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Lady Link Builders: Women in Digital Marketing Discuss Diversity

MeganWilliams | March 31, 2014

I don't work with many other women. This didn't necessarily bother me at first, but I tend to feel suspicious when placed in situations where there are disproportionately few women in leadership (because feminism). In response to this, I tend to puff up and position myself to be "one of the first" female leaders in the situation, whatever the situation may be. At Page One Power, I developed a habit of looking for women's responses in search industry round-ups, or blog posts from women with careers similar to mine. I wanted to lead, and my supervisors knew it, but when I needed a tampon at work and couldn't find one without conducting a time-consuming search, I felt more than slightly handicapped. I needed to know if other companies were like Page One Power; if this field were truly as male-dominated as my small, Idaho-based sample.

The idea for this post was also sparked in no small part by Cyrus Shepherd’s “How Your Salary Compares to Online Marketers Across the World.” In this article, Shepherd breaks down the salary-related data collected as part of Moz’s 2014 Industry Survey, and reveals that “a male marketer with between 5-10 years of experience earns an average of $15,000 more than a female with the same amount of experience. The gap grows even larger with 10 or more years’ experience to an amazing $30,000 difference between men and women.”

I didn’t find this surprising because I know that this information tends to hold true in general, but I found the initial response on Inbound.org a bit distressing:

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I had to take a deep breath and stop myself from responding. Like another commenter, I found this statement “weirdly defensive.” I didn’t want to seem “hysterical,” and I’ve learned that women tend to need evidence if they’re going to win this sort of argument on an online forum (though I lack the evidence to back this up.) Still, WordStream’s Elisa Gabbert swooped in with a calm bit of reasoning:

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And then no other women participated in the conversation, and left the question “why do men hold more of the higher paid jobs” unanswered, at least on this forum. I became curious about what other women were thinking about the issue.

So I looked. I combed through hard data and blog posts and my gender studies background felt tickled by all of the attention it was suddenly getting. I decided that if I didn’t try to address this question (plus two other related questions), I would be missing an opportunity.

I wanted to know how other ladies have succeeded in our industry. Because our gender and racial and ethnic and all other possible intersecting identities do still matter, even if no one means for them to.

 

A Pair of Caveats

Before we launch into the Q&A portion of this post, a couple of caveats to help frame your experience:

Caveat #1: This post contains responses from those who do not identify as "link builders." It contains a completely unscientific selection of women in all walks of digital marketing that I follow on Twitter. I kept the title “Lady Link Builders” for poetic reasons (because content marketers are still writers sometimes, right?), and because every time I saw it as a header on a document I got this song in my head and it made me happy:

Caveat #2: I totally agree with Kate Gramlich Roumbos when she says “a similar discussion on racial disparities can and should be had as well.”

Just as I acknowledge that my sample/sample size/pool of women/etc. would make actual statisticians cringe, I acknowledge that this roundup doesn’t comprehensively deal with the issue of diversity in the workplace or in digital marketing. It focuses on the ladies I could find within the given restraints of my deadline and other work responsibilities.

This conversation can, and should, be broadened as it continues. It can, and should, include both more feelings and experiences and statistics. All of these elements are important, and if you don’t think so then I’m not sure if I want to play in the same sandbox as you, anyway.

 

The Questions

Here are the stats: I emailed 38 women the following questions, and received 13 responses, 15 if you count the women who said that their main answer was “I don’t know!” which I think is more than valid.

1. Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

2. Understanding that inequality is largely a systemic issue that reaches far beyond our industry, do you feel that your gender identification has affected your experience as a digital marketer? How?

3. What can we do to promote diversity within the industry? What can we do to keep this discussion going?

I also asked these questions to women at Page One Power, where I work. This presented some difficulties, as most of the women in this roundup are in leadership positions, whereas Page One Power has approximately zero women in leadership roles and I am the lone woman on the content team. In all honesty, their voices, or the voices of women who aren’t yet leaders or in publicly visible positions, are the ones that I wanted to hear most, but I didn’t want this post to be too Page One Power-heavy because I wanted to feature a range of opinions from across the industry, not just from across my workplace.

If I were to do it again, I would seek out more production-level employees at other agencies.

 

But This Isn’t Again

Of the women I spoke with at Page One Power, the general consensus was that we feel like our gender identity has affected our experience in the industry. The culture at Page One Power could be described as “male-oriented,” and most of us (myself included) would like to see more women in leadership roles here, but not just for the sake of having women in leadership roles-- but because we have a lot to offer the company and the industry.

