Alaina Shearer faced sexism throughout her media career.
In her early radio jobs, male co-hosts complained when she didn’t laugh at their sexist jokes. Then she was fired.
A hiring manager at a big radio station asked if she planned to get pregnant soon. Why? Because pregnant hosts got great ratings.
The big boss at a marketing agency came on to Shearer — then asked via email that she stay silent. HR did nothing, and she was required to keep working under the man. Then she was demoted.
A couple years after launching her Columbus, Ohio digital marketing agency, Cement Marketing (which will do $3 million in business in 2017), Alaina’s second husband Seth Gray urged her to apply for Women Owned Business status from the Small Business administration. She refused. “‘I don’t need it!’ she recalls arguing with her husband. “I wanted to build this business on my own merits.” Her husband pointed out how often she was discriminated against by potential clients.
Shearer, now 38, started bringing a tall, handsome male colleague to pitch meetings. Close times were cut in half. Sales rose 40 percent. “I know how to sell — I’ve been in sales my whole life,” says the Ohio mom of four. “But when I’d be doing my presentation, the client would be watching my male colleague and looking for his affirmation.”
So Shearer, who says she learned the most about digital marketing single mom blog MsSingleMama.com, in February Womenin.Digital, a member community for women in the digital marketing industry. Since then, she has hosted launch events in 15 cities nationwide, attracting 340 members. Membership costs $40 per month, or $430 per year, and includes access to the group’s Slack, local events, discounted ticket to the annual conference, and participation in ‘peer circles’ — smaller breakout groups similar to masterminds that Shearer benefited from earlier in her career. Some tenants of the organization include sharing income and salary numbers, a regimented ‘ask/give’ practice, in which each member is required to both ask for something they need for their business, and a specific offer of something they can give — such as an introduction. Shearer also promotes the practice of tracking your hours, to truly understand how you spend your time and energy. After doing so herself two years ago, she realized she was spending 20 hours weekly caring for her long, dark mane. Today, she wears her hair in a salt-and-pepper chic, layered bob.
Oct. 25-27, Womenin.Digital’s annual conference will be held in Columbus, and feature speakers like Nina Lassam, director of Ad Product at The New York Times, Kristi Daraban, Abercrombie & Fitch head of social media, Breonna Rodriguez, lead digital designer at Sesame Street, and Shannon Coulter, Grab Your Wallet cofounder.
Learn more about joining Women inDigital and attending the conference here.
Listen to an earlier Like a Mother episode here when Alaina shares how she grew her agency from $0 as a single mom, to the seven figures.
Read full interview transcript with Women in Digital founder Alaina Shearer!
Emma: Alright. We have, back by popular demand, this is my good friend Alaina Shearer coming to you live from the metropolis of– You want to say hi?
Alaina: Hi everybody. Thanks for having me back, Emma.
Emma: Yeah, is Columbus, Ohio, so many of you long time single moms know Alaina from Ms. Single Mama, which was and is one of the big single mom blogs out there. We serendipitously met at the mother of all mom blog conferences, when I didn’t even have a blog. It was five years ago and I had a URL that I bought for $2.00 on GoDaddy, and I bumped into Alaina and we’ve been friends ever since. And she could not have been more supportive of what I’m doing over here and now she has been up to such incredible things on behalf of women everywhere and that’s what brings her back to this show. Alaina, just in a quick nutshell, I’m just going to give– I know, I just came from her launching event of New York City’s chapter of Women in Digital. Now, this is a 15 city, for now, I think you’re going to take over the world–
Alaina: Yeah, I agree.
Emma: Yeah, a 15 city launch of a national organization that supports women in digital media. And that’s just so– I’m going to say, it’s totally fucking awesome.
Alaina: Thank you. It is. It is an incredible experience to be a part of.
Emma: So, today I want to hear all about it. I want to hear about you starting this. I want to hear about your own journey in digital media, how you got here because you have a remarkable story; and you know, what’s this organization going to do for women not only in our industry but in the world, really.
Alaina: Yeah. So, I think–Should I start with– I’ll start with the organization itself and what Women in Digital is.
“No men are allowed to come to this meeting.”
Alaina: And our mission, our mission is to reach as many women as we can in advertising communications, in digital advertising communications, media, marketing. And that’s a big umbrella. So, it could be you as a writer and a blogger, or it could be the CMO of a huge agency, you know? So, it’s a big umbrella of so many of us who are in the digital realm or field, and all of us as women are facing discrimination every day, in my opinion, and through my experiences. That’s really why Women in Digital was born. So, I started it in Columbus, Ohio a year ago. Started with one meeting that I called. I invited everybody in Columbus who was a woman in digital and no men. I said, “No men are allowed to come to this meeting.”
