Women in Digital was born out of vulnerability. And, it almost didn’t happen… 

By Alaina Shearer, Founder and Director of Women in Digital

“I’m not sure if I should do it,” I told my husband.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because I have never, ever told these stories out loud – consecutively – in a public setting. People might record it, share it, talk about it. And then, it would be out there.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” My husband has this remarkable way of calmly walking me through my thoughts until we reach a very stark, clear conclusion.

“I guess I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“I’m afraid it will hurt my reputation. What if men don’t hire our agency because they think I’m some kind of narc?”

“Oh, come on, you think that will happen?”

“Yes. Definitely.”

“Well, f*&k those guys.”

And there was my answer. I had to share my story, and not just some of it – but all of it.

One week later I found myself shaking with nerves before a room full of women who had signed up within days of my announcing the kick off event to Columbus Women in Digital – a group I just kind of made up on a whim. And now, here we were. Me and the 75 out of the 100 who signed up who had actually woken up very early on a Thursday morning to attend.

I had a rough outline of my talk, the major points, but I had deliberately prepared very little. I knew the stories by heart, it was just a matter of finding the courage to say them all out loud. And it couldn’t be rehearsed. This had to be different.

I dove in. Sparing no details, and changing the names of the not-so-innocent, I ran through my professional career from my time in radio up to my last days at an advertising agency before finally saying “to Hell with this” and starting my own. Cement, a sanctuary for all who build it, is a place where women, and men for that matter, can flourish without the fear of a harassing manager or flat out censorship.

As for the stories? I’m not ready to write the details here. But Jennifer Wray from Columbus CEO summarized it quite succinctly, “Shearer founded Cement after personally and professionally suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, including sexual harassment at work, spousal abuse at home and income uncertainty as a single mother of a young child.” More details in the piece here. .. “Silenced by radio station colleagues (literally: the then-radio DJ had her mic turned off). Faced with invasive questions from a job interviewer (he wanted to know about her pregnancy plans). Told by a manager that he couldn’t be left alone in a room with her (she eventually quit).”

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

After reading that article and seeing everything starkly there in black and white, do you know what the first thought that popped into my head was?

Maybe, it wasn’t all my fault.

Yes. Many and most of us feel like harassment, abuse at home or a lack of acknowledgement, praise or financial reward at work is somehow our fault.

When I finished my story I looked into the audience and saw every woman looking back at me, some with tears in their eyes, others in wonderment and most nodding and empathizing because the same or similar had happened to them at some point in their careers. There wasn’t a cell phone in sight except to take pictures and even those were scarce. The energy in the room was indescribable. I had struck a chord as the saying goes, and after returning to the office I spent the next three hours answering emails, phone calls and texts. And for days and days later, more and more messages came.

One female executive wrote to me recounting her jaw dropping tales of harassment during the 80’s and 90’s while rising to her now incredibly powerful position at a digital agency, “but for every man who overstepped their bounds, there was another man who was instrumental in my career – giving me responsibility, respect, and promotions.  I find that I’ve buried the challenging times and moved forward.  However, it is healing to reflect and realize how strong and resilient we have become through these experiences.”

Strong and resilient to the slings and arrows.

But why, I wonder, are there still slings and arrows? Becoming resilient is a survival mechanism. Now, we have to take it one step further and overcome them completely. There are many battles we all face. Some more obvious then others. But this one, it’s been closeted and masked and hidden away for centuries, and still is…

But now with so many women who account for most of the workforce within the digital marketing profession, the last thing we should do is be quiet. Instead, we need to start talking. To each other first. And men, too. The guys are here to help as well and equally as shocked, I find, when they actually hear the stories.

I realize we can’t all share publicly like this. You can if you want, but for now, leave that to me. I own my own business, I have nothing to lose (with the exception of a few clients I didn’t want anyway).

In the meantime, I aim to build a place where women can network in absolute privacy to share and recount stories with the sole aim of helping each other to overcome obstacles, harassing men or otherwise.

For example:

  • Which agencies have paid family leave?
  • How can I negotiate my salary?
  • I’m interviewing for a job, how much should I request salary-wise?
  • Which creative directors in town are known to harass women employees?

The goal of Women in Digital organization is clear: to give women the tools, through each other, to overcome any obstacle.

Our second event on July 26th is sold out. 150+ sold out. I have a list of 30 volunteers, 20 potential board members and potential sponsors for future events. The Cement team, my amazing little (not so little anymore) agency that can, is designing an upgraded website and we are planning the September event as we speak. I have met with an advisory board of initial attendees and their insights are stewing while we issue formal surveys to the group on a number of topics including salary, salary negotiation for starters and what they want out of Columbus Women in Digital.

If you are interested in becoming a member – sign up for updates – and join our closed and private Facebook group here. And we’ll add you to our email list. The moment we have the membership forms created and the new site launched – you’ll be the first to know.

I appreciate everyone’s patience. I am forever grateful to all of you for being here throughout my entire career, through thick and thin. I plan on paying that forward. For now we have everything we need – each other.

xoxo,

Alaina

Thanks to Chelsea of Big House Photos for the photo.