The PPC Show

Janes of Digital: The Importance of Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion in Digital Marketing [Podcast]

Welcome to episode #71 of the PPC Show, where we interview the best and brightest in paid search and social media advertising. This week we're joined by Frances Donegan-Ryan, Bing Ads Global Community Engagement.

In this episode, Frances joins us to talk about:

  • The importance of diversity, equality, and inclusion in the digital marketing industry
  • What Janes of Digital is all about
  • How you can get involved

Janes of Digital is a "stylish event, a platform for women who work in search and digital and a place where all are welcome – this includes men. If you’re the kind of person who likes to talk to others about search and digital in a respectful, safe space, then you’re the kind of person we want to see at Janes of Digital. We’ll host a panel discussion on a topic of interest to women in digital, invite your questions and input and turn you loose with nibbles and cocktails for the kind of fierce networking you hunger for."

Join women in digital to discuss our new panel topic Conquering the Confidence Gap. Create connections, enjoy amazing company, and boost your own confidence. Upcoming event information:

When: February 22nd, 2018
Where: Chicago, IL
Panelists: Details coming in early January

Listen to the Episode

Frances Donegan-Ryan

With a mission to help businesses of all sizes capitalize on the power of search marketing, Frances’ years of digital experience runs the gamut of SEO, SEM, social media and storytelling. Her passion and commitment to diversity and inclusion lead to the co-founding of Janes of Digital. She’s worked across companies of all sizes and NGOs, always aiming to help get the right messages to the right people and the right time. You’ll find her at search and advertising conferences around the world helping SEM pros better utilize Microsoft’s global PPC platform to stand out from their competitors.

Show Notes & Transcript

JD Prater:                     Frances, welcome to the show.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Hi, JD. Thanks for having me. I'm thrilled.

JD Prater:                     Yeah. Talk about thrilled, I am really excited to actually have you on the show. Not just because of our relationship, but mostly because of the topic. I think it's one of these that is probably one of the most relevant, sensitive, honest conversations that we could possibly have in this industry really going into Janes of Digital. So, thanks for agreeing to come on and talk about this, and let's give us a quick introduction of who Frances is.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Well, thank you for acknowledging that this is an important topic. I think that clearly, you know, a very important topic to me and in my heart, and for being at Microsoft. And, you know, I've been overwhelmed by the reception of Janes of Digital in particular, in our industry, but then also the willingness of people like you and others to want to hear more, and talk more about it. So, right off the bat, thank you for that. As you know, and maybe some of your listeners know, I work for Microsoft. I am on the Bing Ads team. And, I actually work on the brand team, which is really fun. I get to help craft, you know, listening to the industry on what do you want, what do you need, what do you want us to do differently? And then, my job is to help craft that story, get it back into our engineering teams, and then bring it back out to the industry. So, I love my job and love being able to head out to conferences and meet all of you in person, or on Twitter, or via Podcasts. So, If anyone wants to talk to me, they know where to reach me at Bing, or you can find me on Twitter @FrancesDR.

JD Prater:                     Yeah, Frances. You are literally everywhere. I think, I mean, I think every SMX conference or Hero Conf, I mean, Frances is there rocking the booth, or talking in a panel, or doing what we're about to talk about today with Janes of Digital. So, let's dive into it. So, for those that are not familiar with Janes of Digital, why don't you give us a quick what it is, and how it got started?

What is Janes of Digital and How Did It Get Started

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yeah. So, Janes of Digital is an event that we, that Bing puts on. Although, really, it's, we put it on as Janes of Digital at industry conferences, and then also in cities around North America. And we're about to expand internationally, which I'm so excited about. And, you know, it is a stylish and fun event with savvy panelists, and attendees. But, I think the most important part of the event is that it is a safe and welcoming space for all people, and that's what we aim to create. There's networking, there's professional head shots, there's lots of gifts. We have a charitable element where we give away money to attendees to be able to donate to causes. And then, obviously, the center part of the event is a panel that we moderate, and we pick topics that are relevant both to our industry, as well as what's going on in the community, and we've been very fortunate with extremely generous panelists who, you know, take time to get prepped, and come on, and share, you know, quite personal experiences, and stories, and our audience is incredibly, you know, engaged, as well, and they share their stories and experiences.