Emma: That’s interesting, and what was the response to that no man edict?
Alaina: So, the response was, 115 women signed up in four days to attend and sold out my venue. We had such an overwhelming response. I could not believe it. You know, we have a lot of networking events in Columbus. It’s a big city, just very big city, second biggest to Chicago in the Midwest, and so there’s plenty of these things that are going on all of the time. But you never see that many people sign up that quickly to any of them. So, their response was very positive and surprising to me. And I invited everybody who signed up to volunteer to tell their story and their journey. It turned out, as it turned out, that everybody wanted to come but nobody wanted to tell their story. So, I as the host and an owner of my own agency told my story.
Emma: And I’m just gonna do a pause now because tell us about your business. It’s Cement Marketing, which is a digital marketing business, and I just wanted– You guys are going to do $3 million in business this year.
Alaina: We hope. We hope. We’re shooting for that. Yes.
She built a $3 million business, and is now serving women
Emma: No. Just say it. Just say, “We’re gonna do $3 million business.” That’s what girls do. They’re like, “Oh, I hope. About. Just short of.” Just say the number, as if it already happened.
Alaina: Yeah, and that’s– Dudes are at the top now. My partner, soulmate, husband, is running Cement so that I can do this. So, I’ve been fully engaged and dedicated to Women in Digital since February. So, I actually stepped away from day to day operations at Cement. But yes, they are going to hit $3 million this year, and they sell digital advertising services, and branding, and creative. It’s a remarkable little agency that I created that’s now becoming a bigger agency very quickly.
Emma: But it’s really becoming a national leader. I mean it’s– Look, if you’re not in the Midwest you don’t really realize what a big deal this is, but you guys have huge national accounts, global accounts. It’s not like you’re doing local car dealerships. I mean, it is– No, no. You guys are a big deal.
Alaina: Thank you. But we can spend time on that another time. We don’t have to bore the listeners with it. You check out, thank you, you’re flattering me and now I’ll change the subject.
Emma: No. But look, I think it’s critical to establish this because in a moment you’re going to share. You are going to share your journey and it’s remarkable. It’s not like your dad gave you a lot of money or you took up care of your uncles. No, you built this thing from the ground. You have a really interesting story we’re going to hear in a minute, and the fact that you are running a global agency that’s doing multiple seven figures is a huge deal, and that gives you a ton of authority to run this soon-to-be global organization. It’s going to change gender equality in this country.
Alaina: Wow! I love it. I’m gonna hire you. Be my PR expert.
Emma: I don’t do PR. I don’t do fucking PR. Except for myself. And my book.
Alaina: Thank you, Emma. Yeah, so there you go. There’s the setup for Cement.
Emma: See, I’m Midwestern and I like, know the pressure to be humble when it’s not appropriate, and it’s like, you’ve got to get over that. Yeah.
Alaina: I know. I really do. You help me with that all the time. You always have.
Emma: Okay. So, I want you to really start– So you, again, something we have in common, I was a local newspaper reporter and you were a local radio, as you say in your words, “nerd”, “radio nerd”. So, we get that. So, just walk me really quickly through the story of your career and how you kept facing discrimination and gross dudes along the way.
A career full of gender discrimination
Alaina: I tell this story in Columbus for the first time, a year ago. I almost backed out from telling it multiple times. I was so scared because everybody in this little big city of Columbus knows who the players were in the story, and also I felt– My biggest fear was that the women in the room would– and I really just didn’t want the men around. It was not a premeditated thing, I just didn’t want them there when we talked about what I knew we were going to talk about. So, I wish I could claim credit for this brilliance, but it was really was just my gut instinct to not have them around. I was so scared because I thought, it would think that I was just making it up in my head, that I was overreacting, that I should have just gotten over it and dealt with it. You know, those common thoughts that all of us have when these things are happening to us in the workplace or elsewhere, and we think maybe we’re being paranoid. So, that was my fear and saying it all out loud, publicly, which I had never even come close to doing, let alone on my blog. I had never even put this out on the blog or on my radio career obviously, I hadn’t had a chance to tell the story.
