Women in Digital – Kristal Ireland

Name: Kristal Ireland
Position: Strategy Director
Organisation: Enjoy Digital
Twitter Handle: @kristalsmile

Your career journey: I left University with a degree in Philosophy and The History and Philosophy of Science without much of a clue about what I was going to do or whether my degree (and subsequent student debt) was in any way relevant to the world of work. Having paid for most of my University course by working in retail it seemed an easy option to take a managerial position for a high street retailer, which is what I did. Although the experience and staff management training has proved invaluable I knew it wasn’t enough to stretch me mentally. I had always had an interest in marketing so I applied for various graduate roles in agencies in Leeds.

I was lucky enough to get a role at a small young agency in Leeds where I gained lots of hands on experience and progressed quickly. At the same time I studied for my CIM Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing. The CIM really helped with my career progression, especially in a digital environment where few people had a wider, academic marketing background. After that I held various roles at agencies in Leeds and having achieved the role of Digital Business Development Director, working with great brands like Thomas Cook, Npower and The National Trust, I moved into my first client side role as Head of Digital for Welcome to Yorkshire which was fantastic. Following on from there I moved to my first agency side strategic role as Head of Digital for Propaganda Agency which I loved, before taking my current position as Strategy Director here at Enjoy Digital. My varied and extensive experience across the majority of digital channels, combined with my marketing background, has led me into a strategic digital role where I advise brands on their online marketing and digital business change strategies.

Do you think that being female has impacted upon your career progression? I feel being female has had very little impact on my career progression. I’ve tended to stay away from female only based events and initiatives as I didn’t want to position myself as a ‘woman in the industry”. I’ve always felt able to compete with my male colleagues for jobs and projects, I speak regularly at industry events (I am often the only woman speaker) and generally feel that if I don’t make it about a gender issue other people don’t really either.

I’ll share with you that I had a comment recently by someone who said they didn’t feel I would have got the attention I have in the industry if I wasn’t young, female and “looks nice speaking in front of people”. At the time I was pretty offended by his comments, particularly as he has no idea about the digital industry or the kind of projects I’ve worked on. But then I just felt disappointed in him for making such a judgement, you’ve got to have pretty thick skin in this industry and people will try and bring you down no matter what!

In general, do you think there is a male bias in the digital media industry? I think if you take it on the facts of the numbers then yes, there are more men than women in the digital industry and work does need to be done on addressing the gender gap. However, I do feel this is getting better and I know of many very successful women in the industry. What I would say is that it would be great to see more women in the technical and creative departments of agencies in particular. I once heard someone remark that “women don’t make good creatives” because they aren’t tough enough emotionally to take the criticism. I think this is utter rubbish but again the female creative or developer is very rare so perhaps as an industry there is something underlying that needs to be addressed to ensure valuable skills and perspectives are not missed out on?

Do you do anything to attract more female talent to your organisation? To be honest no, I don’t see talent as having anything to do with gender. I don’t see why we would focus on attracting females as an initiative as to me this would be a form of positive discrimination. We work actively with schools and universities to take work placement students and graduates but we would never undertake this on the basis of gender.

I do think that it is important for young women to have positive role models so that we inspire the next generation of young people into the industry, but youth unemployment as a whole is such a big issue for society to tackle that I don’t think we should focus purely on gender as central to the problem. I do accept however that different genders may have varied motivations and will respond differently to job prospects and industries so this should potentially be factored into recruitment and education strategies.

From your time working in the industry have you seen any changes in the numbers of women working in the industry or the perception of women who work in digital media? I’ve seen more women getting involved and receiving more profile within the technology market, which I think is great. I’m not sure of whether the perception of women who work in the digital industry has changed, mainly because I’d ask who’s perception are we talking about? Other women, men, the press, employers, young people? I think there in is the answer though. I really believe it’s time that we stop caring about what everyone else perceives and just be good at your job, never give up, never stop fighting for what you think is right and my number one golden rule is if you have something worth saying don’t be afraid of making your voice heard, even if you are in a room full of blokes!

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