Paid family leave. It is crazy to me that the United States is still the only industrialized nation without paid maternity leave. The craziest part, there is so much research outlining how paid leave supports our economy. If we factor the cost of hiring when someone quits and the amount of money people spend on their children, we’ve got boom not bust! We can’t penalize women for being the gender who makes babies. In 2018,the New York Times reported, each child a woman has chops 4 percent off of her hourly wages.

As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ayla Peacock, Director of Digital Strategy at Spire Digital in Denver, CO. A Creative Writing major turned SEO expert, Ayla’s path to marketing was built from very real experience helping enterprise B2B companies kickstart content strategy, demand gen, and marketing automation initiatives, with a keen focus on driving profitable revenue “Fluffy marketing statistics about awareness or impressions don’t float my boat; let’s get to the good stuff,” she says. “When I have my way, there are no long meetings about button placement, headline text, or page structure. We have A/B tests, Google Analytics, and clickmaps to answer these questions…faster and with less drama.” Originally from Cleveland, Ayla is unapologetic in a crusade to convince real Denver natives she’s one of them. Her weekends are spent skiing or hiking with 2 poorly behaved rescue dogs. She also serves on the board of Together Digital (fka Women In Digital) as Speaker Chair. Ayla has lived in rural China, southern France, and on a boat in the Caribbean. Needless to say, these experiences have changed the way she does most things, including her job.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

I had a sexist boss (this is how all great stories start, right). I was a junior salesperson on a team with all men. The sales director would not delegate leads to me. Instead, he’d overwhelm my male counterparts with leads, some of whom had been at the company only weeks compared to my multi-year tenure.

At the start, I was confused, angry, confrontational. But realizing these hurdles are faced by most women in the workplace, I found motivation. If my boss didn’t see me as part of his team, as worthy of opportunity, I would find my own. So, I became a marketer out of necessity. I ran email campaigns, incorporated marketing automation, learned PPC, and mastered content marketing. Eventually, I made a case to be promoted off of the sales team and started my own marketing practice. A few months later, I was noticed by a bigger firm who offered me the chance to their marketing department from the ground up.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

I started my career at Spire as one of two marketing strategists. My counterpart was male, same title, same level of experience. On day one, I worked up the courage to ask him about his compensation plan. Surprisingly, he was totally open to the conversation and thankfully, we were making the same amount. I now make it a practice to talk about my compensation with my team, with strangers, with my mom. It makes everyone feel valued and comfortable. No shady business!

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career, I worked for a well-known magazine in Denver. Before events or on behalf of advertisers, I ran errands, usually to pick up a bottle of wine or drop off a gift. I made almost no money so to save on parking I frequently walked to work.

One sunny day, I was asked to pick up crackers at 34 Degrees Crisps. Having walked to work and not wanting to disappoint my boss, I accepted the task and set out on a 2.1 mile trek to the 34 Degrees warehouse. I arrived to 1,000 boxes of crackers, literally. Flustered and embarrassed, I told the cracker people I’d have to come back. Almost immediately their marketing director volunteered to drive me and the crackers back to my office. It took us a good half-hour to get all the crackers into her car and I hung my head out the window to navigate.

Here is what I learned: No one, no matter their title, schedule, or stature, is too busy to help someone out. In the publishing world (and everywhere, really) people are proud of saying no, being “too busy.” All the while, the director of this important company was willing to get her hands dirty and drive a lowly intern across town during rush hour. In my work and life, I try never to say I am too busy. Instead I might politely say, “that isn’t a priority for me” or “let me get back to you next week.” Making time to support people is important to me. The equity in being a good person comes back around.

Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2019, women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?

1. No paid leave. I’ll say this one bluntly, I have been turned down for a job because I am “of childbearing age.” The words were not explicit but the message was clear. I don’t plan to have children soon but because I am capable and might require 3–6 months off, I am a risky hire. If they hire too many women in my age bracket and we all take maternity leave, the company is underwater. Because our bodies are built to bear children, we alone carry this “risk” to employers when, in fact, the risk is to our careers. Being away from work when our male counterparts are in the office getting ahead is risky and the risk compounds with every child a woman has. Without paid leave for everyone, men and women, we will never have equal footing.

2. Limited wage transparency. Most companies depend on employees hiding their salaries. Then, if someone is paid unfairly, they’ll never find out. Moreover, if someone is underpaid in their first job, that pay follows them every time they’re asked about salary history in an interview. Harvard Business Review revealed that only 7% of women negotiate their first salary compared to 57% of men. So, I share my compensation plan with whoever wants to hear. How else do we know the worth of our roles? I am impressed with Denver’s new governor who recently signed the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act. Colorado employers will be required to announce to all employment advancement opportunities and the pay range for the opportunities. This will change everything.