When it came to why the ladies of Page One Power thought men held more of the higher paid jobs in the industry, the responses were similar to the responses of the survey on the whole. Men are less likely “to be afraid to cause waves.” Women “don't ask or demand higher wages or recognition.” Women also have the distinction of being the childbearing sex of our species, and because of this, we either opt out for a time period, or are opted out due to largely unconscious biases.

As Mckenzie Shier, a Page One Power link builder put it, “Who wants to promote someone and pay them a larger wage when their longevity at the company is questionable? If you look at health insurance premiums for women in their 20's it's obvious that the bets are hedged on young women having children. A man with kids is way more likely to get hired or promoted than a woman with kids is.”

As for promoting diversity and continuing this conversation, one member of our link building team noted “I think that more women leaders would definitely help to make women feel more comfortable and want to lead themselves. I intend to end up in management eventually, but it has taken me a while to even think that I am capable of it.” Kelsey Montzka suggested that

“educating men in leadership about the concept of microaggression and privilege and why it is important is a good start. I think microaggression is important because it helps people realize the power of their words without instantly impugning motives. It shifts the conversations away from the words and more toward the power behind the words.”

She also noted that “we can become more aware of not how genders 'are' but how they are performed as taught and work to cultivate an appreciation for what the women we have at Page One Power bring to the table.” This wisdom would certainly be of benefit to all workplaces, tech-related or not.

And I can assure you, the women here are “leaning in” and asking for raises and tampons in our rest rooms. Maybe someday we’ll even have a sweet breast pump like Outspoken Media. For more from Page One Power, I've included a response from Jeriann Watkins below.

The Responses

Read for yourselves, please. Then go make your workplace a better place for everyone. If you want to read an analysis and summary of the findings, scroll down!

  1. Elisa Gabbert
  2. Alicia Lawrence
  3. Jeriann Watkins
  4. Stacey Cavanaugh
  5. Kate Gramlich Roumbos
  6. Kelsey Jones
  7. Beth Anderson
  8. Lisa Barone
  9. Annalisa Hilliard
  10. Erin Everhart
  11. Kristi Kellogg
  12. Lisa Williams
  13. Dana DiTomaso

 

1. Elisa Gabbert | WordStream @egabbert

1. Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

I don’t think this experience is unique to digital marketing. Men hold more of the higher-paying C-level jobs in most industries. And there’s a pay gap even at mid-level jobs. I’m not sure it’s especially useful to look at it as an industry problem when it’s really a systemic problem. That said, this is the industry we’re in, and the first step toward changing it is acknowledging that these disparities exist. I’m glad it came up in Cyrus Shepard’s write-up of the Moz industry survey results, and I’m glad that many people appeared to take the gender disparities seriously.

I’ll add that I think SEO in particular is seen as a “man’s job” (or a dude’s job, as the case may be); it grew out of the tech industry and there have historically been more men in the tech industry. So women are fighting an uphill battle there, just as they are if they want to be computer programmers or heart surgeons. SEO in particular is a bit of a boy’s club. I’m not sure the same is true of all digital marketing fields. (The marketing team at WordStream is currently mostly women, but that wasn’t true when I was hired.)

2. Understanding that inequality is largely a systemic issue that reaches far beyond our industry, do you feel that your gender identification has affected your experience as a digital marketer? How?

Yes and no. I’ve had supportive mentors (like Larry Kim); I’ve never felt that I, personally, was turned down for a job or an opportunity that I wanted because I’m a woman. And I think if you’re truly driven, there are ample opportunities to do whatever you want in digital marketing. It’s not 1950 or 1850, when doors were often firmly closed.

But on the other hand, I do think men are probably offered more without having to ask: opportunities to speak, get a promotion, be featured in an article, etc. And the data speaks for itself when it comes to the wage gap. (According to Moz’s survey data, women with 10+ years of experience earn $30K less than their male counterparts.)

I’m also white and pretty normative looking, which means it’s easier for me than for a lot of other women. I don’t think acknowledging privilege takes away from one’s accomplishments.

3. What can we do to promote diversity within the industry? What can we do to keep this discussion going?

As I mentioned above, just acknowledging the bias is a step in the right direction. Don’t be defensive; don’t make excuses; just look at the data and think about it.

