Startup Diaries: Breaking Through The Tech Glass Ceiling

Denise Colella is the CEO of Maxifier, the global leader in programmatic premium optimization. Denise Colella, CEO of programmatic premium optimization company Maxifier, talks to The NextWomen about the negative and positive aspects to being a woman in a male-dominated industry, drawing on her own experiences of working in the technology industry.

Two years ago, the Government launched an initiative to encourage more females onto FTSE 100 boards, and since then we have already seen things start to change. The initiative aimed for a minimum 25% female representation on boards by 2015, and with just one year to go, research suggests we are now at 17%.

There are many challenges and rewards of being a woman in a male-dominated industry.

My sector, advertising technology, is predominately thought of as a ‘man’s world’, but there are still plenty of opportunities for women.

An increasing number are now taking on technical and senior decision-making roles, complementing the skills brought to the table by their male counterparts and adding to the diversity of forward-thinking technology companies.

My role has certainly proved challenging at points. I have had to sit in male-dominated boardrooms and avoid the temptation to ‘act like a man’ in order to get ahead. After a while, I began to realise: So what if you do not act like one of the guys?

The individual skillsets women and men bring to the workplace create a blended workforce – and recognising that has been a key learning step for me.   

But it’s not just a different skillset that women can bring to the mix in terms of their own work and expertise. When it comes to building diversified and resilient teams of staff, female bosses are more likely to focus on the individual skills of an employee, regardless of gender or potential family aspirations. And if a female employee does decide to have a family during her career, I know the team can all work together to ensure that this change can take place smoothly. I have two children myself, so I know that the work/family balance can be achieved.

There is a place within companies, and on boards, for women to be taking the lead. What is important now is to focus on the future. Whilst we are currently at 17%, there is no guarantee that this number will not fall at some point in a couple of years, or even decades.

We need to encourage the next generation of school leavers and university students to take the leap into their chosen career, regardless of their gender or the perceived gender of that career.

Without a steady flow of new women leaders, we may not be able to close the gender gap.

Particularly in the technology sector, there is a common misperception that computer science is not a viable career route for women. A prime example is in the US, with only one fifth of computer science graduates being female. Teaching young women that no career path is unavailable to them, and reducing the stigma around the more ‘male’ roles, is key to ensuring a steady growth in female leaders.

Based on my journey so far, my top tip to any woman, whatever your job role, is to make sure your senior management team know your career aspirations.

Without telling them, they may well assume you have no interest in progressing, and you could miss out on opportunities that would benefit both you and the company.

Now is the time to show the Government what we are made of.

If we all assume a positive attitude towards women’s roles, regardless of whether we are male or female, we should have no problem meeting, or even surpassing, the 1:4 female to male boardroom target.

If men and women in growing, innovative technology companies can simply work together to break through the glass ceiling, then the sky really is the limit.

With 14 years ad tech experience, Denise has a track record of growing fast emerging technology businesses, at both a global and revenue level. Prior to her role of CEO at Maxifier, Colella served as the CRO for AudienceScience, where she led all of the company’s revenue producing operations in the US, Europe and Asia. Denise has also held senior positions at multi-channel analytics platform, Blackfoot, Inc., leading transactional cooperative database company Abacus, and DoubleClick in Asia. A seasoned global traveler who is fluent in Japanese, Colella has worked in the US, Asia and Europe. She received a Bachelors degree in Commerce, Finance and International Management from Villanova University and a Masters of Computer Systems Management from the University of Maryland. To find out more about Denise, see her Leadership Profile on her company website. 

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