Interview with Cait Rose: Gender Equity in the Advertising Industry: Slow Progress, But a Long Way to Go

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You can’t talk about gender equity in the advertising industry without putting it in the context of gender equity in general, says Cait Rose, Director of Media Accounts, EMEA at Taboola. Co-founder of TaboolHER, the company’s first female collective, which aims to empower female leadership says and when measured by that standard, change is painfully slow.

“We have come a long way in the last 50 years, from a time when women weren’t at the table, or even close to the table. They were typing somewhere far away. It’s starting to tip a bit in the right direction, because women now feel like they’re able to have a voice without being judged for it, or put in a box. But I think we still have a long way to go.”

Rose comments that like many companies in this industry, Taboola is male-dominated, with a culture to match. In fact, when she joined the company eight years ago, there were no female role models within the company she could emulate or aspire to.

That’s something she wants to change for the women who have joined the company since then. She has set herself the personal challenge of doing something about it in the spheres where she has some control.

Gender Equity Starts at the Top

Rose is adamant that addressing gender equity issues has to start at the top, because right now representation is “not great and not equal.” She adds: “It starts with assessing who’s on the board, and who’s on the senior executive team, because they dictate the company culture, and what happens at other levels.”

People at senior levels have to ask themselves some hard questions about whether they are really open to change, and open to being educated about gender equity, asserts Rose.

“Ultimately you have to take a really hard look in the mirror and say, am I, as a male executive, open to working alongside a woman at my level? Do I have that trust? Do I see them as equal? I think we still have to have that discussion.”

It’s also important to assess whether companies have the right people at senior levels to make those changes.

“I still see very few men that are taking the steps to change and putting themselves in a vulnerable position, where they may be the minority in their team.”

In an ideal world Rose would love to be able to “march into the boardrooms, look at the board and the executive teams, and decide whether these are the right teams to change the company for the better, not just in terms of gender, but race, and so forth.”

Improvements Needed in Recruitment

Beyond the boardroom, Rose believes that the recruiting process also needs to change to address gender equity.

“We have to take a really good hard look at what we do on the recruiting end of things and try harder. We have to ask if we’re putting the right amount of resources and time into the process.”

She comments that if recruiters see 50 CVs from men for every four from women, it may seem easier to pick a man, but that’s not the right approach. Instead, it’s better to give the process more time so you can see an equal number of CVs from men and women before making decisions about interviewing and hiring.

Having said that, with more women coming into the industry and into the company, there’s hope for the future, comments Rose, who’d love to see more promotion from within:

“In Taboola, we have a lot of really strong women in middle management. I’m really excited by that. Now we need managers to promote them, and create opportunities for them.”

Rose adds: “It’s about removing your ego and having the self-confidence to help lift other people. That comes from great management, and it’s something I see missing time and time again.”

Mentoring Women to Address Gender Inequity

Practicing what she preaches, Rose is happy to mentor other women in the industry, at Taboola and beyond.

“I’m trying to give back wherever I can, either officially or unofficially. I just became a mentor for Femme Palette, a really cool small company offering mentoring and career support for women.”

Within Taboola, Rose is trying to empower women beyond her teams by being available to talk through issues with them, and being the mentor she would have liked to have.

That said, Rose is aware that women often face a tougher battle in getting promoted:

“I’m a firm believer in equity. I’m a firm believer that the best person should get the job. A woman doesn’t want to get the job just because she’s a woman, but having to work so tirelessly hard and promote yourself over and over and usually for a longer amount of time than most men is tiring.”

In a still inequitable world, self-promotion is essential for women. “If people above us won’t do it, we’re the next generation to do it. It’s a bit scary putting yourself out there and you’re going to be called aggressive, but that’s the name of the game.”

She comments that even in going for her current role, there were “rumblings”, adding that women need a thick skin as they move up the ladder. But she continues to lead by example. “I’m promoting myself and making sure that I’m seen, so my manager and those around me know what my value is.”

Rose adds that, as with marketing, it’s important for women to tailor their communication to achieve their aims.

“Sometimes you do have to be a bit of a chameleon, and that’s just business. It’s knowing your audience and what you need to say or do to get through while being true to yourself.”

How TaboolHER is Leading the Change

Rose is optimistic about the role of the TaboolHER collective in changing the status quo.

“Expecting change to happen just by having the luck of the draw at the executive table is not enough. There are forums built to educate, inform and raise awareness about a particular issue, and there are forums helping to strive towards a specific goal. I think TaboolHER is doing both.”

She adds that there are already signs that things are changing: “SVP of People, Kristy Sundjaja, who joined about a year and a half ago, has really changed our mindset in driving diversity, inclusion and equity, and starting to beat the drum.”

But Rose warns that the mere existence of TaboolHER is not enough. “We’re excited to have a forum and to be able to speak, but we have to also check ourselves, and make sure we’re here to accomplish something. So, I’m hopeful that what we will become is a forum that pushes the company towards actually hitting momentous goals that haven’t existed before.”

She adds: “We’re getting the awareness out there, but putting a line in the sand and saying in five years we want to promote X amount of women to the VP role, we want one board member that’s a woman, that’s what needs to happen. And that’s holding ourselves accountable.”

Rose would also like to see a future where women in the advertising industry didn’t have to strive quite so hard early on for fear of having their career stall if they choose to have children.

“They need to know they’re in a company with great maternity leave, great parental leave, and management that understands their hours might be different for a while.”

That’s still not the case across the industry, she comments, though she says the work-life balance is generally better in the UK than in the US.

As well as being essential internally, diversity and gender equity are also important in terms of making advertising companies do a better job for their clients.

“The advertising industry, especially in technology, feeds on different perspectives and different points of view from different backgrounds, different experiences. A female perspective has experiences that males don’t, and vice versa.”

“Having a workplace, especially at the leadership level, that is truly diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, is really important for creativity, for innovation, and also for inspiring the next generation. Everyone should be able to look up and see someone that is like them.”

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