Every time we have a Janes of Digital, I am blown away by, you know, the vulnerability that panelists and audience members alike embrace, and help make this industry, as well as our community, stronger for that.

JD Prater:                     Yeah, definitely. It’s, if you haven't ever seen one of these panels, you really, you really should. It will kind of, put you in your place and kind of, stop you, and think again about your own actions, or even things that you have seen in the workplace, or in the industry. So, I think it's a very, very great thing you guys have put on. So, how did you guys get started with this? Like, what was ... How? Like, it's just ...

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Well, I think probably for a majority of women who are listening, it's like "Oh, duh. You started." So, I mean, it was clearly needed and we can see that. But the initial idea came from a group of women who got together during a conference, and, you know, post-conference they were having a drink, and they just said "I wish ... You know, we don't hear about this topic spoken about in the, shall we say, like the official agenda." Like, during the sessions or the keynotes, it's rarely spoken about. Typically, we're looking up at an all-male led event. Male keynotes, predominantly male moderators on panels, and then predominately male panelists, and just felt underrepresented. And then, to be honest, not entirely safe. So, you know, the main, sort of, social event at a conference typically is a big party one of the nights, at, you know, a nightclub or some other type of venue that's still, like, dark with loud music, et cetera, and really didn't feel like a safe physical space for a lot of women to be at, and numerous stories proving that it wasn't.

And I think, you know, for those of us who are really privileged to get to go to a ton of events, you know, I show up and I have tons of buddies there. You know, not only do I have multiple colleagues who come with me, but I know a lot of people. But, if you're attending, you know, as one person representing your company, and you don't know anyone else there, going to a nightclub-type party is, does not at all feel safe or welcoming. So, we thought, "Could we'd do an additional evening event that still is fun, and has cocktails there, and allows that really social networking and gathering, but that starts to address some of these concerns that we have, and feels like a safe and welcoming space?" And that's, that was the idea of Janes and there were people from Bing in that conversation, and they came home to Seattle, and we started designing it. And figuring out what could we offer to help, to help women, and other underrepresented minority groups feel safe, and welcomed, and heard at our industry events.

JD Prater:                     Can you give us a little bit of insight of how, how that conversation was? Like, what was that like, you know, going in and saying "Hey, I think this is important. I think we need to get-"

How Microsoft Got Involved with Janes of Digital

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yeah.

JD Prater:                     You know, being Microsoft, you know, like, behind this. And, you know, especially for you, working in such a big company and being kind of the face of that.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yeah, I think there were a few things, you know. There are a lot of big companies, including, and tech companies in particular, including Microsoft, who espouse a lot of diversity and inclusion initiatives. You often hear it referred to, you know, D&I. "Here's our D&I plan, here's our D&I numbers." And as, you know, as honorable as those are, putting them into practice can often be challenging at big companies. And we just felt, you know, as those kind of "in the trenches," like, feet on the ground out in the industry. We were like, "We can do this. There's no, there's no reason why we can't. So let's just do it."

I would hop in, and at the time, my manager and the other woman, Sarah Wolf, who was really one of the initial, sort of, founders or leads on this project, we had a manager who was very supportive and she just said, you know, "Go and do it. Figure it out." And, so, we did. We, the very first Janes of Digital was in Seattle at SMX Advanced, and we, we did it in this little room above the Seattle Aquarium. That's where the party was gonna be, and we thought, "What if we did something beforehand?" And, it was sort of, sort of like, the office space of the aquarium workers, we pushed all their furniture and dust to the side and built the space. And, we were like, "Oh, let's do head shots." 'Cause that's a professional thing you could take away. "Let's get them a gift, and let's have these panelists both from, you know, with Bing Ads." So, we had page search panelists, but we also had publishers and we had a woman from Adobe and people from the SEO side, and I think there were 35 people in the room. And I think there were three or four men, Matt Van Wagner was there, he's been to every Janes at every SMX.

