Last month, to celebrate Women’s History Month, Taboola hosted a Women in Leadership event. After some networking, it was on to the main event – a panel discussion with some truly exceptional and accomplished leaders in the media world. (And we aren’t labeling them female leaders on purpose – find out why below!)

Joining Taboola’s Managing Director, Advertiser Sales & Account Management, Kathryn McGarvey, on stage were: Marla Kaplowitz, President, CEO & Board Member of 4A’sDeirdre Bigley, Taboola Board Member and former CMO of Bloomberg, and Kate Calabrese, SVP of Media Solutions at SHE Media.

The women shared powerful stories, workplace experiences, and advice for future leaders. Here are some of the highlights and best soundbites from the evening.

On being a leader versus a female leader

Kathryn kicked off the discussion with this first question, which caused excitement among the ladies, who all acknowledged it was a topic they had previously discussed.

How do you feel about being seen as a female leader versus a leader?

Deirdre reflected on how she ‘grew up’ professionally at IBM and Bloomberg, both heavily male-dominated companies at the time, often leaving her as the lone female in many rooms. She said: “I kind of got past the whole female leader thing. Does it stink? Yes. It’s ridiculous that we are still called female leaders.” Later Marla added, “I feel like I have always tried to say I’m a leader who happens to be female. I prefer the leader descriptor first because I think it’s more apt, and you don’t hear people say he’s a male leader.”

Kate had quite a different experience. She spoke about how fortunate she’s been because SHE Media is a female mission-driven company. Except for one man, the entire leadership team is women, so she “actually had the luxury of not being referred to as a female leader.”

On being the only woman in the room

Have you ever experienced resistance when leading men or being the only woman on a leadership team, and how have you navigated the situation?

A common theme came up as the women weighed in on the question. Both Kate and Deirdre agreed that when they found themselves as one of only a few women in a meeting room, thoughts of doubt crept in, making them sometimes second guess their responses and comments or feel intimidated because they were in the minority. Still, they found their confidence by remembering reality.

Kate said, “I had to really step back and say no, you’re in this room for a reason. You’ve been put into this position for a reason. You’re confident in this space. You know what you’re talking about.”

Deirdre offered event attendees valuable advice: “If you’re going to be in the room, you have your voice. Know that they need you to be there, and your voice is going to be very unique simply because of your experiences being a woman or a minority. Sometimes men will ‘poo poo’ it, and you kind of have to brace yourself for that, but sometimes they listen, and the more we do it, the more used to it they will become.”

The group also discussed the all-too-common trait among women of apologizing. Their pooled wisdom: stop apologizing, especially when asking for a raise. Instead, highlight your accomplishments and what you bring to the table; know your worth, and don’t apologize for that.

On the necessity of networking

How do you cultivate relationships and build networks within your industry or field, and what role has mentorship played in your own career development?

Deirdre spoke about how she was lucky to have a trusted mentor she worked with and alongside for 18 years. The relationship was so impactful that when Deirdre became a CMO, she made a significant effort to connect Bloomberg and Makers.

But Deirdre also had to establish herself. She said, “I swear that the network that I built got me my first board, and that changed my life eventually.”

The panelists agreed that while networking is difficult, especially for introverts, you need to leave your comfort zone and do it because “your network will give back dividends.”

On taking control of your career

What advice would you give to women who aspire to leadership positions in the media and advertising industry, and how can they best position themselves for success?

Kate’s advice: advocate for yourself. She said, “No one is ever going to say do you want more money and responsibilities? You have to take ownership and have a better idea of what you want to do in the future.”

Everyone on the panel agreed that you need to imagine your own path, actively take steps to get there, and lean on your network.

On the work-life balance myth

As women, there will always be more difficulty balancing work and personal life, given more caregiving responsibility tends to fall on women, whether it’s caring for children, aging parents, or personal priorities. How do you balance work and personal life, regardless of life stage?

While each woman had different experiences, especially during the pandemic when work-life balance became a hot topic, the common thread in their answers was that balance doesn’t exist. Women need to let go of the idea of perfection and be okay with sometimes knowing work comes first; sometimes, the family does.

On assuming equality exists without checking

How have you worked to create a supportive and inclusive workplace culture, and what steps have you taken to promote diversity and equity in your organization?

Marla felt workplace culture is top-down, foundational, and “needs to be part of your values, and that means it’s part of your culture. It’s the way you work, and it’s your expectations of the way people treat one another and behave.”

Deirdre conducted a pay equity analysis at their companies, revealing that even under their leadership, women were being paid less. While corrections were made, Deirdre said, “Women were asking for less, and we were accepting their answer. I was so upset that they were not asking for the amount men were asking. And I was willing to pay them less without realizing it. ”

Kate spoke about the importance of affinity groups and how they can help everyone learn about colleagues’ experiences, create opportunities and bring people together.

On the future of the media industry

How do you see the media and advertising industry evolving in the next 5-10 years, and what opportunities and challenges do you anticipate?

As the women discussed the future, several themes emerged. Everyone was excited to see how technology would evolve and emphasized the importance of staying on top of changes, staying curious, and always trying to learn new things.

They agreed that the basics of marketing – reaching people where they are and when they’re ready to buy – are eternal, but technology will change how we get in touch with people. And, finally, many industry players will continue supporting diverse voices in publishing and media and work towards making media more equitable.

Originally Published:

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