In Ad Tech, Few Women at The Top

Twitter’s high-profile IPO has shined a light on an uncomfortable fact: Its board of directors is entirely male.

The issue has become a greased watermelon in the Silicon Valley communal pool, making clear that in technology women often don’t occupy positions of power. That dynamic is no different when it comes to advertising technology, which has become a major growth area. With ad tech companies lining up to go public, Digiday examined those that have already done so or publicly filed documents for a listing. We found, perhaps unsurprisingly to anyone who has been to a no-lines-for-the-ladies ad-tech event, very few females serving as board members or top company officials.

Women are no more than 20 percent of any company’s board and are rarely mentioned as top execs in these companies’ financial documents. Overall, after examining six ad tech companies — Rocket Fuel, Tremor Video, YuMe, Millennial Media, Marin Software and Criteo — we found that 10 percent of ad tech board members are female. Of the 49 board members of these companies, just five are women.

That puts ad tech behind corporate America overall. According to women in business nonprofit Catalyst, Fortune 500 boards were 17 percent female in 2012. The tech industry has a bad track record.

The story is even clearer when it comes to top execs. Out of the executive officers listed at these companies in their S-1 filings, only two of 35 are women, or 6 percent. Outside of Marin, all the ad tech companies failed to list a single woman as an officer. (That is not to say women do not occupy key roles at those companies, only that they are not deemed “executive officers” of these organizations.) (UPDATE: Millennial has subsequently added a female executive officer, CMO Mollie Spilman.)

“It’s not just an issue with tech companies,” said Wenda Harris Millard, president of Medialink and the only female member of Millennial Media’s seven-director board. “We still have that issue across the Fortune 500. On the ad tech side, when you look at the candidate pool, you don’t have a lot of women in the most senior positions in the ad tech economy. It’s just the case.”

Some ad tech companies fare better than others. YuMe and Marin have no women on their boards out of a combined 21 directors. Retargeter Criteo and Tremor Video have the most female representation proportionally. Two of Criteo’s eight-person board are women; one of Tremor’s five directors is a woman. (Tremor had two female board members until earlier this month, when Starcom MediaVest CEO Laura Desmond stepped down and was replaced by longtime ad tech exec Michael Barrett.) Rocket Fuel has one woman among the eight members of its board.

This cascades down to the board selection process. Millard said many ad tech companies view the needs of the board too narrowly, wanting members with deep experience in enterprise technology or ad tech. Since most top ad tech execs are male, the selection process is flawed from the start.

“They have a tendency to go narrow,” Millard said. “They have a tendency to want to focus on technology versus something broader.”

In addition to Millard, the female board members at ad tech companies are: former Cisco CMO Sue Bostrom (Rocket Fuel); Time Warner Investments managing director Rachel Lam (Tremor); private equity exec Marie Ekeland (Criteo); and former VeriSign CFO Dana Evan (Criteo). The only female corporate officers at these ad tech companies are Marin’s general counsel Rashmi Garde and chief people officer Nancy Kato.

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