3. The confidence gap. As noted by The Atlantic, Hewlett-Packard was recently working to bring more women into leadership positions. And they couldn’t. It was discovered that women would only apply to internal postings when they met 90% of listed qualifications, while men applied when they met 60%. Women are more likely to work hard to get noticed, while men get noticed because they ask to be promoted, acknowledged, paid more, invited to a meeting, given an office, etc, etc. This behavior is ingrained and we must notice it so we can solve for it.

Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

Every time I negotiate my salary I tell myself I am doing it for “womankind.” If I feel nervous or ambivalent about asking for a raise, this helps me feel confident and motivated. For me, in this way, knowledge is power. My awareness of the wage gap, of unfair treatment in the workplace, and of bias toward women has made it possible for me to confront it. I make it my mission to educate the people around me about how I want to be treated and I am lucky to work for a company who is willing to listen. Spire has flexible work, breast-feeding rooms, and unlimited PTO, all things that support working mothers and women in the workplace. More importantly though, this company is willing to have the conversation and hear criticism. For example, a coworker once started off a casual internal email with “Hi ladies.” Even though the three people the email was addressed to are all women, I explained that it’s not necessary or appropriate to identify people by their gender in a salutation. He respected my feedback, and is now more likely to start such an email with “Hi people.”

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.

Paid family leave. It is crazy to me that the United States is still the only industrialized nation without paid maternity leave. The craziest part, there is so much research outlining how paid leave supports our economy. If we factor the cost of hiring when someone quits and the amount of money people spend on their children, we’ve got boom not bust! We can’t penalize women for being the gender who makes babies. In 2018,the New York Times reported, each child a woman has chops 4 percent off of her hourly wages.

Male advocates. Men still dominate the C-suite in America. Until women can infiltrate the boys’ club, we need their help. We must have conversations with men about their influence, good and bad. In the wake of #metoo, it’s been found that men are less likely to have closed door meetings with women and so, less likely to mentor them. Without a mentor, it is difficult to make it to the C-suite. Without women in leadership, the cycle continues.

Raise boys and girls the same. On the playground, girls are told to be careful. Boys are told they’re strong. Boys are asked to speak up in class. Because boys are more likely to speak up, they’re more likely to experience rejection and learn resilience, skills that help tremendously in the workplace. I am endlessly grateful for my single-sex education at Laurel School where my teachers had us take math tests with pencils that said, “GIRLS ARE GOOD AT MATH.” They believed that if we knew the stigma, we could fight it.

Equal representation in leadership. Businesses do better when women have a seat at the table. Even if companies can prove wage parody, they often can’t justify the rate at which men are promoted versus women. Worse even, they don’t realize there is a problem. It wasn’t until 2011 that US cars were tested with woman-sized crash test dummies. Still in 2019, that crash test dummy is a scaled down version of a male who sits in the passenger’s seat 1 out of every 10 tests. I am certain this would not be the case if women were equally represented in leadership.

Press the buttons. This stuff is heavy, which makes solutions feel far off. They’re not. If a wage gap is discovered in a company, big or small, the CEO needs to press the buttons on their computer to correct the problem. Yes, we have a lot of work to do. Sometimes we have to convince the CEO that a problem exists. But if we have good data and we have good conversations, it is up to leadership to do the right thing. And in this case, the right thing makes life better for everyone, including shareholders.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Everyone woman has been there, sharing an idea in a meeting when a man interrupts her to change the topic, criticize the idea, or even take credit for it. The best way I’ve discovered to combat this: find an ally. If you hear a colleague get interrupted, support her, or better, parrot her idea and give credit to its author. For example, “Lauren’s idea about the company retreat was interesting, I’d love to hear more.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If the elevator goes up for you, send it back down.” Empowering the people around me to do better makes me better.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I spend my commute listening to podcasts. My most favorite podcast is How I Built This with Guy Raz who interviews important entrepreneurs about how they started their companies. I would love to share breakfast with Guy Raz, he has talked with, in my opinion, some of the world’s more important people and has their wisdom in his mind. Asking for breakfast with him is kind of like wishing for more wishes.

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.


“5 Things We Need To Do To Close The Gender Wage Gap”, with Ayla Peacock and Candice Georgiadis was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.