I Am Merkle is a series of interviews that showcase the individuals who make Merkle a unique and diverse place to work. In celebration of Women’s Equality Day (8/26) Merkle’s Women’s BRG is featuring the following women in a special edition of I Am Merkle: Why I’m Equal featuring Sarah Painter, Ashley Kennedy, Marina Sanchez, Kristina Easter, and Rachel Colberg.
1. Tell us about yourself; where did you grow up? Where do you live now? What do you like about your current town or city?
Sarah: I’ve lived in four countries but spent most of my childhood in various US cities. I moved to London in 2018 to start our Merkle UK SEO team and have lived here since. Having moved here from snowy Minnesota, I love the mild temperatures in London that allow me to run outside year-round.
Ashley: I grew up and attended college in Central Virginia. I spent the first 10 years of my Merkle career in the Charlottesville, VA office before moving to Seattle for several years and eventually coming back east to my current city of Charlotte, NC. While I haven’t been here long, I’ve enjoyed Charlotte’s climate, especially in the fall, small town feel with big city amenities, and proximity to both the mountains and the ocean.
Marina: I was born and raised in Barcelona, the most wonderful city in the world! This is because you can enjoy the best hiking and skiing in the Pyrenees mountains and diving or snorkeling in the Costa Brava all within a few hour’s drive. Barcelona is an international city by the sea with great weather and even better food and wine. What else can you ask for?
Kristina: I was born in Maine, but started elementary school in Springfield, Massachusetts (home of Dr. Suess) before moving to a rural community in Virginia. After graduating from Virginia Tech with a Marketing Management degree, I lived and worked in Richmond, Virginia and eventually moved back to my small hometown of Amelia, VA when I married my husband, Michael. We have one daughter, Collins. Michael and I volunteer our free time coaching youth softball. Being from a small town, I have personal relationships with the families of those I coach.
Rachel: It’s fitting that I am based out of the Charlottesville, VA Merkle Office as I am a born-and-raised Virginia girl. I grew up just outside Washington D.C. in Arlington, VA with my parents and two siblings. After attending college in Charlottesville, VA, I ended up living there after school. Although my love for the Blue Ridge mountains and Charlottesville restaurants runs deep, I now live in Nashville, TN with my husband as a full-time remote employee. We moved to Nashville for my husband’s music career, and we love the creative energy of the city!
2. What does gender equality mean to you?
Sarah: To me, gender equality means never having to worry about my gender being a reason to hold me back. In an ideal world, young girls would be encouraged to take chances and be curious, rather than expected to be quiet and follow the rules; there would be no gender pay gap and no penalties for choosing to start a family. Unfortunately, the world still has a long way to go to reach this ideal state.
Ashley: Gender equality in the workplace means that opportunity for recognition, promotion, and review will be handled with respect and fairness irrelevant of the gender you were born with or identify with. It means never having to worry about eligibility for roles or compensation differences based on old misconceptions of any one gender’s ability to do the job “better”.
Marina: To me, gender equality means that everyone, regardless of their gender identity, has access to the same opportunities in all aspects in life, not only in a work environment. Sadly, this is not a reality yet, but I truly believe society will evolve towards that goal.
Kristina: Gender equality means feeling confident in my ability to be successful and never limited in my opportunities, solely because of my gender.
Rachel: To me, gender equality means equal access, opportunity, and celebration for all. It means believing in the ways that we are uniquely created and being respected and supported in our differences. One’s gender identity should not put them at an advantage or disadvantage.
3. In what ways would you like to promote gender equality?
Sarah: I try to highlight the great contributions of my team members wherever possible and call out gender inequality if I see it – in meetings, salary discrepancies, candidate pools, etc. I’ve also benefitted from having a mentorship circle (we still meet monthly after 5+ years together) and try to support and mentor other women within the business whenever possible.
Ashley: I want to promote gender equality with younger generations as it needs to start at a young age. I would love to see more women in leadership and in tech showcased to give younger girls more examples of women in non-traditional roles so they can dream and aspire to be like them. Girls Who Code is a great example of this. Our kids are our future, and we need to empower them to break old habits. I’m so hopeful to see the next generation carry on the progress that we’ve made the past few decades to break the glass ceiling.
Marina: I think the best way to promote gender equality is to lead by example. Having an attitude and an approach that promote gender equality will have a direct impact on the people surrounding us.
Kristina: As a youth softball coach, I am in a unique position to influence and shape the minds of young female athletes. Amelia is a low income, rural community, therefore, we have players from varying backgrounds. It is important that these young women learn that hard work pays off and you’re never done learning. It’s important to me that they believe, no matter their circumstance – gender or economic background – that they are not limited in what they can achieve.
Rachel: I want to lift women up, specifically my colleagues, in conversation and actively encourage their contribution. I want to pull other women out of the shadow of perfectionism and promote equality in conversation.
3a. To date, what has been your biggest learning or teaching moment as it relates to gender equality?
Sarah: Learning about the lifetime impact of taking time off to have children was a big eye-opener for me. The cumulative loss of salary, pay increases, and retirement assets adds up over the years and counters the short-term consideration of childcare costs vs. salary. I’ve also enjoyed learning about other countries who prioritize subsidized childcare and the positive impacts those countries have seen.
Ashley: The value of self-promotion and how you should build your own surround sound. Hard work gets recognized but amplifying it sets you apart from your peers.
Marina: I wouldn’t say I had a teaching or learning moment, it has been more like a process of learning where I started to find out more about gender equality and all the work still to be done in our society. For instance, I wasn’t aware of things like the glass ceiling for women until you dive into the numbers. Therefore, I’m glad to be part of an organization that takes this matter very seriously and takes actions to promote gender equality.