I’ll use a common example that is much cited because it’s so illustrative. Orchestras used to be primarily male. (In 1970, some as few as 5% women.) At some point, someone had the brilliant idea to move to a blind audition process. These are now standard. When applicants would play behind a curtain, the number of women accepted into orchestras increased sharply. In an industry like SEO, where men get most of the money and high-profile jobs, and where few things are measured blindly, it’s worth questioning whether there is unconscious gender bias involved.

If you suspect there’s gender bias going on at your place of work and you’re in a position to do something about it, take action. If you’re in a management position, look at your employees’ pay rates. If you’re in a hiring role, examine the hiring process – do you tend to screen out more women? Could you be judging their resumes more harshly? Could your job descriptions even reveal a bias, which might dissuade women from applying? (Think photos of employees – mostly men – playing foosball … could that lead potential applicants to think your company is a boy’s club?) If you run a conference, consider a blind approval process for speaking pitches. If there aren’t enough women in your lineup, reach out to women you know who might be interested but might not have time to submit. (Women tend to do more unpaid work (cleaning, child care, etc.) and therefore have less free time after work for nonrequired activities.

Again, there are lots of things we can do – but only if we’re aware of the problem and want to fix it.

2. Alicia Lawrence | WebpageFX @Alicia_Lw

1. Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

Internet marketing was (and still is) a male dominant industry when it started. In general, males are more prone to pursue technology related jobs. While this gender gap is still evident, it has definitely decreased over the past few years (http://moz.com/industry-survey). In my opinion, this is because women have found their natural communications skills and strategic thinking to be a valuable talent in the digital marketing industry. But because men were in the industry first they are now the ones pocketing the big checks. For example, my immediate supervisor is a male (but he joined the company during the beginning stages of its growth) and, therefore, was placed as the supervisor when they decided to start the earned media team. But the team now consists of 3 males (including the supervisor) and 5 females. Not all girls came late to the game, though. At WebpageFX, we do have females in leadership positions.

One other thing to consider regarding why men hold the higher paying jobs is they seem to be more willing to take risks while woman like to have security so they take the safer route. In my example, my supervisor was willing to risk working with a startup, that very well could have failed, but because they succeeded his leap of faith and hard work in the company are the reasons he has the higher paying job.

2. Understanding that inequality is largely a systemic issue that reaches far beyond our industry, do you feel that your gender identification has affected your experience as a digital marketer? How?

I don't feel like my gender has affected my experience in this industry. WebpageFX has a diverse management staff and I feel like everyone is treated equally and all have the opportunity to work hard and earn their spot in the higher paying jobs. But I know WebpageFX is not the norm. We have a unique culture that fosters equal growth and opportunity that I haven't experience at other companies. In my opinion, those companies that do repress females from having management jobs probably do so for what they think are valid reasons. Such as, female employees get pregnant and end up leaving the company for a significant amount of time. If they were in a management role that could hurt the company's production and flow.

Their justification is based on something that might never happen. If you do want to try to remove these assumptions, I would suggest running an industry survey to see if their fears have any facts behind them. 

3. Jeriann Watkins | PageOnePower @JeriannWatkins

1.Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

I think that in our society, there’s more of an expectation for men being “computer geeks” and making a career out of technology-based jobs than women. Internet marketing, especially when it comes to technical jobs pertaining to web design is traditionally a male-saturated field. Because of this, a lot of digital marketing companies are started by men, who don’t set out to not hire women, but whose job advertisements are (unintentionally) more likely to attract men because of how they’re worded or targeted.

2. Understanding that inequality is largely a systemic issue that reaches far beyond our industry, do you feel that your gender identification has affected your experience as a digital marketer? How?

I do believe that my gender identity has affected aspects of my job. For example, in one interview, I was asked the question “How does the fact you’re female give you an advantage over the men applying for this job?” I wasn’t sure how to respond, because I had never seen a woman in the position, and it was not my opinion that a woman could do the job better (or worse) than a man, just that I was qualified to fulfill the duties of the position.

I responded that my ability to be empathetic would help me to perceive difficulties of those I would be managing, and figure out the best way to assist them. I chose this answer because empathy is largely seen as a feminine trait (perhaps mistakenly). The questioner rightly called me out for not answering the question. I didn’t have a better answer for him though, because to me, the question seemed to imply that as a woman, I had to have something “extra” over the men in order to get the job.

