Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Digital Women: Francesca Coia, Digital Planning Account Director, Republic of Media

Francesca Coia, Digital Planning Account Director, Republic of Media. She has over six years of experience in the digital media industry. She also has a passion for driving progress within the industry, and has led the way in developing a Period Policy at Republic of Media.

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for women in your sector of the digital industry today?

This isn’t necessarily particular to digital, but there is that aspiration gap for women where we are less likely to think we can’t start our own businesses or apply for a promotion (unless we’re fully or over qualified!) I reckon it’s a case of needing more role models/representation which doesn’t happen overnight, but I definitely have my own role models within digital both internally and externally.

For example, following Amy Williams’ journey in founding GoodLoop has been remarkable in teaching me that if you have the knowledge, expertise and drive to start your own business or even just bringing an idea into fruition, you absolutely can do it – don’t wait around for someone to hand you something.

Within The Freethinking Group we have our programmatic arm, Numodo, which is led by Amanda Robertson (AJ) – she has such a huge drive to learn and a passion for what she does which I find really inspiring. She also wants to help others up the ladder too and really develop a network for women in digital, particularly in Scotland.

Working alongside people like AJ helps keep me driven!  In terms of opportunities – I think we’re in a really exciting moment for digital media as we see more traditional/offline media moving towards being bought programmatically –  there’s a knowledge gap right now which could be filled by a lot of women, whether they want to start their own trade desk, ad solution or consultancy. There are a few business grants out there for women in tech which are worth checking out.

Another huge opportunity for growth is joining networks like Bloom or applying for the WACL Talent Grant and joining their Futures Network – being surrounded by inspirational women helps to reduce that aspiration gap… and the cycle effectively continues where you then help to raise other women up!

What does the industry need to do to better champion women?

Right now we are at a cultural high point for businesses championing women. Whether or not that’s tokenistic in some businesses or industries is another conversation. When we look at senior leadership roles across the industry we don’t see as many women as we see men.

You have to therefore look at the barriers for women, because the talent is evidently there – so whether that’s implementing a menopause policy so that women don’t leave the industry when they don’t need to, or making your workplace more parent-friendly by introducing flexible working policies and equal paternity leave so that women don’t feel like they’re the only ones who are going to be set back in their career by having children. It needs to be happening on a real level rather than simply ‘celebrating’ women.

We’re quite good at that, but I may be biased in the media industry. The feeling is very much ‘women are great’, but we need to recognise that with action, not words and awards. We also need more male allies doing the work and learning about their own unconscious biases, too.

That goes for everyone – we all have unconscious biases around gender, class, sexuality, religion and race and once you start adding intersectionality into the mix you realise that policies aren’t enough – you need to educate staff and hold them accountable for that learning too. But I’ll digress and not go off on a full blown rant – I just don’t want the takeaway to be ‘women aren’t in senior leadership roles because of menopause and parental leave policies’ – it’s a much bigger problem but those are short-term easy wins for businesses to undertake.

What is the biggest misconception about women and by women in the digital industry?

This is a tricky one. I would say that the biggest misconception is that digital industries are seen as ‘male’ spaces. It’s interesting because we definitely see more men applying to our digital roles than we do our communications roles at Republic of Media, but I would say the applicant split is fairly even within digital – so it’s not the case that women don’t want to work in digital. I think we can actually all name quite a few senior leaders who are women within digital but for every senior woman you can probably name two men, which is probably why we still think that way.

A conversation we are having at The Freethinking Group is how we can engage school children so they know what opportunities are out there in digital. If we want to solve this perception it needs to start EARLY – unfortunately it’s a societal issue than industry-specific, but I think we are making strides. We need more initiatives like Code First Girls which aims to close the gender gap in tech by providing free courses.

What is your biggest achievement in digital to date?

Being awarded The Drum Digital Rising Star Europe 2020 was a huge achievement that helped spark a drive in me to realise my full potential.

Something that I think we need more of is male coaches/allies that celebrate the women they manage and I’ve definitely had that in my manager, Simon Watson, who put me forward for that award (and has celebrated me throughout my career!) It’s super important that women can look up and see that representation in senior leadership, but equally important is that we have men doing the work to raise women up.