Community feature: Third annual Women in Digital Conference returns

Erica Thompson
Alaina Shearer photo by Rob Hardin

One of the most well-known examples of gender inequality in the workplace is the difference in wages earned. Currently, women make 80.5 cents for every dollar men earn, according to 2016 U.S. Census Bureau data. But what are the financial costs of other forms of discrimination?

For Columbus entrepreneur Alaina Shearer, it was “tens of thousands of dollars” throughout her career. For one example, she pointed to the time she quit a job after her boss came on to her and human resources failed to intervene.

“When women jump and leave a situation, they leave a lot on the table as far as equity within the company they were just at for a number of years,” Shearer said in a late-August interview. “Right there on the table is who knows how much if I would've stayed at that company.”

Instead of jumping to another agency, Shearer started her own, Cement Marketing. But there was a disturbing trend.

“I noticed that if I brought men to new business meetings, we won the business. We won twice as much and closed it in half the time, just with a man's presence,” she explained. “There was more security on the client's side knowing that there's a man there.”

Fed up, Shearer founded Women in Digital, a member association for women in digital marketing, communications and advertising. She called the first meeting in June 2016.

“I didn't know what else to do,” Shearer said. “I was angry and negative about it and pretty depressed. … I walked out [of the meeting] and I was empowered and energized and ready to do something about it. And all of that negative turned into a positive, and I've just been riding the positive ever since.”

That wave of inspiration has catapulted Women in Digital to 1,550 members in 25 branches nationally. And the organization will host its third national conference for an anticipated 600 attendees at the Southern Theatre Sept. 12-14.

The core of the organization is its “ask/give exchange,” which requires members to trade daily favors regarding career advancement, continuing education, knowledge sharing, family balance and harassment and discrimination.

That collaboration will carry over to the conference during specialty focused power hours.

“So you can imagine a room filled with social media marketers, and they're standing up and asking each other favors, such as, ‘I need a new social media monitoring tool. Which one's the best?' Or, ‘I make this much; how much do you make?'” Shearer said. “And while they would normally be competing … they're now collectively helping each other.”

But the main feature of the conference is the lineup of speakers and panels. Highlights include an interview with BrewDog USA CEO Tanisha Robinson, and “The Mansplain Panel,” whereThat's What She Said author Joanne Lipman will talk to three “white woke men” about privilege, gender relations and more.

“We hope that it gives them the tools they need to go out and be advocates for women in the workplace,” Shearer said.

“[The conference] really does cover the full lived experience of being a woman in the digital field,” said Boston-based marketing strategist Katie Martell, who attended last year and was so impressed she decided to return and emcee the event.

“I wasn't quite sure what to expect,” Martell said of her experience in 2017. “Women's events tend to give me pause because it's like, ‘Well, why do we need an event focused on women? We're striving for equality, [so] we should just have 50 percent women onstage at every event. … But when I got there … I was like, ‘Oh, I get it now.'”

“While there are conferences for women in tech on the coasts, there's nothing answering their need in the Midwest,” Shearer said. “Forty percent of our attendees are from out of town, so it could be very big someday.”

Shearer is considering hosting the conference in different locations in Columbus, and even other states in the future. And regarding the organization as a whole, she said international expansion is on the horizon.

The Women in Digital headquarters are currently tucked away in a Powell co-working space — formerly the Independent Order of Odd Fellows fraternity building, ironically — so a Downtown office would be nice, Shearer said.

There's no doubt the organization will continue to see daily examples of its effectiveness in the lives of women. Shearer recalled helping one member navigate work-life balance.

“[We] gave her specific advice to go back to her bosses, completely pregnant, to ask for paid maternity leave,” Shearer said. “She got three months paid maternity leave, and a paid maternity leave policy is now in effect at her company. So, I think when we empower one woman, we empower all of them. It has a ripple effect.”

Southern Theatre

Wednesday-Friday, Sept. 12-14

21 E. Main St., Downtown

Women in Digital