Now, I don’t believe this is actually what the questioner intended, and ultimately, I got that job, despite my failure to answer the question. But this brings to light a subconscious belief that women need to be more exceptional than men in order to work the same job, or that women are better at certain jobs than men, putting the focus on gender-perceived skills rather than personal ability.

3. What can we do to promote diversity within the industry? What can we do to keep this discussion going?

I think that the best way to promote diversity is to be proud of who we are and show it off. I don’t constantly remind everyone I’m a woman (because I think that’s a bit obvious), but I like to think that the more involved I am in the workplace, the more I am helping to create an environment for women to be successful. When people are used to seeing women offering great insight and excelling at their jobs, they’re less likely to doubt that other women can do the same.

Industry-wise, the more women are seen in active roles, whether it’s writing articles or designing websites or whatever they do- as long as they get their faces and names out there- the more the industry will see the effect and ability of women. This will lead to a higher level of acceptance simply because of exposure.

In both the workplace and industry at large, it’s important to call out actions that quell diversity and exclude certain groups, whether it is by gender, race, orientation, or other criteria. When the women’s bathroom is lacking a place to keep feminine products handy, I make sure it’s brought to management’s attention. When I see articles titled “10 ways for women to be more successful in the workplace” I point out that the tips are actually applicable to both men and women (because they almost always are). By stating that it’s women that need these tips, there’s an implication that they are at a natural disadvantage- that men just know these things. Implications like that just perpetuate the myth that women are naturally less capable of certain jobs, and the women that do them well are exceptions to the rule.

I think it’s important to remember that our goal is not for women to have higher paying jobs than men, or be more prominent in the industry than men (at least, that’s not my goal). The real goal of gender-equality is to make it so that gender does not affect your ability to obtain a job or the wage you’re paid. So maybe there are more women, maybe there are more men, but it doesn’t matter, because everyone deserves the position (and pay) they have. Employment should depend on skill and ability to execute the job. Everyone should be assessed on how they perform their duties, not by how stereotypes or societal expectations dictate they probably do.

4. Stacey MacNaught | Tecmark @staceycav

1. Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

My experience where I work (Tecmark) is a different one. I know that industry wide there are salary gaps between men and women but certainly my experience personally has been different. When we’re talking, as the recent discussion on inbound did (http://inbound.org/articles/view/how-your-salary-compares-to-online-marketers-across-the-world), about women with like for like experience and roles being paid less than their male counterparts it’s a problem.

But what we should point out is that the Moz survey quoted is that they’re comparing male and female salaries by years of experience and not by roles held. There is a possibility that women are in less senior roles at the same point in their careers than men are (which is, of course, a problem in itself). As for why this is the case… well where do we begin? Having not experienced any disadvantage or ever felt held back personally, I really struggle to explain it. I’ve heard some say there’s a confidence barrier. Other articles I’ve read suggest it might be related to women taking career breaks for families and so on. This Guardian article (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/feb/21/women-glass-ceiling-still-exists-top-jobs) alludes to the pressures of having a family being partly at play here too.

2. Understanding that inequality is largely a systemic issue that reaches far beyond our industry, do you feel that your gender identification has affected your experience as a digital marketer? How?

I’ve been fortunate. I work at Tecmark, a company that has really actively encouraged my learning and development and I’ve made my way from a junior role to a Head of Department role. I think part of it, though, is also down to the fact I have a really supportive fiancé. It does make a difference. He’s ok with the fact I’m not ready for a family yet and in the long term, when we do go down that route, he’s also open to discussions about being the one who cuts his work commitments and be more “house and kids" to accommodate my ongoing commitment to my career. So that does make a big difference too. I know that if I do go down the route of having a family, I have support there and I won’t have to leave work or take a lengthy career break. 

5. Kate Gramlich Roumbos | Ghergich & Co.

1. Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

I think this answer is many-fold, and I will try to outline my ideas as briefly as possible:

First, there is a huge, pervasive misconception that men are somehow better at technology/science/etc. than women. Whether we lovely individuals in marketing agree or disagree ultimately doesn't matter - it's still happening. Women and girls are less likely to be encouraged to go into tech fields, and those who do are more likely to drop out. [http://www.npr.org/2012/07/12/156664337/stereotype-threat-why-women-quit-science-jobs] As this article explains, "when women were reminded — even subtly — of the stereotype that men were better than women at math, the performance of women in math tests measurably declined." Even the hint of this stereotype causes women to become discouraged - that's how damaging it is. Marketing - specifically data-driven subfields - are no exception to this rule, and often women are discouraged from either joining or performing to their fullest potential because of a negative cultural atmosphere.

