Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Digital Women: Elizabeth Brennan, General Manager of Advertisers, Permutive

Elizabeth Brennan is General Manager of Advertisers at Permutive. During her career to date, she has worked at the media agencies Mindshare and Zenith, starting at Criteo before moving to Permutive in December 2020.

What is the biggest opportunity for women in your sector of the digital industry today?

The biggest opportunity for women in the industry is to support and uphold each other. Whether through industry groups like Bloom or a more ‘in-house’ mentoring and management programme. I think the mentality of “I had to suffer to get here, you need to as well” is fading out, but it’s incumbent upon senior female leaders to create the culture in our industry that they wish was in place for them. 

What is the biggest challenge to you as a woman in the digital industry and how are you overcoming it?

A barrier to women (and parents more broadly) is the cost and access to high-quality childcare in the UK. Highly qualified people are being forced to leave the workforce because of this, which is a criminal waste of talent. 

I have huge respect for anyone who chooses to take a career break to care for their children, but this isn’t the case for many women, who are essentially being forced to leave jobs they enjoy and are good at, purely for economic reasons.

In an industry like ours, which moves incredibly quickly, these women or men are immediately at a disadvantage if they choose to come back to the workplace when their children are in school, as they’ll be competing with those who have up-to-date knowledge of the sector. This often blocks women from reaching the upper echelons of the industry at the same pace as their male counterparts.

What three things could employer companies do to make the digital industry better for women?

  • Employers must consider flexible working opportunities. This is vital in order not to lose amazing talent for the pool of women who also have caring responsibilities. These people are just as committed to the company as other employees, so managers need to trust that they will deliver on their goals even if they work outside the hours of 9 – 5.
  • Fair parental leave policies and coaching for new parents coming back into their workspace can also have a huge impact on employees starting this new phase as working parents.
  • It is also important to recognise when there is a lack of equality in leadership at an organisation and to put plans in place to address this. Women need to be able to see that there is an opportunity for progression for them. 

    What support structures and organisations are most important and effective to you as a woman in the digital industry?

    There is no better support than other women working in tech.

    Some of my closest friends and confidants are other women I have met and connected with during my career in media agencies and tech companies. I’m lucky to be able to say that Permutive is full of inspirational women – people I can ask, ‘Is this normal?’, ‘What did you do when…’ and ‘Do you think I am being paranoid about X?’. They are truly invaluable to me.

    There is so much you can learn from those around you. I was once at a WACL event, and a speaker on stage introduced the idea of building your own ‘board of directors’. These friends and colleagues serve as consultants in different areas of your life, whether they are supportive or giving you a necessary dose of reality. This group of people are there to prove that you are capable and pick you up when things aren’t going your way.

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

    We’re still struggling as an industry to get enough women into technical roles – either product or engineering.  At Permutive, our VP of Products is an incredible woman. She leads her team with the same conviction and courage as any of the male leaders in our organisation, at the same time charting how we should build the publisher solution for the future.  

    The other thing that I think is a misconception that women with children automatically assume the role of main carer when they have children.  Many of my female friends in the industry are the breadwinners in their partnership. They are still ambitious for the same things they were before they became parents.

    The result of this can be that returning parents are passed over for opportunities or worse not supported when they do try to strike the nearly impossible balance between working and parenting. My husband has also been key to ensuring that I could succeed in my career. There is still a lot of stigma around men working part-time to raise their children and support their partner’s career. I admire his bravery in going against the status quo to do what was best for our family.