By Alaina Shearer
Founder, Women in Digital

New Columbus group and conference hopes to turn the tide on women’s rights and equality within the male-dominated digital media and marketing industry.

The internet and digital media have profoundly changed the old ways of advertising and marketing, but while the Mad Men era of advertising strategies is a thing of the past, the fair and equal treatment of women remains far behind the progress of the industry as a whole. Within the digital advertising and marketing industry women still hold far fewer leadership roles and earn less on average than their male counterparts. A new organization in Columbus aims to change that.

Columbus Women in Digital, founded in May 2016 by Alaina Shearer, President and Founder of local digital and advertising agency, Cement Marketing, boasts 300 members on its Facebook group and has had over 150 women in attendance at previous events.

“This is just the beginning,” says Shearer. “There’s clearly a tremendous demand for a networking group for women within this niche profession of digital media and marketing.”

Thus far the group has grown solely through word of mouth and social media. With very little budget, the first event was funded by Cement, the organization is bootstrapping its first conference to be held on October 27, 2016 from 8:00am – 4:00pm at the Wells Barn, a new event venue at the Franklin Park Conservatory.

Educational sessions and panels range from basic to advanced and cover a broad range of issues from the future of women in digital media to managing social media for major local brands like The Ohio State University, Express and companies like DSW.

The impressive conference speaker line up, all of whom are women and from Columbus, include: Nicole Scharlach, Digital Marketing Manager of Wendy’s, Tanisha Robinson, Founder of Print Syndicate, Andrea Marshall, Director of Content Design at the Nationwide Academy, Amanda Hromco, Associate Director at Resource Ammirati and IBM Company, Amanda Williams, Social Media Manager of Express and Shawna Polivka, Sr. Social Media Manager of The Ohio State University.

Attendees will also all receive complimentary LinkedIn headshots from Kaylina Norton Photography.

As for the men who wish to attend, they will need to be nominated by the group and then awarded one of the seven seats available to men. Why seven? Of the 250 in attendance, the number reflects the 3% of leadership positions currently held by women within the creative and digital industry. The men honored with seats will have propelled or encouraged women in the digital field either directly or through counsel or mentorship.

The women of the group feel united on many fronts. From blatant sexual harassment and lack of promotion or inclusion to balancing work and family lives in their 24/7 digital professions, there are many common bonds and frustrations.

Shearer cites sexual harassment at a previous agency as one of the chief motivators in her decision to quit and start her own. “There were several factors at play, but being harassed while the agency’s human resources department looked the other way certainly didn’t create an encouraging environment for me. I wanted to be free from all of that.”

The “all of that” Shearer references is the sexual harassment and gender bias still running rampant at most advertising agencies and internal corporate communications or digital teams. In fact, the American Association of Advertising Agencies recently published a member survey, the most comprehensive of its kind in the advertising industry, in which more than half of respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment at some point in their career and another 42% of women claimed to have been excluded from key decision-making processes because of gender-based discrimination. The study and its findings were published on August 11, 2016.

“This is a very real, very tangible front and center issue for so many women not just in Columbus but across the country,” said Shearer. “For now, we’re starting where we can and that’s by opening up a dialogue between women within the digital profession. The idea is to be vulnerable in sharing stories of success or failure so we can learn from and help each other as a group.”

The news isn’t all negative, however. The women who do specialize in the digital marketing and media field are highly coveted by recruiters and employers alike. Women within the digital profession are advancing at far faster rates than their peers outside of the industry. “The playing field is wide open and we are vying for the spots we know we deserve and have earned,” said Shearer, “it’s a very exciting time to be a woman in media and advertising.”

About Women in Digital

Women in Digital is a social and professional group with the sole aim of accelerating and advancing the careers and personal well being of women in digital media and marketing. With their understanding of each other’s positions and the industry itself, WID believes its members are uniquely positioned to advise and assist each other. Currently based in Columbus, Ohio, the Women in Digital group hopes to expand nationally. Find more at www.womenin.digital.

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