Likewise, men are traditionally the ones receiving recognition in the tech industry first (not that they are always the pioneers, but rather they are often the first names we hear about). With this recognition/celebrity comes power and desirability: the voices that get heard first and loudest are going to be sought after, leading to higher salaries and more prestige. This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle where the influential voices are only listening to one another, and therefore hiring one another. It's not that they are necessarily better than their female counterparts, but that they are encouraged to be louder because they are unburdened by the above mentioned stereotypes. Eventually this system of like-hiring-like happens so often that it feels natural and goes unquestioned.

Another key factor is simply that women are not asking for more money. There is a huge disparity between the number of women and men who negotiate their salaries. According to Linda Babcock, about 7% of women attempted negotiation, whereas that number for men was a whopping 57%. [http://www.forbes.com/sites/dailymuse/2013/06/17/why-women-must-ask-the-right-way-negotiation-advice-from-stanfords-margaret-a-neale/] This very well may be because we're not generally encouraged to do so or because we buy into the stereotypes - and the article goes into that - but the lack of asking is a definite part of the equation.

2. Understanding that inequality is largely a systemic issue that reaches far beyond our industry, do you feel that your gender identification has affected your experience as a digital marketer? How?

This answer is tricky because my background is in gender and communication, so my basic motto is that our identity affects our experience of everything in some way. That being said, I have had a very privileged and positive experience within my own job. At Ghergich & Co., the gender (im)balance is skewed in the other direction - we've got a ratio of about 60:40 with more women than men, and more women in managerial roles across the entire company.

A quick glance at the Moz industry survey, however, shows that our setup is far from the norm (latest numbers show 28.3% female and 71.7% male respondents - http://moz.com/industry-survey). The overwhelming gap can be intimidating as well as angering, especially when so many "Expert Roundup" posts and conference panel lineups are even more male-dominated. It may not be exclusive on purpose (as I highly doubt any SEO dudes are maniacally rubbing their hands together in misogynistic glee over their 100%-male posts) BUT it still feels shitty. It feels overwhelming and can potentially make women like me disinterested in participating in what looks so much like a "boys club."

3. What can we do to promote diversity within the industry? What can we do to keep this discussion going?

[Please note: this section can apply to all sorts of gaps in representation, and a similar discussion on racial disparities can and should be had as well.]

I think it's going to fall on everyone's shoulders to change the situation. Women need to encourage one another to ask for more, to make space, and to share their voices. And men do too, because such an overwhelming gap in participation ultimately isn't good for anyone or the industry as a whole. I think there is a difference between "filling a quota" and making an effort to hear from people who are often overlooked. There's enough space for everyone, I promise. Reach out to more women to participate in expert posts… it doesn't mean you have to cut out others, just make the post longer (which god knows we all love to do!) If you notice a lack of diversity in a conference panel, ask around and do something about it.

If you are interested in similar conversations, I'd encourage folks to check out a few of these resources:

- LadyBits on Medium - Women in Tech on Women in Tech: https://medium.com/ladybits-on-medium

- Girls Gone Wired on Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/girlsgonewired/

- "Sexism in Tech: We're Not Making It Up" by Lisa Barone: http://overit.com/blog/sexism-in-tech

- "The Year I Didn't Retweet Men" by Anil Dash: https://medium.com/the-web-we-make/79403a7eade1 

6. Kelsey Jones | Search Engine Journal @wonderwall7

1. Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

I think we need to make it OK for girls to be interested in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering, and math). There is still gender bias that starts with birth. Girls should be encouraged to get into STEM subjects if they have an interested in it. Starting out that young can help us increase the number of women in the digital marketing industry.

Women also need to not be afraid to be competitive and to promote themselves. (can you tell I'm a huge proponent of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In yet? :) )

2. Understanding that inequality is largely a systemic issue that reaches far beyond our industry, do you feel that your gender identification has affected your experience as a digital marketer? How?

At some of the more technical conferences, you definitely feel out of place at times, especially when most of the speakers are men and drawing attention to yourself can be a little intimidating. While no one has reacted completely negatively to me outright, I do feel like I am sometimes not taken seriously because of my gender or age (I'm 27). To combat this, I try to lead with my accomplishments and insight and show that I know what I'm talking about and that I belong at the table or conference.

