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Are Female Firsts Becoming Irrelevant?

Written by Sasha DiGiulian, World Champion Climber. This blog first appeared on Huffington Post, as part of a series produced by Havas Media (@HavasMediaUSA), in conjunction with The Ad Club’s Women’s Leadership Forum.


Today I’m speaking at a Women’s Leadership Forum in Boston. An incredible event put on by The Ad Club, the event features renowned speakers from across the country with varying backgrounds and professions. I’m humbled to be included with the likes of Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani, and the Chief Marketing Officer of General Electric, Linda Boff, among others.

The Ad Club’s Women’s Leadership Forum was created to recognize and honor inspirational women for their leadership, accomplishments and for paving the way for the next wave of female leaders. The event is all about women. Successful females inspiring 1,000 other females with the hopes of one day truly closing the gender gap… In sports, that gender gap is viewed as an achievement gap.

I’ve dedicated my career, as a professional sport climber, to closing the achievement gap. I do this by seeking out ascents that have not been conquered by a female. Once complete, these accomplishments are tagged as a “First Female Ascent.” It is my hope that this empowers and urges other women in our sport.

“Female” as a Qualifier

There has been an ongoing debate about whether or not the term “female” is important to include in recognizing an ascent. One side of the debate argues that the inclusion of “female” as a qualifier for why an ascent may be significant has negative implications on women in that it deems women as inferior to men. This side argues for “first female ascents” to be eradicated and for all ascents to be the same. The other side of the debate argues that men and women are biologically different and that there is no reason to eradicate gender in sports.

Female and Male climbers have the potential to achieve equally, but there is no reason to eliminate the celebration of female firsts in climbing in that women are historically the minority in climbing and reinforcement of progression is a powerful tool in encouraging female achievements. What is important to recognize is that as climbing fills a more macro level space, we consider the role that it can have on issues like gender politics and the need for women’s empowerment still at hand today.

While I recognize with the fact that women and men are capable of climbing equal difficulty, it is important to still reiterate the first ascents done by women. In my opinion, the actual flagging of Female highlights this notion of empowerment. While yes, the name of a female achieving something could theoretically be a sign enough, the fact is that the world is not yet at that point to not need reinforcement of female achievement.

I often receive letters from young girls thanking me for inspiring them. This fuels my motivation. I want to serve as an example that anyone, no matter what gender, size, or demographic you represent, can pursue his or her dreams.

Recently I spoke with Lynn Hill, one of the leading competitive sport climbers in the world, about this topic. She stated:

“I agree that women should support women and that it’s important to have female role models. Back in the early days, women were left out of books such as, “The Vertical World of Yosemite” by Galen Rowell. In his intro to the 90’s, he didn’t put a single photo of a woman climber in the book because he said that there were no significant first ascents done by a women during the formative years of climbing in Yosemite. I felt that it was important to show what women WERE doing rather than ignore them because of what they weren’t doing!”

Not There Yet…

While it is a romantic idea to say we are at a point that “Female” does not need to be reinforced, the fact is, we are not. Women have been routinely underrepresented in sports, politics, and business throughout history. Despite our hyper modern world, we are still at a point that “female” achievements should be acknowledged and highlighted.

I am motivated to establish First Ascents. I have accomplished many First Female Ascents thus far in my career and I am proud of them and will continue to flag the “Female” in the ascent to encourage the women out there who would otherwise be timid in the shadows of the boys to go out and try things despite only men having succeeded on them before.

My hero is Lynn Hill for setting the precedent for men and women. Her achievements and highlighting that she is a woman narrow the gender gap. I think that there is something to be said about women putting themselves out there and going after their dreams regardless of what history tells them.

Perhaps people who are not in favor of emphasizing “female firsts” find organizations like the Women’s Sports Foundation and UN Women irrelevant as well. Perhaps they are also against Title IX, thinking that all women should just buck up and try out for the men’s hockey team. Maybe cut Olympic competition in half by eliminating the women’s medals. And while we’re at it, scuttle the WNBA and women’s soccer as well? I guess we shouldn’t hold these incredibly inspiring female-centric conferences, like The Ad Club’s Women’s Leadership Forum, either. You won’t see me defending these stances.

Reinforcement of female achievements are necessary to encourage progression – and progression is what we need.

I am inspired by female leaders in a multitude of fields and that range of success in on display today.

It is important for women to recognize that the opinions of others are irrelevant to the task. Self-confidence and drive surpass any oppositional negativity.

I would love to see women join together in this effort to empower each other and to show the world that yes, She Can.


Why I Joined a 100-Year Old Startup…


Innovation is a word that, sometimes, can be so frequently used that it gets ignored. In one ear out the other, if you will. “If you use the word ‘innovative’ then you’re anything but,” some might say.

Not quite true, really. There are varying degrees of innovation, of course, but being innovative is a mindset – a way of thinking. So, while it may seem as though the descriptor is overused, the truth is that sometimes it is actually the best way to define a person or business.

Take technology startups, for instance, who may very well use the word more than anyone. By definition startups are innovative. Are they actually changing the way an industry (or the world) works? Most of the time, absolutely not. But when a new company is formed out of nowhere because an entrepreneur decides he or she is going to start something, that by definition, is innovation. They are trying something new, taking a risk and going for it.