Kristina: My greatest learning as it relates to gender equality is that there is nothing wrong with assuming a traditional gender role. As a new mother, caring for my daughter was my priority and I made a career change that met the needs of our family (reducing my commute, eliminating work related travel, and working closer to home). As my daughter began school, I was able to return to the work I love and found my home at Merkle.
Rachel: After attending Google’s #IamRemarkable workshop event, I learned women often don’t apply for jobs unless they think they are 100% qualified, whereas men are more willing to chance-it even if they are similarly qualified, and therefore win out. I want to help change the narrative that women have in their heads about their abilities, and shine light on their strengths and accomplishments.
4. What is a moment in your life that defined or shaped who you are today?
Sarah: The day I chose to marry my husband. I am lucky to have a partner who supports my ambitions both personally and professionally. He was willing to give up his dream job and say “it’s your turn” when I had the opportunity to move to London to pursue mine. He helps me talk through tough challenges at work and is an excellent listener. He is also an exceptional father who shares the childcare responsibilities, allowing me the time and space to pursue both my passions and my career.
Ashley: Becoming a mom has shaped me into a more optimistic, effective team member. I spent 15 years happily focused on my career before deciding to start a family. While I’ve always thought of myself as being people oriented, my ability to connect with my team in new ways and with more compassion has been strengthened since becoming a parent. I have a heightened sense of positivity and resilience that has allowed me to better solution problems on hand.
Marina: It’s hard to find just one moment. I would say I am who I am because of the people I have around me and because of all the challenges I have overcome along the way.
Kristina: Unrelated to gender equality, I recently experienced a health crisis that gave me a greater appreciation for the relationships in my life. Friends, family, and co-workers rallied to care for me and my family by sending meals, cards, flowers, thoughts and prayers, and even volunteering to sit with me as I was recuperating. I was eager to return to work with a sense of gratitude for the ability to work, the people I have the privilege of working with and motivated to make time for those that did the same for me.
Rachel: I don’t know if I would say that there is one moment, but I do believe that my mom is Superwoman. She is the most thoughtful, intuitive, and intelligent woman I have ever known, and she always puts others first. Growing up, she made me feel incredibly capable and always encouraged me to pursue new things. She raised me to believe in myself. I have always believed in girl power and a woman’s value because she was a radiant example of that.
5. What inspires you about your workplace culture?
Sarah: Doing the right thing – Merkle’s commitment to DEI is longstanding and is a huge part of who we are as a business. As the co-lead of the Parent and Carer committee, I enjoy having the opportunity to impact our policies to ensure we are market leading. I also enjoy getting to network with other parents and carers. I’ve taken maternity leave twice while at Merkle, and both times I was pleasantly surprised to see it had no negative impact on my career progression; in fact, I was promoted a few months after my return. I greatly appreciate Merkle’s commitment to supporting all employees.
Ashley: There are two pieces for me. First, Merkle shows value in your time away for work. The equal parental leave for both moms and dads is among the best in the industry. It shows the importance of parents being able to spend a few uninterrupted months bonding with their new child. Additionally, the flexible PTO rewards individuals with the opportunity to take time off when they need it to relax and recharge.
Secondly, my fellow Merklers are innovative, inquisitive, and incredibly smart. I’m always learning from my coworkers and am inspired by the peer recognition and teamwork I see daily. We have a strong culture rooted in team support, professional development, and holding ourselves to a high standard. I love being a part of a company that is seen as a thought leader in our specialties.
Marina: The workplace culture is something I really value from a company. We spend a lot of time at work, so let’s work at a company where you are happy and where you are surrounded by nice and interesting people. I enjoy working at Merkle because I feel like I’m not only a number. I work at a company that cares about the well-being of its employees and tries to make their lives easier.
Kristina: I am most appreciative of the development opportunities available through Merkle. Since joining the team, I have had the privilege to work with many of our top clients, participated in leadership development programs, and have been recognized for my work on an individual, team, and company-wide level.
Rachel: I have always been inspired by the amazing women who work at Merkle. During my first week on the job, Rachel Schnorr (now SVP, Americas DEI) spoke to my new-hire class about her time at Merkle and encouraged us to ask her any questions. I was impressed by her poise and presence, and I wondered at that time if I would ever be as well-spoken and confident in a professional space. Three years later and I still aspire to be like the women I work with, including Rachel, and I want to highlight the fact that I have always felt I had many strong, intelligent, articulate, approachable women surrounding me at this company. There is no better way to build young women up and encourage gender equality than to promote and celebrate those women who have paved the way!
6. Rapid fire:
a. Favorite Food
Sarah: Thai food
Ashley: Tacos or Pizza
Marina: Iberian ham croquettes
Rachel: French Fries
b. Favorite TV show/movie
Sarah: The Crown and Love, Actually
Ashley: TV Show: Recent favorite is Schitt’s Creek, Movie: any John Hughes movie from the 80s
Marina: Modern Family
Rachel: Peanut Butter Falcon
c. Favorite hobby/activity outside of work
Sarah: Running and Book club
Ashley: I’ve loved astronomy ever since I was a kid. I really enjoy hunting out celestial events. The night sky fascinates me!
Marina: Salsa dancing
Kristina: Softball (coaching and playing)
Rachel: Dancing and dance classes
d. Favorite book
Sarah: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Ashley: I still remember the first time I read A Wrinkle in Time. The curiosity and imagination from the first read still resonate with me.
Marina: I can’t choose but I’m currently reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Kristina: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Rachel: East of Eden by John Steinbeck
e. Best advice or mantra you try to live by (in your own words)
Sarah: Do the thing that scares you the most
Ashley: Clear eyes, Full hearts, Can’t lose
Marina: Stop worrying about things you can’t change.
Kristina: “Different strokes for different folks”
Rachel: Above all else, love others.