3. What can we do to promote diversity within the industry? What can we do to keep this discussion going?

Keep talking about it. Be vocal. Be confident to call out men and even women who are making comments or taking action that are holding other women back. Make a point to evaluate everyone the same, no matter what gender they are. Foster this career path with young girls and college students who are interested in it. Create Lean In circles to have women colleagues that are going to support you and help you further your career.

More articles like this also help, since it brings awareness to the fact that women ARE a significant force in the search industry.

7. Beth Anderson | Sound Transit @JadeEJF

1. Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

As to why men hold more of the higher-paying jobs in the industry, I think it's two-fold. First, men hold higher-paying jobs in pretty much all industries, so I don't think it's a problem specific to digital marketing, though second, digital marketing is, by and large, a young field, and during the time that digital marketing was coming of age was also a time when there were markedly low numbers of female involvement in digital *anything* - I think you just have to look at the number of computer science graduates by gender to get a sense of how that played out in a different industry.

However, because digital marketing is tied to both business and technical fields, it tends to be more heavily dominated by the people coming out of business schools who major in marketing or finance or ... and let's face it, the business schools are dominated by dudes - there's been a million studies about how to increase equity at the business schools, but the fact that in the U.S., the MBA program that comes closest is still hovering around 40% ... well, there's an issue there. I think you have to start at that level (or maybe farther back), and look at some of the systemic issues, you see that digital marketing is just a younger version of the same problem that's been plaguing the business world as a whole for decades.

I wish that I had a more specific answer - if you look at the chart, women actually have an edge over men in salary until about 3-10 years in (and honestly, I think we should pull out the folks with >10 years of experience; digital marketing has been around that long, but just barely, and I suspect we may be comparing 1-5 people in that category). If you assume that digital marketers are starting fresh out of college or fresh out of an MBA, they're around 20-25... and what happens to women 3-10 years beyond that? Well, in my experience, a significant number of them enter into relationships and/or have children. And having children is a gamble in terms of your career - some women will stay and work through it (as I did); some women will need to take chunks of time off from their careers; some women will suffer the costs of being less engaged by way of taking the 'mommy track.' I haven't seen that in my own experiences in the digital marketing industry, but it's a reality elsewhere, and I don't think digital marketing is all that different from other industries.

2. Understanding that inequality is largely a systemic issue that reaches far beyond our industry, do you feel that your gender identification has affected your experience as a digital marketer? How?

As far as my own personal experience as to how it affected me as a digital marketer, I think I had it pretty good. Part of it is that I was fortunate to wind up in a position (at Content Harmony) that allowed a lot of flexibility, which I really needed and appreciated with two small children. However, there's are costs to raising children - actual and opportunity costs - that make things difficult in any industry for mothers. This was not always my experience because, as I said, my workplace was very flexible and I have an incredibly supportive partner, but there are women in the digital marketing industry who can't go to the meetups where the networking happens because they're single moms and have to pick up their kids from daycare.

Personally, I saw going into the digital marketing industry that it was a pretty male-heavy world, and it didn't really sway me positively or negatively - I used to work at a national Boy Scout camp, so I can handle some pretty sexist stuff. Instead, I was delighted to find that despite all the plaid shirts, I was welcomed, supported, and encouraged to participate by people like Max Minzer, Joel Klettke, Jonathan Colman and of course, Kane, my former boss - and I really appreciated how quickly I was able to find and connect with other women in the industry like Lauren Hall-Stigerts, Dana Tan, and the women at Mack Web Solutions. I think the digital marketing industry still has some changes to make to make it easier for women to step in, but there's a lot of room here for females to participate and lead, and a lot of men who are very supportive, so generally I'm pretty positive about my experiences with digital marketing as a woman.

3. What can we do to promote diversity within the industry? What can we do to keep this discussion going?

In terms of promoting diversity within the industry, I think the best thing we can do is ... engage. I was fortunate to be able to participate pretty frequently in Max Minzer's MaxImpact chats last year quite a bit (it's been harder since I moved to Sound Transit, where my Thursdays are meeting heavy!), and I noted at MozCon that there was a great amount of diversity among the conference speakers, to which I give credit to the Moz team and Erica McGillivray, who I think does a fair amount of advocating within their company (I could be wrong - if I am, sorry Moz folks!). I will admit that being engaged and speaking up is difficult for a lot of people - I still feel like I'm just learning still and often talk myself out of contributing because I feel like I don't know enough, but ... there is space in digital marketing for female voices, and I have to remind myself that I need to be part of the solution. Beyond that, I'd love to see more women start their own companies - I think it is an industry that lends itself to that, and I think there are a lot of other women already managing their own businesses who are able and willing to help. But again, that's a difficult proposition for anyone with a family or who thinks they may eventually want one - there was no way I was confident or knowledgeable enough at 23 or even 28 to start my own company... but I do think there's a lot of opportunity in the field for those who are willing to take those kinds of risks, and when women are in leadership, it definitely promotes diversity. 