So, shout out to Matt, but it started like that and now we have events, you know, with 200 people. We often see about a 30 percent attendance male, and which, we hope to continue to increase. And so, in a very short span of time, because of, I think, one, the need. There was really just a need, and so it got soaked up really quickly. And two, the support of my bosses, in particular, I think, I was telling you, JD, this is actually part of my job. And also the support of the industry, and, like I mentioned, the generosity of the panelists, it's grown and grown. And now we're doing all sorts of cool things to help people attend a Janes whether they're there at an industry conference or not.

JD Prater:                     That's awesome. That's really cool to, kind of, hear. 'Cause it's only, what, two, three years old? It's pretty new.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Four. Four.

JD Prater:                     Four, okay?

Frances Donegan-Ryan: And, like, a half.

JD Prater:                     Four and a half. Okay.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: So, we definitely started doing it at industry events only, which, you know, kind of for the aforementioned reasons. And then, and then our Bing team, you know, we would have customers attend, and then they'd go back to, you know, whatever city they actually live in, you know, not all of us live in the conference city, clearly. And, and there was just a desire from the industry to have more of them. So, now we have Janes of Digitals outside of, kind of, the industry event calendar. Our next one is in Chicago. And so, we try to hit up cities, you know, that we, that we hear there's a demand for it, or that our teams there are really passionate about it, want to have one in. We're in North America predominately at the moment. Canada and the US, but we're gonna have our first Janes of Digital in Sydney, in February? No, in March. And then, we're planning one in Europe as well, and we'll just continue growing as fast as we can. The other cool thing that we do, which some people may already know about, is that we live stream Janes of Digital.

JD Prater:                     Got it.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: On the Bing Ads Facebook page. And so, if you're not in a city that we can ever get to, or if you're in a country that we're not getting to. I had, you know, we had a woman from Nairobi watch the New York one, sorry, the San Jose one last year, and was tweeting us. You know, because we want to make a safe and open space physically, I think that also means making a safe and open space digitally, as we all are in the digital industry.

JD Prater:                     Nice. And, I'm gonna give a quick plug here for your next one in the US. Looks like it’s gonna be in Chicago, February 22nd. So, if you're around the Chicago metro area, please head over to and get signed up for that.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yeah, and we have, we'll have one in San Francisco in late March, I believe the 27th, double check that. And then, one in LA as well coming up. And every time we confirm a date, it'll be listed on the website, so you can check 'em out.

JD Prater:                     Perfect. Well this seems like a, you know, obviously is a real important issue within the industry, but I guess I'm kind of curious why. You know, so you, you know. Like, obviously this is like a passion project, you know, and you've been able to be really successful at it. You've been able to, get being involved. But, you know, what led you down this path to take a stand and to, you know, go out and do something as big as Janes of Digital?

What Led You Down This Path to Take a Stand?

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yeah. I think, I imagine a lot of women have similar stories to mine, but it’s something I've been passionate about since I was a little girl. So it's, it's not, it's not new for me. I grew up in Ireland and helped when I was little, helped with my mom to canvass for Mary Robinson, who was the first female president of Ireland and one of the first, she was the first female UN ambassador for human rights. And just, and so, I grew up admiring these women and the sacrifices they made, the work that they did and, you know, that's always just been a part of me.

And then, I think once you, once you go, you know, every woman listening to this podcast has had, has probably been harassed, or assaulted, or felt belittled, felt excluded. And none of, unfortunately, I don't think many women are immune to that. And I have had my share of experiences, and Janes, honestly, has been an outlet where I can learn to speak about those experiences, have a safe space to speak, and share, and then I, you know, I fully recognize I'm in, I'm in a very privileged experience. I'm white, European, and working at a big company. I don't have a partner or children so I, I'm super privileged to be able to be outspoken about this. You know, if I was retaliated against, it would obviously be awful, but I, you know, wouldn't be out on the street. I wouldn't be able to, you know, care for my family. And so, as a person in that level of privilege, I also feel it's my responsibility to stand up and speak about what is happening and give space for other women to do so, or speak on behalf of women who just don't have that advantage, or that privilege that I do.

JD Prater:                     It’s really powerful. So, it sounds like you kind of grew up with some, some female heroes.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yes.

