Women in eCommerce Spotlight: Program Founder Sahana Sekaran
In 2018, Contentsquare launched our Women in eCommerce program to connect and empower women in the industry and promote gender equality in the workplace. The program aims to share the stories and amplify the voices of outstanding women and advocates in the field, as well as educate people on the challenges facing women in the modern workplace. Currently, we host a number of events to discuss pertinent female-centric issues and topics in the workplace and eCommerce industry, as well as organize networking opportunities to help invest in our members’ personal and professional growth.
But behind every great masterpiece is a great artist, and this program wouldn’t be what it is today without founder and Contentsquare Senior Marketing Manager Sahana Sekaran. We sat down with Sahana to learn how she came up with the idea for Women in eCommerce, why the mission matters to her, and what’s in store for the future of the program.
Here’s what she had to say:
1. How did you come up with the idea to create Women in eCommerce?
When I first joined Contentsquare, I was responsible for organizing our events and sourcing speakers. The idea for Women in eCommerce came to me about two years ago at our annual conference. This event is our biggest event of the year and has a lot of senior executives attending, so the pressure was on. I was really proud of the event and our teams’ effort, but when I looked up at the stage, I noticed there was zero diversity on our panel.
I tick a few diversity boxes myself, so I was quite embarrassed to realize that I had not at all thought about the diversity or representation of who we put up on stage. I told my team and said we have to actively do something about this because we have a responsibility to think about selecting diverse speakers and perspectives to create more inclusive events.
I tried to find an existing group, but I couldn’t find anything specific to eCommerce, which surprised me because it’s such a huge industry. It was a no-brainer to me that if a program didn’t already exist then we should just create our own. I pitched the idea of Women in eCommerce and my team was behind it 100%.
2. What is the purpose of Women in eCommerce?
The goal of the Women in eCommerce program is to create a community of women and advocates in the industry, encourage those women to speak out about their personal experiences, and raise awareness around gender, diversity, and inclusivity in eCommerce. We wanted to build a community and give everyone a platform where they can find, hear from, and connect with amazing speakers who otherwise might not had have the opportunity to share their stories. We host events so eCommerce professionals can come together, network with like-minded people, and learn more about the challenges and opportunities women face in the modern workplace.
A panel of female leaders speaking at a past Women in eCommerce event
3. How has the program grown since it first began?
Our first event was in September of last year with around 50 attendees. In January, we had our second event with about 100 people. And our last event was virtual in June and we were excited to have 150 people attend. We’ve seen quite a nice pattern of attendance and I’m expecting way more than 200 at our next virtual event in August. This will be our first global event and we’re excited to welcome speakers from top brands like Intersport, Adidas, Tile, Van Cleef & Arpels.
We’ve also started a Women in eCommerce Coffee Club, which helps women find mentors, mentees, and peers. We’ve set up quite a few people on coffee dates and skype calls to introduce them to someone new or find them someone to talk to about a specific interest, challenge, or opportunity.
4. Can anyone be a member? How do you join?
We want this program to be for everyone. We want it to be led by women and discuss topics relevant to women, but the whole point of this community is to get everyone in eCommerce who cares about this cause to be a part of this. We want men, managers, senior executives, junior staff, people who work for agencies, people who work in-house for brands—you name it—to come and listen to what the people we’re putting on stage have to say.
We’re always open to new members! You can follow our LinkedIn page for updates or register for our next Global Women in eCommerce event. You’ll receive our emails for upcoming events and initiatives as well as any program updates.
Again, I just want to say again that we encourage everyone to come to these events. You don’t have to be a woman in eCommerce to care about gender and diversity and want to make a change. Bridging that gap and bridging the diversity issue that we have in eCommerce is everyone’s responsibility, which is why we want everybody to participate.
Event attendees mingle and network at the bar
5. What would you say are the biggest challenges facing women in eCommerce today?
I think there are plenty of challenges and a lot of them are issues at women face generally in the workplace and are not unique to the eCommerce industry. Topics that we’ve had come up at past events are the lack of female representation in leadership and management roles, workplace situations where it’s difficult to be a woman or speak up, how to deal with imposter syndrome and more. Women don’t necessarily have as many women mentors or people in leadership roles to look up to, so Women in eCommerce trying to bridge that gap and connect women with other powerful female professionals in the industry and remind people they’re not alone.
6. How did you find your way to a career in the tech industry?
I’ve sort of stumbled across everything I’ve done so far in my career. I grew up in a small town in Wales and by the age of 18, I decided that I needed to go to university in a big city and get away. I went to London to study psychology but panicked in my first year when I realized that I didn’t want to study another nine years to become a clinical psychologist.
Luckily, a friend of a friend connected me with a marketing internship in London and I basically skipped all of my university classes to intern with an education company. I just loved it. I had finally found something that I was really good at and enjoyed.
After working there for a while, I realized tech was a more exciting industry for marketing because it’s ever-changing. I found and applied for Contentsquare about three and a half years ago and joined back then the team was only ten people. I immediately saw the value in what Contentsquare is doing, I loved the people, and the role was great. Today, I’m a senior marketing manager on the UK marketing team and as part of my job, I get to oversee the Women in eCommerce program.
Sahana hosting a Women in eCommerce virtual event with Sinead Rose of We Are We
7. What is your favorite memory from a past event?
I have two. My first is that I love getting speakers on the stage who haven’t spoken publicly before. At two of our previous events, we had two speakers who had ever done public speaking before, so I was so excited that we could give them the opportunity to have their voices heard and share their experiences. One of the speakers told me public speaking had always been on her bucket list, but that she had been too scared to actually go through with it. I think my favorite memory was working with both of them, seeing them present on stage for the first time, and learning that our event gave them the confidence to actually go on to speak at other events.
My second is that I love how personal our events get. Every speaker shares their life experiences with our audience and I feel like there aren’t many events where people are so willing to open up about both good and bad experiences they’ve had in the past. One of our speakers founded her own company and shared the struggles, successes, and battles she had to have to get where she is today. Another speaker who one of the 1% of black females at Google at the time shared what that was like, how it made her feel, and how she had to overcome imposter syndrome. All of our speakers allow themselves to be so vulnerable and I really admire the bravery and courage it takes to open yourself up to an audience like that.
8. What do you have planned for the future of the Women in eCommerce program?
Right now we’re predominantly focusing on events and our coffee mentorship program, but we really want to turn this into a larger community. While we plan to continue hosting events with incredible speakers, we also want to build-out more initiatives in-between our events to keep our members connected. We want to give our members a space where they can continue conversations online, network, find mentors and mentees, and share relevant content.
Lastly, we want to link up with and support like-minded charities. We’ve been talking to few programs that help young women jumpstart their careers with internships at eCommerce and tech companies and we’re looking into ways we can help with what these charities are already doing, as well as connect these young women with mentors, and more. More on all that soon to come!
To learn more about Women in eCommerce and receive updates on upcoming events and initiatives, follow us on LinkedIn.
Or, join us on Friday, August 21 from 9:00-11:00 AM ET for our first-ever global Women in eCommerce event. We’ll be discussing gender and diversity in the eCommerce industry with a panel or female leaders from Adidas, Intersport, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Tile. Register here.