8. Lisa Barone | Overit @LisaBarone

1. Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

Based on my circle of peers – they don’t. Perhaps this is unique to my experiences, but it’s far more common in my social circle for the women to be out earning the men, often considerably so. My female friends must be more badass than everyone else’s (I kid).

Where a discrepancy may exist, I don’t think it’s a gender one as much as it is a personality issue. Playing on stereotypes, men are more likely to be outspoken and to ask for larger pay increases or a higher salary. Playing on the same stereotypes, women are less likely to do so. The result is that as men and women climb higher up the ladder, men make more because they ask for more. I don’t think it has anything to do with gender. At least in the more mainstream SEO world. I’m sure folks tucked away in a more corporate hell structure may feel differently. However, I’ve been incredibly lucky to grow up in a world where I haven’t hit a glass ceiling.

2. Understanding that inequality is largely a systemic issue that reaches far beyond our industry, do you feel that your gender identification has affected your experience as a digital marketer? How?

I do not believe my gender has ever negatively affected my experience as a digital marketer. At all. Ever. In some ways, it may have helped as I was more memorable in a group setting or more distinctive because I am female. I think our industry is one where we are judged based on what we contribute and what we know, and not based on sex. It’s one of the great things about our close community.

As I’ve stated previously, the only time where being female in this male-dominated industry has affected me is in how I am treated at marketing conferences. I have had several scary experiences where men have touched me, cornered me or worse while attending an event. However, over the years, I’ve learned how to protect and prepare myself for such situations.

3. What can we do to promote diversity within the industry? What can we do to keep this discussion going?

We can seek it out. If you’re putting together an event or gathering speakers, seek out a diverse population. That doesn’t mean selecting a woman because she is a woman, but finding people who are super smart AND female. They’re not few and far between. Yeah, sometimes that means doing a little work and putting in the effort to put a diverse panel together, but don’t you owe it to your audience to do that?

Even when it’s not event-specific, we could do more to highlight the achievements of women. I know men and women both get all uppity when you talk about pay specific attention to a specific gender/race/whatever, but we have to start somewhere and it’s often by shining a light on people who deserve it.

It’s worth noting that promoting diversity in marketing doesn’t just mean promoting women. It means promoting different races, different faces and those with disabilities. For me, the biggest (self-imposed) barrier to my career has been the thought that I shouldn’t speak because of my stuttering. That I wasn’t wanted or that people wouldn’t find what I had to say valuable. It took a long time for me to feel like that wasn’t the case and to start putting myself out there. It’d be great to have some other role models or examples in that regard. 

9. Annalisa Hilliard | Pole Positioning Marketing @ahilliardm

I always appreciate the opportunity to participate in a good discussion so thanks for inviting me to join the conversation. The ability to discuss thoughts and ideas openly is one of the biggest attractions, for me, to working in web marketing. I think the internet provides a great platform and fosters the opportunity to collaborate with peers. I think most industries see their competition and even their co-workers, as a roadblock to making more money. I view industry competitors, as peers, who by sharing their knowledge encourage me to continue learning and sharpening my skills.

The same is true of my co-workers. I feel honored to join efforts with the people I get to work with. Each one brings something unique to the team. Ironically, Pole Position Marketing (as of right now) is an even split of men and women. I recently read an interview of Lisa Buyer, on Search Engine Journal, conducted by Kelsey Jones. I won’t regurgitate all of it here, so go read it. But, Lisa addresses the topic of promoting women in search. She does an excellent job of emboldening personal investment. Yes, there are disparities in our industry regarding salaries between men and women, but this is a universal concern.

I believe the best way to deal with this issue is to do the best damn job you can do. Prove your worth by working hard and investing in others. I’m not saying avoid the conversation, but don’t spend all your time and energy debating it. In my experience, character and determination are rewarded, so I want to devote my time to developing those values. Thanks for listening! 