So, the story starts with me graduating from college and I’m a super radio nerd, and I get a job right out of school on the top morning show as a news girl. A news girl, because we’re not news women. And, so I’m the news girl on this top, number one rated morning show. I had dedicated seven years by the time it came to an end to radio. My life. I was an AP award winning– I won two AP awards for best in class for the state of Ohio for radio, and you know, I just really loved, loved, loved my career, and it all came to a startling and surprising end, without cause, after I had become a co-host of that radio show, and the guys on the show pushed me out. They didn’t want me on their show anymore, for a number of reasons. And that formula was archaic and sexist, and I go into that when I tell this story in the long version.
Emma: Yeah, but right, it’s like we all know what, kind of like, morning dudes– Right? Radio shows, and you challenge that. And you were younger, and you were less experienced, and you’re a female, and you were the only female, and you got pushback. Which is, it’s a theme in your story, right? So then, yeah–
Alaina: Yeah, I have my moral lines, and I refuse to laugh at the jokes that were sexist or offensive in some way. And I definitely laugh when something’s actually hilarious and funny, but I’m not gonna laugh at the expense of others, or– You know, I’m going to push back to men no matter who they are. I’ve always been that way.
So, I found myself as a young, strong woman, and in a position, and in over my head as far as what they were prepared and ready to hear on their show.
Alaina: So, find myself totally canned. And know what, we bared had, this was 2004 so I wasn’t using Facebook. But I mean, we barely had the internet. That’s how I describe it. The internet– you know, we– social networks were really just coming into fruition and I didn’t have a network like the one that we’ve created now to tap into.
And I was interviewing for a job for another radio show in Denver and we get to that final interview and he says, “Are you planning on getting pregnant anytime soon? Because we want a pregnant co-host.”
Emma: Because why? Why is that–
Alaina: Because why? Because they like– It’s good for ratings if you have a pregnant co-host. The listeners get to name the baby. I don’t know. You’re more, you know, you fit in some kind of mold that they have you in. It’s a good question. We could ask him. We could find him and ask him.
But I was horrified at that point. Having first of all walked into a job and gotten fired without reason as a highly skilled professional after dedicating seven years to the career, and then finding a job I was going to get may be dependent on me becoming pregnant, or fitting in, once again to, I don’t know, some kind of mould that I don’t fit into, or that maybe I wasn’t ready to fit into at all.
Emma: Well, you’re being tokenized. Right? You’re being tokenized by your gender like you’re going to be the ratings boost because of your gender, not because of your skills.
“I wanted to be hired for my mind.”
Alaina: Right. Exactly. And I wanted to be used for my mind. I wanted to go put my mind to work. I didn’t want to be a piece of cattle. So, I ended up leaving the lucrative salary I had of $85,000 at the time, a salary with all kinds of bonuses you get when you do live appearances and way too much money for a 24-25-year-old to be making, but I completely switched careers and started over at a PR marketing firm and went down to $35,000. And that’s part of the story because I talk about salary in this story. It’s part of the vulnerability and the honesty that we all– We all have to get to that point where we talk about money, which you do so well.
Emma: Well, and I’m so grateful for you because it’s– I mean, I talk about this, but let’s talk about– Let’s take a pause here and talk about how important that is. My spiel on that, and I’m curious about what your reasoning and my spiel is always, you can’t talk about business without talking numbers. Because it’s all relevant. Like, I can meet up with my girlfriend and she’ll be so excited because she got a raise, and it’s a life changing raise, and she deserves this raise, but if she doesn’t share the numbers– I mean she could have gotten a $400 raise, right? And if I hear the numbers, and I’m like, “Wait a minute. I am in the same position and I make 50 percent more than you do.” That changes everything. Or maybe she’s making 50 percent more than me, and that changes my perspective. You have to share the numbers, and men understand that. Women haven’t gotten that yet.
Women must talk about salaries
Alaina: Absolutely, and it’s something that we talk about at every event that we have. And it’s something that we have to ease ourselves into. Because I find that women don’t immediately, at that moment at our first event in a certain city, in any city, they don’t start talking about salaries. I just hope that they really think about it and understand that value, that when we exchange time together, we need to make money off of each other through a power exchange.
