone who got to know and understand her, pulled out her strengths, and supplied opportunities which pushed her and ultimately helped build her confidence. She advises that men who want to advocate for women in the workplace can do something as simple as asking a woman by name to give their opinion on a video call or in a meeting. Rather than leaving the narrative to be controlled by whoever is fastest to unmute, give women the opportunity to have a voice, and take the pressure off the fight to speak first.
Amplify women’s contributions
Amplifying each other is something Alys advocates, particularly when a woman makes a valuable comment. Rather than its origin being misrepresented later in the meeting, by calling out “As XX said, ….” to amplify the idea, a contribution credit is given to the correct person. Amplifying the voice of the original contributor for the good idea can be hugely valuable.
She also recommends being proactive in working out what will be valuable and what will be helpful – rather than waiting for employee resource groups (ERGs) to come to you as leaders. It should be a genuine partnership – where the onus isn’t only on the ERGs – which is where the larger burden is often found. Make a proactive decision about how you’re going to show up in a tangible way.
Our number one company objective at VIOOH is to be a great place to work, and this starts with a positive and inclusive company culture. As a business which is moving quickly from its start up phase into a more mature operation, we have embedded strong policies into our operations around flexible working, maternity leave and returning to work.
We have also done a huge amount of work to create core values which run through every aspect of the business. Last year, we launched VIOOH’s Diversity and Inclusion committee, helping to celebrate the diversity in our company, but also to enable a forum that can challenge and enable continuous improvement if necessary. From new hires and across longer term careers, at VIOOH we want to encourage equality and equal opportunities in all areas of business, especially around unconscious bias.
With this year’s IWD theme of #ChooseToChallenge, having honest conversations about how we can continuously improve our work culture means listening to women and paying attention to the specific ways in which they want to be supported. We want to ensure we’re doing all we can to create a comfortable and inclusive workplace at VIOOH, so we can all deliver our best, and that begins with choosing to challenge.
Watch the full discussion below on our YouTube channel. For more information about International Women’s Day visit: www.internationalwomensday.com