Silke Zetzsche, Director of Sales, Demand

Silke Zetzsche is an inspiring and energetic commercial leader with 12 years’ experience in adtech and creative tech. Here she shares her thoughts on building and growing high performing commercial teams and her advice on how to get started. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role?

From the ages 6 to 18, my entire life centred around competitive ballroom dancing – think Strictly Come Dancing but as a sport, not for entertainment. From the minute I woke up to the minute I fell asleep, dancing was my world.

When I stopped due to reasons of body image and an eating disorder – which is way too common in this sport and a whole other topic in its own right – I fell into a black hole which made me reconsider my personal and professional life. As a result, I took up an opportunity to relocate to London, leaving everything I knew behind – my home, my native language, my friends and my family. I suddenly had to grow up very quickly!

I was privileged in that my parents were able to support me financially with the move, however, I supported myself with two part-time jobs whilst also enrolled at university.

Whilst studying, I realised I had an interest in the adtech and media industry and I subsequently joined a media agency in a Direct Response Account Executive role. I still remember sitting in the interview with my then line manager and showing him the creative portfolio I had built as part of my work experience at Cosmopolitan. He must have been very amused because the role itself was very analytical and I spent my first few years building client reports in Excel, learning how to traffic ads and implementing digital media plans.

Fast forward 10 years and I am now a commercial leader in the adtech industry. I recently joined Onetag, the non-traditional SSP (supply side platform) as Director of Sales – Demand. My role is to increase the company’s revenue in the UK and grow the brand as a trusted and outstanding partner for all major demand clients. I am also incredibly proud of my achievements outside of my job. I have been featured in various industry publications, I am a life coach, a facilitator for Good Shout, a member of Pregnant Then Screwed (a charity dedicated to ending the motherhood penalty), a member of the professional network Bloom UK, a mentor and a mother of two incredible kids.

I am still very much building my own brand and I acknowledge that there is still so much to do for women and mothers in my industry.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

One of my biggest career challenges was returning to work after having my first child. I took a 30% pay cut because I thought that was necessary after having been out of the industry for 18 months. Looking back, I realise that did not have to happen and had I known about companies such as Bloom or GoodShout who help women returning to work after maternity leave, I would have had the confidence to ask for what I deserved.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Outside of raising two incredible humans, I am most proud of building out new commercial products and strategy, and nurturing commercial teams to success. I had done this in my previous roles and I am incredibly humbled to have met and mentored such wonderful and talented young rising stars on their own professional journey.

I am also super excited and pumped to be doing this now at Onetag where I am helping the company become a well-known and trusted adtech partner for our demand clients.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in your achieving success?

My motivation to succeed and positive attitude to everything that happens in life. One of my previous bosses and all-time favourite human beings once described me as ‘the sunshine you need in your life’. I think that sums up me and my personality quite nicely. I always try to see everything with the ‘glass half full’ kind of mentality. My Co-Active Training Institute (CTI) coaching has helped me tremendously with harnessing this attitude.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Don’t be afraid to network. I am still working on this myself, and as a woman, it can often be intimidating networking in a sea of largely white male colleagues. But, when you are aware of the value that you bring to a conversation, it becomes easier over time.

Secondly, if something negative occurs, remember everything happens for a reason.

What barriers for women working in tech are still to be overcome?

The boys club culture, particularly at the lower end of adtech (the supply-side platform side) can make it difficult for women to work in the industry. That, coupled with being a parent can be hard to try to juggle all at once. I have set specific boundaries for myself to be able to be there for my family and available for work responsibilities.

What do you think companies can do to progress the careers of women working in technology?

What can and should be happening are more conversations with women about what they need to ensure they have a successful career and the ability to raise a family. Far too often, companies do not put enough effort into understanding the responsibilities of women and parents and finding flexible solutions that work for both. I am at an exciting stage where I can shape this for myself and my future team to allow as much flexibility, trust and ownership for individuals to flourish and succeed under my guidance.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I think what men do very well, is to connect their peers/friends and are more likely to recommend individuals for positions compared to women. Miriam Trunk did a great blog post about this and states that one of the reasons women don’t champion other women in the same way as their male counterparts are largely due to a fear of failure.

As women, we must shine a light on, not just ourselves, but all the other brilliant women we know in our industry. Initiatives such as Digital Leading Ladies (DLL),  Good Shout or Bloom UK are perfect examples of this. We must stop thinking that shining a light on others will result in our own losses. Instead, we need to understand that a win for one of us is a win for all of us.

If I am in a position to give back or pay it forward it should be my responsibility to do so as a woman.

I would also suggest listening to the Unlocking Us podcast by Brené Brown – it’s real and honest conversations about who we are as humans. Additionally, look into organisations such as Bloom UK, DLL and GoodShout that help professional women advance in their careers and are a great place to network with other incredible female leaders and talent in our industry.