JD Prater:                     Which is, is always a winner. I'm seeing a lot more of, this is somewhat in the relevant, but if you look at a lot of these golden globe winners, movies, and the Oscars, you know, this is, like, you know, kind of being portrayed in the media, there's a lot of female leads in the last year.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yes.

JD Prater:                     I was at Disneyland, actually, this is kind of a side track.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: No.

JD Prater:                     I was at Disneyland in December, and I was so encouraged at the same time because there were so many, like, young girls dressed up as Rey.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yes!

JD Prater:                     You know, they were so excited, and it was kind of cool to see that transformation of, you know, when I was growing up, you know, it was all male Jedis, right? And now you have, like, kind of this, this female lead, this female Jedi, and how it's kind of making science and tech and sci-fi movies cool for women to like. And so, to kind of bring it back into our industry, are we getting better? You know, when we look at 2018, like, what are some of the challenges?

When We Look at 2018, What Are Some of the Challenges?

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yes. I mean, I'm, as you know, and anyone who has met me, I'm an optimist. I'm positive, I obviously get extremely frustrated, and people who know me well know I get frustrated with the pace of change, but I am optimistic. I think we're, we're starting to move in the right direction. I think the more people who are willing to listen and acknowledge that this happens publicly makes a great deal of impact. And, I do see it more and more. I, you know, even as, you know, as an example, this, Janes of Digital is not a side, you know, passion project for me. It is part of my job. You know, I told my manager that this, my male manager, that this was extremely important to me. I told him how much it was changing and helping the industry. I told him how much it was valued, and that it can't just be when I have side time. It has to be part of my role, and now it is.

And so, you know, I get, in my annual review, the success of Janes is part of my success and my career. And that, you know, honestly that just took a few conversations and, you know, it, a lot of the stuff is new to him, but he's been very will to sort of, sit and listen to me, and listen to other women. And, I think, the more men that have that level of power and that level of decision making who can, just listen and learn, and acknowledge, that's very powerful for, it's been very powerful for me, and I think its powerful for other women as well. It, you know, part of what we're seeing, particularly in the entertainment industry, is that there's always been this, you know, back channel whispering of, like, "Don't be alone with this person, if this person's drinking, stay away from them." And that is in our industry as well. I've been given that advice. And, you know, the effort of the #MeToo movement, my, you know, my hope for Janes, this effort of Times Up is to take those conversations away from the whispered backrooms and the ladies' restroom and put it out front and foremost and just, you know, tell the industry that you work, and tell the people that you work, and tell the company you work in that we're just kind of tired of tolerating that, and we want more, and we think we deserve more.

JD Prater:                     Gotcha. Let's take it to the, kind of, a practical level here. So, there are thousands of conferences. And, you know, you guys can't be at every single one of them, or, you know, hosting events in every single city. So, for those, you know, listening, or for those, you know, like, what would you say? Maybe to a conference, you know, event managers that are putting it on, and attendees. What, what advice would you, kind of, give those two audiences?

What Advice Would You Give to Event Managers and Conference Attendees?

Frances Donegan-Ryan: I have so much ideas.

JD Prater:                     Yeah, please!

Frances Donegan-Ryan: So much, so many ideas! I think there are a lot of white men in our industry who have maybe more power and influence than they realize. And that the best way for us to be, or what I think, the fastest way, the best way for us to be able to extend this conversation into all of the different, you know, whether it's a meetup, whether it’s, you know, just a SEMPO group or a search group in your city, or a local conference, is for those white men in power to say, "We need this in the agenda. We need, listen, we have four male keynotes, that's not okay. We need a female keynote."

Honestly, it comes down to that. It comes down to the people in power and privilege to start acknowledging that they need to make the changes. It’s much harder for us. And then, you know, you need that at the top. And then I think from, or, you know, on the left side, that needs to be happening. And on the right, I hate to say, "Top and bottom." So, like, on one side, that needs to happen and on the other side, you know. You need to, you know, find a partner, if it’s, if it seems too daunting for you to speak up just on your own, and I'm willing to be that partner for anyone, and just say, "You know what? At this breakfast, or this lunch, or this break, I am going to tweet that at table whatever, we are gonna have a conversation about diversity in our industry and I, you know, particularly want to talk about, you know, how have clients treated you? Or, how has management treated you? Or, your peers? Or, has something happened at a conference that's made you uncomfortable?" And just create a space, whether it's a table or around a coffee cart, or at the Starbucks across the street, just start having those conversations.