So, that leads me to this PR firm, where again, $35,000 a year. Not very much. I end up finding myself married to my now ex, and the father of my baby. So, I became a single mother, and I had to make just a little bit more to get a new apartment in Columbus. I had blown all of my savings on my unpaid maternity leave and I couldn’t get a raise. I needed, I think it was $42,000 or something. And I couldn’t. They wouldn’t give me the raise. So you know what I had to do? I had to move. I had to move in with my mother in southeastern Ohio, 20 minutes out of the nearest town and there I was. And you know what? I got a job. I got a job at my very first radio station in Athens, Ohio as a secretary making $8.00 an hour, and I was so fucking grateful for that job. And my people caught me. You know, they caught me, they gave me a great job and there I was, and I was just stunned. And I sat back reflected on A) how am I ever going to get back to my career? Is this the end of it all?
And I ended up getting a job a visitors bureau right when they went through– The Athens Visitor’s Bureau. My home town. Right when they were going through a website redesign and that’s when I got my hands on digital. So, I had been at that PR agency, it was awesome, I learned so much, and they did a lot of marketing too. But here I was in the world of digital for the first time, and I fell in love, and I learned SEO, and I learned a little bit of social because now we were using MySpace.
Emma: You’re not that old. Come on.
Alaina: Oh yeah. I am.
So then I go on a really terrible date, which I think is on my blog as well. I think I may have written about it. With an extremely conservative Christian, who decides that he can’t be with me because the devil tempted him when I wore a red dress or something like that. And that, at that point, pushed me over the edge and I called a headhunter in Columbus, Ohio and said, “I’m ready. I’m ready to come back. I want out of here. I have one year of digital copywriting experience. Get me a job.”
And at that time I was up to $24,000 or something. And he gave me– He got me a job at an agency and I jumped from that $24,000, $20-something salary, all the way up to $75,000 in a weekend. So I was back on top. I moved back to Columbus. I got an apartment with my sweet Benjamin and we were just the happiest campers in the world, and I was working at this amazing agency, and I was working on huge clients. NAPA and McDonalds, and it was a dream. It was a dream. I had made it back to this amazing place in my career, with having so much fun with the blog and everything. I learned SEO at night while blogging. I continued that, and social, and everything else. So I was just this digital strategist, born waiting to become a strategy director or, you know, in the end, I started my own agency. But this creative director, the first thing that happened, I walked in on him watching porn at work in his office. So, I talk about that. And then he came up to me and said, “I can’t be alone in a room with you because I don’t know what will happen.”
And that was the moment when I thought, “Is this– Wait– Is this really happening? Is this actually happening? Why is this happening? I love my job, why does this have to even be– Why?” You know? Because most of us, when this kind of shit happens we don’t want it to be happening. We’re trying to work. We’re trying to get our shit done. We’re trying to get a promotion or help our company grow. You know? Nobody asks for this. So, eventually, long story short, he offers me a raise essentially to not say anything about certain things, because other things happened. And I go into HR, and I report him, finally.
Emma: With an email. With an email in hand. So you’re like, “This is a slam dunk. I’m coming out of here– I’m probably gonna get a promotion here.”
Alaina: Yeah, because he had emailed me this raise offer to be quiet. So, I print it out. I’m so excited. I have evidence. I’m certain that they’re gonna send him packing or at least– I don’t even know what’s going to happen. I’m just so relieved that maybe I can get some support and start to do my job again. I bring it in, and the HR director says– She’s brand new at the company, and she’s like, “Oh this is exciting. Don’t worry about it. Go home. Do you need to go home?” It was a Friday. “You can come back in on Monday. He won’t be your manager anymore. You’re not gonna have to see him anymore. He’s not gonna be– You won’t be his direct report. You won’t be right underneath him.”
I come back in on Monday. She had clearly spoken to, I’m assuming, this is an assumption that she had spoken to the man in charge of the agency and she looked pretty defeated, and she said, “You know what? You’re gonna have to keep working with him. Just let me know if anything else happens.”
That’s when I plotted leaving and put the pieces together to start my own agency.
So, he ends up– It continues, and he ends up bringing me into a public area of the agency to tell me to tell me, because he still can’t be alone in a room with me so I can’t get my work approved, I can’t go meet with him, and he ends up saying that he wants to move me to PR, outside of advertising, in a completely different department. That’s when I plotted leaving and put the pieces together to start my own agency.
So then, flash forward, up to this point in the story I am still in complete denial that sexism really exists. I am in denial that this is affecting my life in a profound way and actually costing me a lot of money, and time, and duress, and everything else. I start my agency and I’m rocking in, and I’m getting my first clients, which by the way, takes a very long time because I’m out selling by myself. It took me one year to get my first client. One year. One year. Even though I could rank a website number one in the world for terms like, how do you date a single mom, and I could make a website, I had my contract, I was so damn good, and still am at all of that I feel, and couldn’t get this– couldn’t get that first client until she finally hired me and it was a reader, a blog reader, my first client.
