How SHE Media’s Samantha Skey combats scrutiny as a female CEO

Courtesy of SHE Media

As a boss, a mom, and a woman in business, SHE Media CEO Samantha Skey often puts emphasis on efficiency.

Minutes into our conversation she quickly affirms that she has a work uniform: jeans or black pants on the bottom, a fairly professional shirt on the top, and then either a jean jacket, a leather jacket, or a blazer. Three pieces total.

“Getting ready quickly is so important to efficiency,” Skey told Ladders. “I need to get ready quickly, especially with two kids who also need to be gotten ready in the morning.”

“I can be fast,” Skey admits, citing her career origins with startup companies as the likely cause for this trait. “I move very urgently, sometimes when it’s probably not necessary, but that’s how my mind works. I feel great urgency with regards to the business, so I’m definitely not mellow.”

Ladders caught up with Skey to find out her thoughts how to combat scrutiny as a woman in business, how she builds relationships, and the future of media– from the bright spots to the dismal truths.

Do you think women are judged more harshly than men in leadership positions?

“I do. I don’t love whining about anything in this area because I think I’ve had a really good opportunity to grow in my career. I’ve had great mentors. I’ve always worked for men and, generally, I’ve had a very good experience.

That said, I think women are watched more closely because there are fewer of us in really senior executive roles. Whenever something looks a bit different than what you’re accustomed to, it’s probably going to get a bit more scrutiny. That doesn’t stop with women, that continues with any other non-white heteronormative male.”

What is your advice for combatting that scrutiny?

“I think that the more aware of it that we are, honestly, sometimes the more distracting it is. If you think of yourself as a woman in business, which I do absolutely, and think of it as a strength rather than a weakness and write that narrative yourself, I think that’s a great advantage.

Finding your collaborators of all genders and profiles is really important. If you isolate yourself, which sometimes any of us have a tendency to do if we’re feeling defensive or a bit of imposter syndrome, we try to hide a bit while maintaining a bit of a glass box around yourself. Anything that takes us away from finding true partners inside of the workforce is negative.

Find that community of people that support you. As a woman in business, and again, not isolating that to other women only, but our female tribes are very important because we can share experiences that might be unique to our gender. For me, men –as bosses, mentors, and collaborators– have been just as critical.”

What’s been the most surprising aspect of being CEO of a digital media company in this environment?

“The degree to which my time is spent on internal work. Managing the organizational structure of the company, managing cost, both in terms of OPEX and COGS. Managing reporting, not just reporting of people, but reporting of the business. I did not know how much time I would spend in analytics and in straight up data management, data reporting. So probably the most surprising element is how much math, statistics, analytics, have come into play for my day to day.”

In a Forbes profile you said yourself that you were one of the few people working in digital sales and marketing in the 90s, so you’ve had your hands in this space longer than most. How has that helped you?

“I started at a digital startup, a tech startup, in ‘95, so there wasn’t a lot of internet at that time. One of the things I didn’t do a great job of articulating in the Forbes interview is that I unwittingly did something very strategic.

Unintentionally, I joined an industry that was really new and fairly intimidating to a lot of more senior people. By doing so, my opportunity as that industry grew was far greater because there was a lot of discomfort with internet content, internet community, and web development.

One of the pieces of advice I often give to people at any stage of their career is to try to find an industry that’s developing, whether it’s AI, or 10 years ago C2C, yield management now for analytics, and data management…we’re always looking for those people because there wasn’t a huge area of development 10 years ago.

So I always suggest that people go into fields that are developing where there’s not already a glut of talented people.”

When it comes to finding your tribe, do you look inside SHE Media or outside of the organization?

“At this stage, for me, it’s outside. That’s an interesting question and interesting reality. Personally I am trying to maintain a certain degree of authority. At the end of the day, all of the people I work with day to day report to me in one way or another, so I am potentially a more stressful presence for them than their peers are. So they are, in some ways, going to be more stressful to me and I have to be careful about speaking too openly about my fears, concerns, and less formulated ideas.

But I have an unbelievably cool group of women who I’ve collaborated with, worked with, acted as a sounding board for, and who have done the same for me over the past 20 years. We get together pretty often, we really commit to time, and we can be brutally honest with one another.

For women in business, it’s really important to have the people who call bulls**t on you, or who will tell you when they think you’re not on the right track, and so I’m really fortunate to have those women who have stayed in their careers and grown in their careers and can give me very transparent, authentic feedback.”

What trends in media are you paying attention to right now?

“AI is an obvious one…building smarter behaviors into the content and community platforms that we all consume. B2C is already explosive. Retail, well, brick and mortar, is under a lot of pressure there, and I think that that is only going to continue as we evolve the way that we shop and find brands.

Privacy and the protection of privacy…whether it’s driven by consumer interest or by industry interest. I think that real attention to the use of our data is going to continue to be a key conversation.

Within smartphones, I think audio is going to be a part of every content experience and that our thumbs will get a rest. Video content that’s tight, communicative, and really consumable is going to live everywhere and be voice activated.

I think publishers are going to keep going out of business, unfortunately, because of compression of advertising margins and the ownership of Google and Facebook on most ad dollars. So I think you’ll see a lot of consolidation, which we’re already seeing lots of in the media. I think it will be a lot of consolidating or shuttering for a lot of mid-size media.”

Do you think that will change how content looks in five to 10 years?

“Yes. Right now content that has been ad-funded for decades is in a challenging spot. True journalism is expensive. So it’s not surprising, given the economics, that we’re seeing fake news and poorly sourced information…largely user-generated. We can all produce photo-based, headline-based content all day long. Advertisers can fund that by funding Facebook or Instagram, or by putting money into Google. None of those platforms are producing journalistic content or even third party verified content, where sourcing is really being assessed.

So I think content is going to continue to devalue and much of the content that’s published will probably continue to diminish. I think the really strong publications will continue to rise to the top. There won’t be as many, so I think that’s the outcome of the economic evolution…although I don’t like it because I don’t like journalism being under assault.”

Do you think events like the BlogHer conference series are a part of the future of media?

“I see live media and community-based content really occurring within what would have traditionally been called ‘events.’ People’s desire to come together remains and many companies, ours included, are generating more profit from those events by producing lots and lots of digital content at the events — along with social media reach.

We have BlogHer Health coming in Los Angeles on February 1 and we will probably hit one billion social impressions fairly easily through all of the publishing that’s occurring in the room. Around 1,000 people publishing consistently, and many of the people who attend our conference are ‘influencers’ or independent content creators and have decent sized audiences.

So we can attain media value through an event now. The event used to be limited to the people in the room. We are producing more and more evergreen content within these forms, so information from experts about health hacks…that kind of content will be emerging on stage but will also be produced behind the scenes with our video production team and that content will have a minimum of 12 to 18 months of value. That’s one of the things that many media companies are doing to continue to build additional content out of these moments we have.

We are doing twice as many BlogHer events this year than we did last year and all of the brands within the Penske Media portfolio, which include Variety, WWDaily, Rolling Stone…we are all really focused on producing live media and increasing that value.

I do think the biggest trend is probably this focus on digital content production within the frame of the event. You can have a relatively small event and still produce extreme reach through your live casting and through production and distribution of real-time content. We all stream across every available social platform, so you’ve got a much bigger community than the one you are reaching in the room.

You have to generate really interesting, highly snackable –I hate that word– but highly consumable content within the room in order to generate that incremental audience online, because the online audience doesn’t want to hear a long panel discussion…they want to hear quick insights and hilarious or inspiring moments.

We are all trying to be really tight on how we produce our events on stage and behind the scenes so that the content is not long and meandering.”