Resident North’s Female Founders Talk Diversity & Inclusion in Digital Marketing

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2024, Resident North’s female founders, Linzi Hunter and Aycan Demirci, give us a candid insight into their journeys from Digital Marketing Executives to successful owners of a thriving digital marketing agency.

We’ll delve into how their business partnership began, the challenges and achievements along the way, and their advice for the next generation of female leaders looking to start their own women-owned business.

First, let’s take a quick look at the current state of play when it comes to gender diversity, particularly female leadership, across the wider business landscape and specifically within digital marketing here in the UK.

Spoiler alert: despite the great strides that have undoubtedly been made to achieve greater gender diversity in the workplace, and the growing number of female founders, there’s plenty more ground to make up.

Female leadership: the current state of play.

Figures from The Gender Index 2024 Report have revealed that of the nearly five million active UK firms operating in 2023, just a fifth (20.1%) were female-led.

That disparity represents huge untapped potential for the economy according to the soon-to-be-rebranded Rose Review, with a massive £250 billion of estimated revenue that could be generated if women were given an equal footing when it comes to starting and scaling businesses.

Within the digital marketing landscape specifically, data is harder to come by in terms of the true extent of women-owned businesses.

They’re out there, as the various lists of the best women-owned digital agencies attest to, but as networking and peer support group Women in Agencies points out, only one in three entrepreneurs in the UK is female, equating to 1.1 million missing businesses – some of which will no doubt be in the digital sector.

What we can say with some certainty is that female leadership is still not where it should be within the digital industry. The Digital Agency Network recently reported the findings of a study conducted by The Agency Collective and Nottingham-based digital agency Hallam that found that, despite the fact that women now outnumber men in the agency workforce (54%), only 40% of senior leadership times have female representation.

There’s no doubt that Resident North’s female founders are pushing boundaries. They’re at the forefront of the growing movement of female entrepreneurs who inspire inclusion – the main focus of #IWD24 – through their leadership. So let’s hear from them.

This is Linzi and Aycan’s account of their personal and collective journeys navigating the digital sector and what inspired them to join forces and launch Resident North.

Starting out in digital.

As is the case for many successful digital marketers, the starting point for both Linzi and Aycan on the first rung of the digital marketing ladder was to learn the ropes as Digital Marketing Executives.

“My digital marketing journey actually started in the formidable environment of a debt collection agency,” said Linzi. “I was fresh off the plane from a year of travelling, bright eyed and ready to get stuck into something new. “The job I took, then advertised as a ‘Digital Marketing Executive’, was something I thought would let me use my design degree to help improve the brand and website.

“I actually ended up being tasked with SEO, link building, copywriting, social media, brochure and flyer design, content uploads, sending emails and data analytics. You name it, I had to do it. It was relentless!

“In such a high-intensity environment, where people were constantly screaming down the phones, I was petrified to ask anyone anything. So I just got my head down, took a CIM course and learnt as much as I could before moving to my first digital marketing agency in Manchester (where I eventually met Aycan).

“That first experience really taught me that if you want to learn something enough you can. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”

Aycan followed a similar path. “After finishing my masters in marketing, I was unsure of my next move. So I actually just Google Mapped ‘digital marketing agency’ and saw that there was a local company not far from where I lived. They didn’t have any job vacancies at the time, so I drafted an email and fired it over hoping for the best! To my surprise I was invited in for an interview and was offered a job as a Digital Marketing Executive.

“From then on, my passion for the digital industry grew and grew. My role was really diverse, assisting clients with SEO, PPC, organic and paid social media, email marketing and content writing. I’ve always tried to apply myself as much as possible in terms of internships and placements to broaden my knowledge and get as much experience as possible in a variety of settings. From social media management for a start-up to events assistant for a charity, I’ve tried to get stuck into everything that was available to me.”

Gender diversity in the workplace.

When it comes to gender diversity in the workplace, both Linzi and Aycan are quick to point out that the wider digital workforces they’ve worked amongst have been fairly equally split. However, where their experiences diverge quite radically is in terms of the gender makeup of owners they’ve worked alongside.

“I’ve always been part of quite a diverse workforce in terms of gender,” said Linzi. “But when it comes to ownership, it was always middle aged white men in the driving seat. Looking back ten years ago, I don’t remember hearing about any women-owned digital agencies on the Manchester scene.

