‘I felt like I’d been punched in the gut’: Confessions of an ad tech exec on the gender pay gap

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Recent changes to U.K. law around pay parity along with wider pushes to crack down on sexual harassment, mark positive progress. However, there are areas of the advertising industry, like ad tech, where the spotlight simply isn’t being shined hard enough.

For the latest in our Confessions series, in which we grant anonymity in exchange for candor, we spoke to a female ad tech sales employee about how she copes with sexual harassment in the workplace and her shock at discovering how much less she is paid than her male counterparts. Excerpts edited for clarity and flow.

When did you discover that you get paid less than your male counterparts?
Last year, I went for a pay raise and didn’t know what to ask for. So I asked a male colleague my same level what he was making to help inform me. He was making at least £15,000 ($20,000) more than me. We had the exact same job and level of experience. I went for the pay raise and got a small increase, but nowhere near what he was making. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I work twice as hard as he does, and I make great revenue for the business.

Is it harder to get promoted as a female?
It seems like getting a director role for a guy is way easier. I see male colleagues younger than me, far more junior, jump to director roles fast. I’m stuck at the same level for ages, but I know I’m just as valuable, if not more.

How uncomfortable can it get, being one of few women in commercial roles in ad tech?
There are so many uncomfortable situations. A standard one is where I go to a meeting with either my director, or someone the same level as me, or someone more junior that I’m training. Regardless of who, if there are three of us and a male client, the client will always look at and respond to them, even when I’m both asking and answering the questions. I’m like a third wheel, even when I’m meant to be leading the meeting.

How does that affect you?
It’s frustrating. When I’m repeatedly interrupted during presentations, it’s deflating. But you have to pick your battles. It’s harder when a client does it because you can’t call them out like you might a colleague. It can really knock your confidence. It’s also hard when colleagues treat you like that in front of a client.

Can you give an example?
In a meeting with a client, my colleague bluntly alluded to the fact that the only reason I win business from that client is because I have boobs. I was so worked up, but I had to stay really calm and tell him afterwards that it was demeaning, and that it made out women don’t have any value in closing deals. I used to yell about this stuff, but I’ve learned I have to stay calm or no one will listen to me at all. He apologized, said he didn’t mean it like that. But he still said it. I don’t want to go to HR and potentially get someone fired as I feel like I’m then going against my team and my colleagues.

Have you ever been physically assaulted?
An ex-colleague said something very sexual to me at a conference recently and groped me. It made me realize I needed to set more boundaries. Clients too have messaged me at midnight on Saturdays and inappropriate things like that. I don’t want to be rude to them. It’s difficult.

Have you seen some improvement in how women are represented?
There’s a concerted shift to get more women represented on panels at events. I hear a lot men saying they don’t want to go to more of these “manels” and see just men. There are people who want to see diversity and see more women promoted. I have a lot of male allies in this industry.

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