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Aug 16, 2017

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 without cause.

In an interview, a hiring manager at a big radio station asked if she planned to get pregnant soon. Why? Because pregnant hosts got great ratings, he said.

The big boss at a marketing agency came on to her — then asked via email that she stay silent. HR did nothing — despite the documented transgression — and Shearer was required to keep working under the man. Then she was demoted.

A couple years after founding Columbus, Ohio digital marketing agency, Cement Marketing (which will do $3 million in business in 2017, Shearer says), Alaina's 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.

She 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 looking at my male colleague and looking for his affirmation."

alaina shearer
Alaina Shearer, founder Womenin.Digital

Finally convinced of institutional sexism, Shearer launched 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.

Members include 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 — all of whom are speaking at the first Womenin.Digital Conference Oct. 25-27. Just 4 percent of tickets are available to men — a figure representative of the the number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. "I thought it would be controversial to exclude men from Womenin.Digital, but the women to attend the meetings can share their stories openly when there are only women in the room," Shearer says. 

Womenin.Digital is a for-profit organization, aimed at offering quality services and events. Shearer is unabashed about her desire to pay herself and other women on staff high salaries. Once WomeninDigital is up and running, Shearer plans to replicate the community in other industries. "I want every woman who experienced the discrimination that I experienced  to have a network she can instantly tap into for help," Shearer says. "The crazy part is, we're almost there already."

Learn more about Womenin. Digital here.