Audrey Michelin, OpenX’s director of account management, tells us about her journey in the world of adtech, from ad ops to online publishers and then back to the tech side.
As a finalist in two categories for the Women Leading Tech Awards, a member of the IAB’s Tech Lab, and part of The Women in Programmatic Network’s leadership team, Michelin’s range of experience makes her the perfect person to talk about the issues affecting women in the industry.
Can you tell us a bit about your career and how you got to OpenX?
Audrey Michelin: I have had a couple of careers in my life. Before I got into adtech, I was working in event management — where I picked up a lot of transferable skills. Then, I started working at ARN, the radio network on the sponsorships team and in ad ops. I left there to go and work for Sizmek which was amazing. I had learned about programmatic working in ad ops and to see the back end of it was super interesting. I was able to better understand how a DSP works, how data matching works, and what clients were looking for. Each of these experiences was really insightful and helpful for my development.
After I left Sizmek I went back to a publisher. I was the group director of digital product at Foxtel Media for a couple of years. That experience really allowed me to get my hands dirty, in terms of learning all of the tech and how programmatic works on the back end. I also led a team of product managers and technical product managers. I had the chance to build my team and I hired three amazing, smart, and very capable women as Product Managers. We worked on some really major projects and I learnt a huge amount in that time, not just technically but also about leadership
From there, I applied for a job at OpenX because I was keen to get back into a client-facing role. This job is the best of both worlds because I am client-facing and commercially focused but I still get to learn and talk about tech. In my current role, I lead the account management team in ANZ but I’m also looking after SEA and North Asia at the moment. I really enjoy being in leadership roles because I get to help other people be successful, which has always been my main driving factor.
Did you notice a difference going from publishers to the tech side of advertising?
AM: The language is very different. You realise most people don’t know what you’re talking about, which is fine, because they often don’t need to. The goals are very different, when you’re working on the publisher side, your goal is to increase revenue without compromising the user experience. We’re trying to optimise to help businesses increase their yields but in very different ways than the publisher would go about it. In adtech, you also see so many more publisher setups, complexities and challenges than working for a single publisher. In the best way, it forces you to learn so much more about the tech and the commercial concerns of the publishers.
Did you notice any differences as a woman in those industries?
AM: When I was in product, I was often the only woman at the table. I’m a pretty loud and confident person so it was super frustrating to be spoken over. There were a number of times when I would have the information and the knowledge but I would be ignored, spoken over, and not given the same respect that other people in the room would be given.
For example, in some meetings there would be a technical product manager with me and I would be the one leading the conversation, but they would just keep talking to him. He would say, ‘Audrey knows this’ or ‘you should ask Audrey this question.’ When you’re the only woman in a technical role you can sometimes get overlooked. At OpenX, there are a lot of women in technical roles, which is amazing.
In adtech, from what I’ve seen and from the companies I’ve worked with, it seems to be moving forward at a faster pace when it comes to having that balance of women; however, we haven’t seen a huge change in senior leadership yet. I feel positive that we will get there, but we need to continue to push for it.
Why do you think you were spoken over and overlooked?
AM: It’s the patriarchal society we live in. In the past, the man was the breadwinner and the one with the technical knowledge, and that was a result of the way our society was set up. Women have historically been seen as more emotional and even hysterical.
That’s not good for anyone. Most people don’t benefit from living in the patriarchy. The way our society runs is getting better. A lot of men who have daughters who have entered the workforce are less traditional in their thinking, but the change is very slow. One thing that frustrates me is when people say, ‘The world is changing, you just have to be patient.’
The world is changing but it needs to be faster and there needs to be a more concerted effort to change it. Not just for women, either. It should be for all diversity. I’m a middle-class white woman, so I still have a level of privilege that women of colour, women with disabilities, or queer women don’t.
I want to make sure that we have diverse representation in our industry and particularly in leadership because that’s where the decision-makers are. Decisions that are made without considering a multitude of viewpoints are flawed.
What steps has OpenX taken to make women feel empowered in the company?