I mean, that is how Janes started was, women sitting down, having a drink and saying, "I'm tired of this. And I'm, frankly, scared, and I've heard so many, you know, appalling and upsetting stories of women at conferences that I have been at where things like this are, you know, being harassed, being followed, being attacked are not an uncommon occurrence. And whatever small things we can start will grow into bigger things." And, I would encourage you to challenge people who are the organizers to make sure that there's diversity onstage and then encourage those who are attendees to start these conversations. They're, they're not easy, so that they become more normal in our industry and less on the sidelines. And, I challenge to conference organizers to take that up themselves.

You know, I won't, sort of, name things, but at one stage, I held the purse strings for who we were gonna sponsor, you know, what events we could sponsor in the industry, and I was very selective. If I felt a conference had done a very poor job of introducing diverse speakers, I did not sponsor them because I felt that that went against Microsoft values. I did not sponsor conferences that were run by companies in states where they had anti-LGBTQ laws on the books. I was very, I took Microsoft's philosophy, and statements and, frankly, regulations within our company about diversity and inclusion very seriously, and I said, "If I own money, I can use those dollars effectively." And I really did, and ask for permission after I did it, but, again, was very fortunate I had a boss who was like, "This is your call, and you're right. These are Microsoft values and we need to, you know, put our money where our mouth is." And so, I tried to do that, and even if you don't own the money, I think, I think you can start having these conversations, and creating those little safe spaces, even if it’s just a lunch table, that will start conversations happening.

JD Prater:                     Gotcha. That's really, really great advice. So, conference organizers, this is on you. Come on. Definitely get more diversity. And this goes, I'm guessing, beyond keynotes too? Like, this is, like you'd see more diversity across all the speaker lineup, correct?

Diversity in Speaker Lineup

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yeah. And I think, you know, I'm obviously, know more and am passionate about women's issues, but, I think, sometimes people forget, or in America, we tend to forget that, you know, there are multiple layers of women's issues. So, racism, that's a part of women's issues. LGBTQ, religion, and other areas where people are, you know, either, you know, gone after for, or put down for. And so, you know, I think we have pretty bad racial representation in our industry as well. And, when you look on stage and when you look at keynotes and so, I would challenge organizers to, full spectrum, look at that. You know, are we, are we representing the audience? Most audiences at conferences are either close to 50 or above 50 percent women. And so, it’s very hard for us to sit at the audience and look up and be like, "Wow, I can look left and right and I can see women, but when I look straight forward, I don't." And that's demoralizing. And I think, you're gonna start losing that demographic if, as conference organizers, if other conferences start getting better at it, again, we can use our company money the way we want to, and we'll go to the conferences where we feel seen and heard, and not to the conferences where we don't.

JD Prater:                     Wow. I like it. I like it. It's like, voting with your dollar, so.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yeah.

JD Prater:                     It’s very, it’s very, like, kind of, like, powerful and practical advice. I really liked, I kind of just want to, like, reiterate for those going to a conference, tweet out, like, right? Try to get that table. And that take, that is a hard thing to do. I know whenever you're the, maybe you are the only person, you know, from your company, you don't know anyone at the conference, and I do think it does take a big step. But that's, that's where you kind of have to start, or at least, find someone else that might be interested and do it together and lead that discussion, maybe during lunch or happy hour.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yeah, it's that, none of this is easy, but it's incredibly rewarding. And so, I think, you know, it takes bravery to take that first step. And, but I feel like you're rewarded in, with so much hope and positivity and just connection with others will make, you know, not only your experience at that conference richer, but your career, your camaraderie with those people and hopefully, then your community is. There's a very blurred line nowadays, right? Between "Here's me at work and here's me at home, or me with my friends." You know, I swear less at work than I do with my friends, so there's still, like, solid lines, but I think, in terms of what you care about, what you stand for, you know, how you live your life, that's starting to bleed more and more between the two. And, and so, take some bravery from that part of your life and add it into your career life. Not all of us have the privilege to do that. And if you don't, I hope that you can reach out to people who do, and ask them to help you. Because, you shouldn't be left out of this conversation because you're in a less safe space, or a less welcoming space. There are people out there willing to be your partner in this.