Emma: Let me just pause you there. I was just in a few days meetings with this new partner that I signed on with and I found myself telling, like all my big contracts over the last couple years have been from single mom readers.
Alaina: Wow, that’s awesome.
Emma: Yeah, like I’m doing all these big speaking gigs now. They’re all from just, readers. It’s just all my big contracts all come from just awesome, kickass single moms that are in positions to make big decisions. And the world–
Alaina: Isn’t it wonderful?
Emma: It is. And it’s like, it’s such a beautiful thing. So anyways, continue on.
Alaina: It is. They catch you, you know? They were my wings. My readers are my wings. They helped me get to the point where I could quit my job. I lived off of that blog for a while. I don’t know if they know that to this day of how they saved me. You know, I helped them and they helped me, and it’s just wonderful. Karma, it’s the universe, you know? I remember talking to my husband about the EDGE, minority business, EDGE certificate you can get in Ohio. It’s listed underneath physical handicapped on the state of Ohio websites for women and minority owned businesses. And like I said, I refuse to get that. I’m gonna win my business on my own, and I’m not at a disadvantage. I don’t need it, and he said, “Yes, you are. Yes, you are.” And this kept happening.
“I was in denial, but we get more contracts when men sell.”
I was still in denial until finally, I start bringing, one, in particular, a nice tall, attractive, lovely, white man, to my new business meetings. And you know what happens with him sitting next to me? They ask me a question and I’m answering, and he may not even know the answer, my colleague, but they’re looking at him to see if he’s agreeing with what I am saying. It was the most profoundly disturbing– He could see it, I could see it, and guess what? Sales jumped by 40 percent. The pitch to close date was cut in half. So, instead of two months to close, it would be like four weeks or something, before we’d get a check in our hand and the business is signed and one. Everything was different when a man was in the room.
Emma: You know what’s interesting though? Like, so what’s your feelings, because I mean the stories about you being harrassed by like these bosses, they’re really explicit. But do you think those, that what you just described, about how more effective the sales were with like, it’s your subordinate, right? This is your employee that’s sitting next to you, who is a white dude. Is that explicit, or is that something like perfectly nice, progressive, thoughtful people, that’s just unconsciously are making those decisions?
Alaina: I wish I had the answer. I don’t know. I think we are all, we all have implicit bias. We all have it. I mean, the science does show us that. Now, for every new business meeting we had we said, we’ve got to bring the man. And it was either him or another one at this point. But, a man had to be there. I ended up moving into my second phase. I was no longer in denial. I was in complete acceptance and acknowledgement and it’s a sad place. I, for me, I felt so defeated. I didn’t want to go into work at my own agency. I felt powerless. It all just came raining down as a professional, and personally as a woman. It’s just, it’s a shocking thing. And it’s why many of us don’t want to accept that it exists. We don’t want to talk about it. Many women don’t want to talk about it. You know, we’re finding that they do at all of these events all over the country that we go to, but there are just as many women who aren’t coming, you know? So, we’re trying to get everybody at the table to start talking about it and talking to each other.
So, then when I had that event in Columbus, when I told that story up to that point, out loud, I had no idea what to expect that day. But, when I told it, up to that point, that moment in that room with all of the women in the room, changed my life and their life, and we all walked out saying we have to have this group. This group has to exist. Columbus Women in Digital. So, it started like that. And we met very frequently. We kept– Our meetings kept selling out. The next one sold out in two days. Two days we couldn’t fit them all.
Emma: So, when you say we have to have this meeting, why? Why is this so important?
Alaina: At first we didn’t know the answer to that. You know, why is this– what just happened? What was that? And now, ever since, it’s been a year and I’ve read every book I can get my hand on. And Rebecca Solnit, her new book The Mother of All Questions, it’s excellent, and in it she talks in the first essay, she talks about how women need to tell their stories and be heard and be validated, and if they’re validated, they’re free. If we can hear each other. If we can talk about it out loud. And then Gloria Steinham, how she toured the country and had circles of women together, face to face, you know? Her book, My Life on the Road, is all about how important it is for us to meet face to face. Not over the screen, or through the screen, but we need to actually meet.