Aycan’s experience couldn’t have been more different. “Looking back, in nearly every single work placement I’ve been in, I’ve been surrounded by female owners. This has shaped my expectations and shifted my own norms in that women ARE leaders.” As a direct consequence, for Aycan female founders have always been the norm rather than the exception. So when it came to setting up with Linzi, gender was never a consideration, let alone a barrier.

Going it alone – together!

And so, Resident North was born. The Liverpool-based digital marketing agency has gone from strength to strength since it was born, with a raft of loyal and satisfied clients, as well as a growing – and typically diverse – workforce of marketing experts.

“The thought of making the move to ownership just came naturally,” said Linzi. “It came after years of not being given opportunities, empty promises and the realisation that the only way to get a seat at the table sometimes is to build your own. I saw that Aycan carried that same spark and the seeds of Resident North were planted. We set out to right the wrongs of the digital industry – both culturally and for our clients.”

“Working with Linzi in two agencies together, we noticed we were hitting the same ceilings over and over,” added Aycan. “It became apparent to us that the only way to break these was to start something of our own. I’ve never set out to own a digital marketing agency. Being risk averse (or so I thought!), it was something that scared me. However, in all of my jobs I’ve always tried to push myself to be the best I can be and drive the business forward in doing so.”

“I’d like to think we’re making better decisions and fostering an inclusive environment that allows for creativity and collaboration,” said Linzi. “I see it as the ‘thank you, next’ of the business world. Every ex-manager has helped us make better decisions for our own business endeavours.”

Advice for aspiring female leaders.

So what words of encouragement do this inspirational pair of digital trailblazers have for aspiring female leaders?

“It’s always the things that you don’t do that you regret the most,” said Linzi. “So just jump in head first and get grafting. Trust your instincts. Make mistakes. Keep learning. Actually listen. Do your research. Ask for help. Forgive yourself. Regardless of whether you succeed or fail, you’ll learn a lot of valuable lessons that help you grow and become the greatest version of yourself.”

“You need to have trust in your skills and expertise,” added Aycan. “You won’t know all of the answers to everything and be the best at every single area of the business. But it’s knowing where your strengths are and leaning into others strengths when you need to. Taking each day at a time is really important for me to not get overwhelmed and focus my efforts on what matters here and now.”

When it comes to inspiring inclusion in the digital sector, championing the successes of female leaders and empowering future female leaders through normalising women-owned businesses – just as Aycan experienced throughout her career – is the best way to move the needle for gender diversity, the pair conclude.

“If we want to inspire inclusion and open new paths for women, we must do better to lift them up,” said Linzi. “It’s our responsibility as women business owners to do so. Through appreciation, promoting what they’ve done, mentoring and becoming advocates of each other, we will inspire others to hopefully do the same. That leads to a whole lot of inspiring inclusion and visibility.”

“I believe that my view of women in leadership roles being the norm is based on the fact that I’ve been surrounded by women in those positions all the way back to my first job in a female owned coffee shop,” added Aycan.

“I think the power of ‘sisterhood’ and bringing women together is so important. There needs to be more support in place that champions building these connections, so that women can be surrounded by stories and experiences that can inspire their own.”

Laying the foundations for the next generation.

Under Linzi and Aycan’s watchful eye, it’s no coincidence that Resident North does things differently. That’s an ethos that starts from the top and filters through to everything the agency does. Linzi and Aycan #InspireInclusion on a daily basis, empowering all our digital marketing experts, regardless of their gender, to be bold, innovative and creative in the pursuit of delivering the most effective and impactful marketing campaigns for our clients.

Although there’s clearly a lot more work to be done to bridge the gender gap across the digital sector as a whole, and particularly to encourage more female founders and women in leadership in general, the likes of Linzi, Aycan and all the other inspirational female agency owners across the UK are laying the foundations for the next generation of female leaders to tread confidently in their footsteps and keep breaking the glass ceiling.

To all the inspiring and aspiring female leaders out there, happy #IWD24.

Linzi Hunter

Linzi Hunter

Creative Director

Linzi is the Co-Founder & Creative Director at Resident North.

Published 08 March 2024

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