‘There’s a glass ceiling’: Confessions of a gay media executive

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 →

Progress in making the media and advertising industries more diverse has happened in leaps and bounds in the last few years, but there’s still a lot to be done. The ongoing diversity drive hasn’t yet reached all parts of the industries, and that’s meant internal cultures haven’t evolved in line with the more advanced areas.

For the latest installment of Digiday’s Confessions series, we spoke to an experienced male media executive, who said that not fitting in with media’s “boys club” culture has made it harder to progress.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

What’s it like being a gay man in the media industry?
On the face of it, media is a really gay-friendly industry to be in. In the different facets within media — creative, content, creative advertising — gay men and women are represented strongly, but there are still corners of the industry that are not diverse in any respect, including being gay. That can feel isolating and like you’re on the outside of a club that you’ll never be a member of.

Which corners?
It’s particularly obvious in the digital advertising ecosystem, so anything around ad tech, programmatic, data and tech in general.

Explain how you feel like an outsider.
I’ve always known that no matter how senior or influential I have been in a variety of previous positions, I wasn’t going to be invited on the media agency ski trip or selected by my company to take senior clients on an overseas rugby jolly. I didn’t think for a second that those decisions were based in homophobia, rather that I just wasn’t one of the boys in the club. You have to find your own way to fit in and make that work, but you’re never going to be one of the guys doing a deal on the golf course. That’s hard sometimes, and you can’t help feeling that without being part of that club, there’s a glass ceiling you’ll never get through. To get to the top, you have to be one of the boys.

You mean, to be promoted, you have to be in the club?

Yes — and to network in the way that is meaningful. It’s a terrible cliche to talk about how deals are done on golf courses, but it is true — there are just more contemporary examples of the golf course deals today. If you’re not part of it, it’s harder to make that progress. You have to find your own way to do it. I have managed to and know others that have, too, but it’s harder. The Lumascape may look very colorful, but it’s far from. I have huge admiration for how they’ve [ad tech execs] built businesses. They’re incredibly skilled at what they do. It’s just really homogenous.

Does this lack of cultural diversity affect business?

Yes, diversity is important because it creates a better, more inclusive culture that then attracts people from all kinds of backgrounds to go into a company or industry. To have businesses run by monocultural leaders — straight, white middle-class men — can’t be a healthy thing.

Reading about the engineer Shannon Lubetich who recently resigned from Snap and sent an email to 1,300 staff struck a chord with me. She wrote a number of things an engineer could be, including “a person who isn’t straight or doesn’t want to get married and have kids,” “a person who doesn’t drink Red Bull or alcohol,” “a person of colour” and “a woman.” There is a lot of testosterone at industry events. Women really stand out, as there aren’t many of them, and it feels the same for a gay man sometimes. I often wonder if that lack of diversity makes the industry less attractive to people coming into it.

What’s stopping the diversity from reaching those parts of the industry?
Maybe it’s a function of building new technology and taking it to market — you have to be super hubristic, ballsy and confident to do it. But there is a lack of emotional intelligence in that world sometimes. And it’s poorer for it. It isn’t just about ad tech vendors. My career was in TV, newspapers, magazines, where there are also male cliques, but there was more of a mix. The tech world seems to have pivoted the other way. There’s a much higher concentration of that boys-club element and much less diversity of thoughts and approaches.

Things have improved, though, right? 
Yes, that whole culture of being instructed to take pretty girls to meetings doesn’t happen anymore. That would always be the instruction when going to Cannes [Lions], as it was your way into conversations. Cannes is a wonderful thing, but it also brings out the worst of the industry, too. It shines a light on these things.

What should change to make things better?
There must be gay people in ad tech that are in senior positions. It would be great if there could be more visible role models, and having more visible diversity would change that.

For more from our Confessions series, download the complete agency confessions collection. 


More in Media

Meta AI rolls out several enhancements across apps and websites with its newest Llama 3

Meta AI, which first debuted in September, also got a number of updates including ways to search for real-time information through integrations with Google and Bing.

Walmart rolls out a self-serve, supplier-driven insights connector

The retail giant paired its insights unit Luminate with Walmart Connect to help suppliers optimize for customer consumption, just in time for the holidays, explained the company’s CRO Seth Dallaire.

Research Briefing: BuzzFeed pivots business to AI media and tech as publishers increase use of AI

In this week’s Digiday+ Research Briefing, we examine BuzzFeed’s plans to pivot the business to an AI-driven tech and media company, how marketers’ use of X and ad spending has dropped dramatically, and how agency executives are fed up with Meta’s ad platform bugs and overcharges, as seen in recent data from Digiday+ Research.