So, the evolution has become after a couple meetings, I came up with this idea of doing an ask and give pledge. I wanted us all to sign a pledge, I knew that. But I didn’t know, what would be a part of that pledge? And the idea is that we have, within these local chapters, that as members we have to make 12 asks a year, and 12 gives. The asks are very hard. So, me asking you for help means I have to be vulnerable and say, “I really need this.” And we’ve done that before, haven’t we? I called you, I don’t know, a year ago, and you helped me out. I mean, we do that for each other.
Emma: Yeah, it’s not hard for me.
Alaina: Right. You came up to me and that’s how we met. You were asking me for help, and it changed your life because I was able to give you that.
Emma: 100 percent. It really did. Because this is like, my whole life now. For better or worse.
Alaina: Oh, it’s amazing. It’s amazing what you’ve done.
Emma: But I did. I borrowed that. I just got, just right now, just got off the phone, so I have like a little mini-mastermind with another blogger. It’s these two gay guys that have, it’s a similar business as mine, but it’s two gay guys, and I told them about you and the ask and the give. And we’re like, okay, we’ll just– we just did it off the cuff this month, but next month we’re going to come prepared with at least one ask. We do it informally, it’s not like an emotional hurdle for us but it’s just, it’s different when you’re preparing your ask because then you’re constantly like, thinking about it.
Alaina: Right. And it’s changing their mindset. So, what happens, and in each new city I go to, they say, “Give us examples. What is an ask? What is a give?” And I give examples of, “Okay, an example of an ask is you asking a colleague at a competing agency or company, who just got a similar promotion to the one you want, ask her how much she makes. Ask her how she got that promotion. How did she negotiate that raise?” Or, it could be something like, “Hey, I need to learn Google Analytics, can you teach me?” So, what that stuck, and we hear women talking about the asks and gives outside of our meetings of course. They have lunches with each other, they are exchanging favors and power, and now they’re doing it every day on the slack channel. If you become a member, you have access to our slack, and you can get in there and trade asks and gives all day. And it’s crazy. The monetary value of these things, too. It’s astonishing. So–
Emma: So, just give us a quick snapshot. What does it mean to be a member of the organization?
Global organization for women in digital technology
Alaina: Yeah, so you can join, so we started selling memberships in March of this year because we realized A) I want to do this. I want to be able to do this. I have one full-time employee of Cement, and myself. We’ve been dedicated to this, Michelle and I now full time since February, as I told you. And we have to figure out a way to pay ourselves. Cement, my agency, seed funded it up to this point, and ticket sales to events that we would have in Columbus, seed funded the whole thing. But, we want to make this a real for-profit organization. Not all run by volunteers to make sure that it’s quality for our members. So, the membership if you buy it, and it’s $40.00 a month, you get access to that Slack channel, you get a beautiful welcome kit, it’s so cool.
Emma: I got it. Oh, I should, yeah, I got my bracelet. It’s a really pretty beaded bracelet and I think it’s all like, free trade. Like, all kind of good stuff. Like, pretty– You’re always good with that. See like, you always gave your readers, like sold them pretty stuff. I don’t even care about that stuff so I’m like– Hurting my business.
Alaina: But you’re enjoying it.
Emma: Yes, I am. But the real– So, you get access to the events, but it’s really the community. And I have paid for community in the past and I cannot tell you the value of that. People like, might dismiss it, like, “Oh, you’re paying to be in like a digital. Like, I’ll just get on Facebook.” No. No. It’s a curated group of successful women, and that’s it. Like, that’s how I built my whole business is just who I knew, or who knew me. That’s it.
Alaina: Yeah. Oh, and this August we are rolling out peer circles. So you will have some in New York City with other members, and you have the option to join one and meet once a month, and really get into, for half a day, processing your asks and gives. And we experimented in Minneapolis, I think, we had an impromptu ask and give peer circle, because we had time, we had a smaller group. It’s tremendous because the women across the table get it. They know what you’re going through in digital. So they can directly advise you and help you to solve whatever challenge you’re facing. So, those launch in August.
Emma: Oh I’m actually really excited about that. But this is– Back this thing way up so you and I can talk shop about what digital media is because a lot of people listening don’t know. Like, they don’t understand what digital media even is.
Alaina: That’s true.
Emma: So, give me like, just for those not in the know, like what it is and how big it is, and how many people and women are in this industry and who will be. I mean, it’s growing so fast.
Alaina; Oh, that’s a great question and point. So, anybody in marketing and advertising and communications today. So, that could be, the women who are selling ads, digital ads for their local TV station, or it could be an ad agency that creates the ads that you see on the commercials. So, anybody who’s out there in the marketing and creative space. Most of us in those industries are in digital. So, if you are in advertising today, you need to know about digital.