AM: The most important thing for me is that I have a great boss, who is really supportive and understanding of the challenges women face. The APAC team is actually majority female, which I think is pretty cool. My boss is very supportive and likes to put us at the forefront. He’s really conscious of the fact that sometimes you have to do a little more work with women to get them to speak up and represent themselves.
With OpenX as a company, there is a slight under-representation of women in very senior positions. However, it has been acknowledged and the company has set goals to have even representation at all levels. We’re very focused on overall diversity, as well.
We have a really good referral programme and if you refer a woman or a person of colour for a job, you get double the bonus. We also have a Women in Tech group, which I sit on the committee of. That group is there to connect all the women in the organisation who otherwise wouldn’t meet, talk through issues, provide training and mentoring, and advocate for women within OpenX. We also have a pride group called OutX to make sure that the LGBTQI+ community is supported and represented within the company.
The UN’s International Women’s Day had a tech theme this year. What does that mean to you?
AM: I think it’s great. Everything is technological these days and, as I said before when there is no diversity in the room, decisions, products, and systems are inherently flawed. I think it’s so important to acknowledge the role that women play in developing technology and to lift women in the industry up.
It’s also important to acknowledge that sometimes technology is developed that is not to the benefit of women. For example, AI is based on learning and algorithms, it depends on who is teaching it. We can have all this technology, but if it isn’t built with diverse information, viewpoints, and data, then it’s making flawed decisions because it is not being given all the information.
Even mobile phones are made to be held by men’s hands. They’re often too big for women, which is wild, to me. It’s the little things that disadvantage women on a day-to-day basis that we don’t think about.
It’s also really important to acknowledge that many women in the world don’t have any rights, access to education, or access to health care. There is lots of technology that could be developed to help those women. If we can start coming up with ways to give all women access to their basic needs we can go up from there.
You have been at OpenX for a little over two years, what have you seen change in the company in that time?
AM: The company has put a focus on diversity, which is really important. When I first started, I wouldn’t say that the company was not thinking about it, but it wasn’t at the forefront and it wasn’t measured. Now it is.
I really like that OpenX was able to say, ‘Hey, we’re not doing the best at this, we’re going to get better, here’s how we’re going to do it and measure it.’
That transparency, visibility, and accountability is great. There is also a real focus on the people who work for the company. We have a Slack channel set up to celebrate wins that anyone can post about anything they’ve achieved and everyone is really supportive.
Honestly, I would say that this is probably one of my favourite companies that I’ve worked for and it’s the accountability and transparency that really puts them above everyone else.
What changes would you like to see in the tech industry more broadly to empower and help women affect change?
AM: It’s really important to acknowledge the strength that women bring to an industry. We think and have different experiences to men. What would be great is to have more companies investing in outreach programmes for younger women to support their interest in STEM. We need to reach younger women before they are told that they can’t do something or that they’re not smart enough.
I’d also like to see more transparency from companies around their gender pay gaps and their hiring at senior levels and on boards.
A lot of the time at trade events you see a panel full of white men, hopefully, in the future, there will be more diversity in every way.
I’m also a member of the leadership committee for the Women In Programmatic Network, which I’m really proud of.
It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve been able to do. The goal is to share knowledge, make contacts within the industry, and also help upskill women so that they can advocate and fight for themselves with the ultimate goal of reducing the pay gap. We have monthly meetings where someone from the group shares their knowledge of a particular topic. I ran one on sustainability in media and we have had sessions on many other topics. We also do a lot on self-development, as well. We recently had a session on how to set up your LinkedIn profile properly and for International Women’s Day, our focus will be on financial literacy and the way women can advocate for themselves.
Groups like that are really important. They give women a chance to connect with women they wouldn’t otherwise meet and have conversations about what they’re doing, what their experience has been like and how to navigate it, rather than waiting for a panel to come up at a trade event where a sales leader and just says, ‘Oh, you just have to work really hard.’ I would encourage all women who are working in the industry to join the group or one similar. You’ll learn so much, make amazing connections and hopefully walk away with the confidence to fight for what you’re worth.
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