Personally, I’ve spent my career in small businesses and startups. Be it joining my brother’s boutique sports marketing agency, Sports Identity Inc. in 2006, spinning out a software-based startup, BrandMatch Score, with that same three-person sports marketing team or joining the founder of VentureFizz nearly two years ago as his lone employee at the time, I’ve been in young, 2-4 person companies for roughly a decade.

Over the years I’ve realized the reason I truly love small business and entrepreneurship is the people. Their passion. Their mindset. Their creativity. Their way of doing things. Flying in the face of naysayers and breaking through barriers by trying and doing whatever it takes to get where they want.

People with that entrepreneurial mindset are not confined to tech startups, though. Established businesses and major corporations need these people within their companies in order to evolve and remain competitive. To succeed, they need to move fast and try new things. They need to be creative and open minded. They need to be passionate and innovative.

If established companies want to attract and retain entrepreneurial people, they need to operate with that same mindset… Which brings me to my joining of The Ad Club, the 100-year old startup.

When Kathy Kiely, President of The Ad Club, which was established in 1913, told me she wanted me to join her team, I was intrigued. Here is a leader of her chosen industry for whom I have the upmost respect, asking me to be a part of her company’s next chapter.

Of course I thought to myself, “This is a far cry from a high-growth startup. Will it serve my burning desire to create and build?”

Then we talked.

Anyone who knows Kathy Kiely knows her passion is infectious and that drew me in quickly.

Specifically, I looked back on my experience working with Kathy and The Ad Club as a committee member for their two-year old event called, Brandathon. I looked at this initiative, created in 2014 by Kathy and prominent Boston startup guru, David Chang, which brought together two of Boston’s thriving ecosystems – ad agencies and startups.

This long-standing, highly reputable organization with a foothold in the marketing and advertising industry and plenty of legacy events in place to keep the business operating saw an opportunity at growth and took a shot. The second annual Brandathon saw 400 plus people turn up to a first-class event and watch New England’s top creatives re-brand some of Boston’s most innovative startups.

This is the mindset of Kathy and The Ad Club. The team operates with the mentality and fluidity of a startup. So, even though I’ve joined a company that’s a century old, I’m still surrounded by amazingly creative, talented, entrepreneurial-minded, people.

So, Why The Ad Club? Why Now?

Because, with this team the opportunity to innovate is greater than ever before.

You will, without a doubt, be hearing more from us at The Ad Club as we continue to provide incredible offline content at events like Women’s Leadership Forum and CMO Breakfast Series, recognize our region’s visionaries at Hatch Awards, and honor leaders in marketing, branding and advertising at Media Maven Awards.

Furthermore, in time, we plan to bring to you, all of this top-tier leadership content in a new digital format.

In the meantime, hopefully you’ll make it to a cocktail party Under the Dome… i.e. our office!

– Josh Boyle, Director of Partnerships and Digital Engagement

Are You Trying to Measure the Immeasurable?

“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” This is the definition of marketing according to the American Marketing Association. As a marketer, I know that this definition doesn’t do the term justice. Marketing is so much more than that, especially as it continues to evolve as new strategic tools and technologies are introduced.

There are so many channels to consider when creating a holistic marketing strategy. The tricky part is figuring out how to best make them work together to take advantage of the tools at our disposal. But is there a perfect combination of vehicles to use to get our message out there? And what about the actual content strategy behind those promotions – how do we best determine what our audience actually wants to view? Is it our brand? Our products? Our events?

With the varying preferences of our multiple target segments, it’s crucial to keep track of a fine-tuned marketing strategy, updating as necessary. We always need to keep the ultimate goal in mind: what are we trying to accomplish with our marketing efforts and how does it align with our company’s value proposition?

Whether your company is a new start-up or a market player for years, you should never lose sight of maintaining and elevating your branding initiatives. Branding is one of the most critical elements to your business strategy. Your customers should not only understand what your company is about, but they should also be able to watch you grow and evolve over time.

But brand marketing is only as important as your performance marketing, because after all, they go hand-in-hand. Nancy Go, Wayfair’s VP of Brand Marketing, spoke at this morning’s CMO Breakfast event hosted by The Ad Club. Her discussion of marrying the efforts of both brand and performance marketing really stuck with me. According to Go, “Performance marketing thinks about things with a different framework: what is the advertising cost to acquire someone and how do we retain them? Brand marketing is how to get awareness from prospective customers: we drive preference and…loyalty. If you look at it from this perspective, it’s really the same thing. They’re both around brand orientation.”

To Go’s point, not everything we do can be measured, and not all of our results can be fully attributed to any one activity. However, we can almost guarantee that brand awareness has something to do with a customer’s behavior, and we can also consider that a customer’s experience with our products will help foster curiosity about our brand.

As marketers, we struggle with daily questions around metrics as if they are the only means of value in a results-driven world. But if not brand awareness, what’s driving people to engage with us in the first place? It’s all about finding the right balance and recognizing success as a result of both the measurable and immeasurable. Said Go, “Everything is gated by marketing performance. We don’t throw away performance marketing with brand advertising, and we don’t throw away brand advertising with performance marketing.”

This is a fundamental truth, not only in terms of executing on your current marketing strategies, but also in understanding how to develop and grow your business at the same time. Focus on your overall success rather than on your metrics, because you certainly don’t want to miss out on value just because it can’t be measured.


This blog first appeared on Written by Lindsey Becker, Marketing Manager at Bullhorn

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