Emma: Well, it’s going to be on that. I mean, even if you are just, work for a small local business and run the Facebook page. I mean, my business is all digital marketing, that’s all I do. It looks like I just sit around and write for fun, but my business is all digital marketing and I’m a blogger. Yeah.
Alaina: Yeah, that’s a good point. Huge value if you’re coming in and you don’t have much knowledge about, you’re just learning about, or you’re running that Facebook page for a local business, you’ll learn so much from the members. Because you can get on the ask channel and say, “Hey, teach me how to do this and that.” And all of our members, even if they are bona fide, getting paid full time to run a Facebook page for a huge brand, they are still learning themselves about other things too.
Emma: And here’s a question, do you think that sexism is somehow worse in digital media than in other industries?
Alaina: Maybe. So, what I’m– I can’t speak with any, you know, experience or expertise in being in other industries. I can say that the mad men era, the ad agencies and where we come from in that industry– I mean, if you’ve seen Mad Men, I mean, that is all very– All of that definitely was happening. So, I think there’s carry-over for sure. So, the creative director I talked about, he was a, you know, 50-something, jingle writer. Who knows what he was up to in the 80s and the 90s. I think, unfortunately, especially in the Midwest, that sexism is rampant in any industry that you choose. One thing that I feel so empowered by with our group, we are the most powerful of any women who’ve taken a collective stance in history, because we can create websites, we can create movements, we can start some serious shit if we want to. And once we’re done with this and ourselves, or, we’ll never be done, but once we’ve gotten to critical mass, we’re gonna turn toward other industries and helping women and children non-profits and do all kinds of incredible things. And this is something that I want to clone for women in architecture and engineering, women teachers, women in education. This group that we have can easily be shared with any other industry. So–
Emma: Oh I like that. So talk a little bit more why you’re structuring it as a for-profit.
Alaina: I had some counsel on that from my business advisors, and if you’re, and again, I’m not an expert, but if you– as a non-profit, things are going to be tougher. If we do become profitable I want to be able to give to whoever or do whatever. So it seems like from– To grow it into a big viable business, being a non-profit could be limiting. What I’d like to ultimately become is a social enterprise. So, we choose what we’re going to do with our profits to help certain organizations.
Emma: Well, you can just do whatever the hell you want then.
Alaina: I know. I know, and you know me. I am such an, I don’t know. I feel like I just want to make– I know my moral compass and what I want to do with this group, and so, I’m not worried about the technical side of it. But, the other thing I don’t want, I don’t want people– I don’t want this to be volunteer run. Like, AMA and AdVed, it depends on the city–
Emma: Say what those are. Say what they are.
Alaina: Well, American Marketing Association and the Advertising Federation of America. It depends on the city, but those– They’re all volunteer run professional organizations. And they tend to be, not as awesome as our events. We spend a lot of money on our events. We make sure that there’s like, actual booze there, and food, and incredible speakers.
Emma: Yeah. No, you know what, like, you’re talking my talk on so many levels. So, I have my own small thing where my Kickass Single Mom grant, where I give away $1,000 every month to a mom, and all these people are like– You know, you’re usually corporate, let’s face it. The corporate people, they’re like, “Oh well when you become a 501c3.” And I’m like, “No, I will never do that.” Like, I will never do that because it’s like, it’s just not in the spirit of what we do. I like to make my own money, I like to do whatever the hell I want to do. I want to give this money to some woman who I think is awesome. I don’t want to run it by anybody else. I don’t want to go to a meeting. And you’re– You know what you’re doing? Because women love to, “We’re gonna get people to help. We’re gonna get volunteers.” And, “Oh, it’s so embarrassing to make money for a good cause. That’s such in bad taste.” You’re like, “Fuck you.” Just say it. You want to make money off of this. You want to go to some place where there’s good drinks and good food.
I went to your event and there was awesome food and drink, and I pigged out and I got a little bit buzzed. And it took money, right? And the spirit of this is empowering women to feel good, and comfortable, and awesome about making money. So, you can’t do that when you’re begging for volunteers and donations. Ugh!
Alaina: Right. And, I think that we have so much that we can spend it on for ourselves. I just don’t want to deal with the legal stuff. And the non-profit just seemed a lot harder. But yeah, we also need to hire a full badass staff at good salaries, to run regional. I want regional directors, and like I said, I want to branch this out across every industry. Yeah, it has to be a for-profit.