Starting The Conversation: SMX West and Hero Conf

JD Prater:                     Gotcha. Well, I'll go ahead and take a stand, and be a little bit brave and say, I'm gonna be at SMX West, and I'll be at Hero Conf coming up in April, so if you're at those two conferences, let's team up. Let's, let's start this conversation, and let's start to move the, the needle as far as where this industry is headed, so ...

Frances Donegan-Ryan: So you're gonna be my ambassador, JD, because I will not be at West for, like, the first time-

JD Prater:                     Oh no!

Frances Donegan-Ryan: ... in, like five years! I will be at my, I will be, literally, officiating my friend's wedding on the Saturday before.

JD Prater:                     Oh, wow.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: So, in South Africa, so, sadly I can't get back in time. But, so, you're gonna be Frances on the ground at SMX West. So, get ready.

JD Prater:                     Yeah. Sounds good. We should probably have another meeting. But, no, but seriously. Will there be a Janes of Digital at SMX West even though you may not be there?

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yeah, we're still working on that with, with the different teams. And hopefully be able to let people know soon, and if, for whatever reason, it's not because I'm not gonna be there, it's, it's other events that are happening at SMX West. So, if for some reason, it isn't there, then there still will be Janes conversations happening, even if the evening event isn't there. And, and like I said, you know, tune in for the live viewings of the other Janes if they're not in your city. And then there will be a Janes of Digital at SMX East in Seattle in June.

JD Prater:                     Perfect. Wow. That was a great conversation. I think we kind of have to end, there's a really good CTA there at the end. So, you know, as we are digital marketers, and we are talking about how to get involved, take a look at those live, go over to, get involved anyway you can, at any conference that you can, and let's see what we can do as a community.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yeah, I would, just some additional plugs, you know, I definitely bump, volunteer myself to be that buddy. You know, tweet me, DM me, LinkedIn message me, I'm happy to share my, my Microsoft email as well. But, I think, I want people to know that they have allies and resources and the other thing I would say is, share your stories where you feel safe to do so. I think it's, it's hugely empowering, and what we see at a Janes is, someone shares an experience, or a story, and I can look at panelists' faces and at audience faces and I can see, like, I actually see, like, relief leave, people just get this sense of relief around them, that they are not the only person that this has happened to. Or, they are not the only person that have experienced this. When you go through, you know, an experience around sexual harassment, or assault, or discrimination, it's incredibly isolating.

And, when you hear someone else's story, that might sound exactly like yours, or similar to yours, it is a massive relief to, kind of, get rid of that isolation and to feel, like, you have, you know, friends and peers and, even if they're a stranger who's there feeling the same things, and, that's, that's very, very, powerful. So, where you feel safe when you feel you're ready sharing those stories, and I try, I'm trying to do that as well, is share my stories so that, you know, other people don't feel as isolated. I think, you're seeing that in all the movements that are happening in, you know, in our society over the last six months as well. It means something. It’s very powerful.

JD Prater:                     Thanks again, Frances.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Yeah.

JD Prater:                     I, I can't really say more than that. So ...

Frances Donegan-Ryan: Well, again, thank you. I think, you know, JD, you're being brave. You're inviting me on, you're giving me a space to talk. I really, really appreciate that. And, then, I cannot wait to work more with you, and our other friends in the industry to keep having these conversations.

JD Prater:                     Definitely. And from me, and the community, I mean, thanks again for being, you know, taking the stand, being vulnerable, being honest, and really, kind of, leading the charge in a really great movement to hopefully bring more diversity to the stage, to conferences, but also, just to an entire search and digital industry that definitely needs to be representative. So, thank you so much.

Frances Donegan-Ryan: No, thank you.

JD Prater:                     All right. So, again, that was Frances Donegan-Ryan from Bing Ads and you guys can, I will put in the show notes ways to connect with Frances if you are listening, go check out, and get involved today. All right, thanks everyone, and we'll see you next week.

AdStage Team