Emma: Right. You’re creating a new economy. You can’t do that if you’re constrained by a 501c3 or whatever.
Alaina: Yep. I even put it on our About page. I was like, “We are not a non-profit and here’s why- because we’re gonna be making a lot of money and spending it on you as a member.” So, there you go.
Emma: And pay yourself an awesome salary I hope, without any shame.
Alaina: Oh yeah. Yeah. I have to be paid what I need to make, otherwise, I won’t have my house and therefore I won’t be able to do anything.
Emma: Well, who cares? No, no. No, no, no. We need to make as much money as we want to make. Not because we need to pay mortgage and buy diapers. No, we need to make money because we want to make money and a lot of it.
Alaina: This is true. This is true. I have a terrible problem with savings, Emma. So, if I– I don’t know what I’m gonna do when I retire if I can ever retire. Because I can’t apparently quit working. I have so much in me. So much energy.
Emma: Yes. So, let’s see, what was my next question? That’s it. You’re just killing it all over the place and it’s all for women. And you have such a great woman story. I always think like, single moms are kind of like the ultimate example of feminism.
Alaina: I agree with you. Absolutely. We are the most powerful.
Emma: And like, expression. An expression of what women are capable of. I mean, we– it’s tough. Your story illustrates like, how tough it can be. I know when you tell your story, you were a domestic violence situation with your first husband, and you were making that $8.00 an hour, living with your mom, which, nobody wants to do that, but you– I am so grateful for this moment in history where awesome women like you can go out and build these big businesses, and find love, and define family on your own terms. And then, this is what’s so beautiful about women is they go and create other opportunities for other women.
Alaina: I know. I know, it’s the most– This is the most remarkable, fulfilling thing I have ever done in my entire life. I absolutely love every minute of this. And I can’t wait, so, we’re gonna go to Seattle in October, and we’re thinking about Denver and LA before the national conference. So, everybody should know about the national conference, and that’s in October in Columbus, Ohio, which is lovely. You should come.
Emma: I would totally be there, except that is right after my book launches, and I’m in the middle of my book launch stuff, but otherwise, I would absolutely be there.
Alaina: Awe, you should launch your book at the conference.
Emma: Well, let’s talk. There might be something, but it’s gonna be very tight. But, we’ll talk about it.
Okay, so before we leave– Well, two– Okay one, tell us how we can find Women in Digital.
Alaina: Yeah, it’s womenin.digital that’s the website address. No .com, just .digital.
Emma: Awesome. And, what’s your ask? I have an ask and you have an ask. What’s our asks?
Alaina: For you, or the listeners?
Emma: No, I’m asking you. You ask me, and I’ll ask you.
Alaina: I’m gonna give you an ask? To you personally, or to the listeners?
Emma: Yeah, we’re gonna show them how it’s done.
Alaina: Oh, okay.
Emma: Yeah, but I want a real ask, not like a fake one. Like, what’s something that– This is what we would usually say in New York when we go out, we’re always like, “What can I help you with?”
Alaina: You are in New York City, so if you can do– If you have any huge like, keynote speakers that you have access to, or through your network, that could be very useful. I’m trying to get ahold of Susan Fowler with Uber, she had an agent now, but the agent hasn’t written me back.
Emma: Okay. And you guys have a budget for that?
Alaina: Yeah, maybe. It depends. It depends. I’m nervous. I’m nervous. It’s our first conference, I don’t know if we’re gonna sell out or not, you know? Scary.
Alaina: So, is that a weak one? That’s what I need right now though.
Emma: No, that’s what’s on top of your mind. No. I think it’s an awesome one. Like, it’s huge when you’re promoting an event, like, who is the keynote?
Emma: Okay, so my asks is, I’m looking– I’m hot in PR mode for my book, so you know, other podcasters, anything. Local, national, new media, old media, that’s interested in writing about me, having me as a guest, doing book reviews.
Alaina: You got it. Absolutely. I’ll keep my eye on my inbox. In my old Ms. Single Mama inbox, I should just give you the login, because there’s all kinds. Oh that poor website, we need to update it. But yes, I will keep my eyes and ears open for you.
Emma: Yeah, and likewise.
Alaina: There’s stuff that comes my way from that, a lot.
Emma: Okay, and everybody else heard us, and I believe in putting it out there, and it comes back, and it’s so beautiful.
Alaina: Yes, it does.
Emma: Thank you, so much.
Alaina: Thank you, Emma. Bye.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.