10. Erin Everhart | Home Depot @erinever

1. Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

There's just not a lot of women in this industry, so naturally there are going to be more men in higher positions. There's been a resurgence of women in digital just in the past few years, but historically speaking, there's just been more men. I imagine if you look at nursing or teaching -- fields that have largely had more women -- you'd find more women in higher paid jobs than me.

Are those men more qualified? I have no idea. We shouldn't promote someone to an exec or C-level just because she's a woman. Yes, I agree there should be more women in leadership, more women holding higher paid jobs, but if they don't have the qualification they shouldn't be there.

It may also be because historically, men negotiate salaries and positions more readily than women. I don't agree with everything in Lean In, but I do think that some women who are timid when negotiating pay or do think about "Well, maybe I shouldn't accept this position if I want to get pregnant in the next year."

2. Understanding that inequality is largely a systemic issue that reaches far beyond our industry, do you feel that your gender identification has affected your experience as a digital marketer? How?

Not at all. And frankly it bothers me when people associate my gender with my profession. Why do I have to be a good female digital marketer? That's like calling someone a good white digital marketer or a good Christian digital marketer. You would never classify people on this standards so why gender?

3. What can we do to promote diversity within the industry? What can we do to keep this discussion going?

I think it goes further than promoting diversity; it's just promoting tech and digital to women as a possible career path. And that starts young. The more women we can get interested in digital and tech, the more women who will join the industry.

And once there's more women in the industry, we need to be there for them. Yeah there's more competition, but a little competition is what makes it fun.

You know how in Mean Girls, Tina Fey's character was counseling the Junior Girls to stop this girl on girl bashing because that makes it look like its OK for guys to call girls those names too?

News flash: Girl on girl bashing didn't stop in high school. It happens everywhere, and I know it happens in this industry, too.

I'm not trying to take the martyr side and say I'm above all of this because I'm not: I've said some things, and I've been on the receiving side of it, and both times it sucks. We want greater gender diversity? It starts with the people already in the industry to give all the support possible to those just starting out -- both men and women. 

11. Kristi Kellogg @KristiKellogg

1. Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

There are myriad factors that lead to the discrepancy between salaries of men and women in any industry – and many of those factors are outside our control. One factor we can control, however, is our ability to negotiate salaries, promotions and raises. Noted Stanford management professor Margaret Neale points out that 7 percent of women negotiate their salary, compared with 57 percent of men. If we don’t ask, we can’t receive – and if we ask intelligently and strategically, we stand to not only earn more money, but more respect.

3. What can we do to promote diversity within the industry? What can we do to keep this discussion going?

If the goal is to attract more women to this field, the best thing female Internet marketers can do is shine. Let your voice be heard – speak at conferences, write articles, willingly offer advice to those who seek it out from you – and always keep learning and growing. As digital marketers, we are in a unique position to amplify our own presence online and deftly manage our personal brand. Stand out in the sea of Internet marketers with a personal website, an optimized LinkedIn profile, Google authorship implementation and an authentic, active social media presence. Stand out and be an example for women who would seek to join this industry! 

12. Lisa Williams | Search Discovery @SEOPollyAnna

1. Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

It’s definitely less of an industry trend, and more of a leadership and gender equality trend. As Sheryl Sandberg noted in “Lean In”, of 197 heads of state, only 22 are women. Of the top 500 companies by revenue, only 21 are headed by women. In politics, women hold just 18% of congressional offices. In a typical Search Marketing conference line up 20-25% are women. In Christina Knights; book she noted only 3% of Advertising Creative Directors are women. Those are tough odds but they are across the board, not just the pay and leadership opportunities in our industry.

2. Understanding that inequality is largely a systemic issue that reaches far beyond our industry, do you feel that your gender identification has affected your experience as a digital marketer? How?

How it’s affected my experience depends on the day. Being the only woman in a room of 12 men and being the only person who is being interrupted by the meeting leader can be wildly frustrating. But the reality is my personal responsibility at that table impacts my fate far more dramatically than gender perception. Tackling the issue head on with a focus on how we should behave as leaders is more productive than being frustrated by lack of respect. Asking for respectful behavior is more powerful than lamenting the injustice.

I just watched an episode of “The Good Wife” where the protagonist, Alicia Florick, was giving a speech entitled "opting-in" and the focus was re-entering the work force. As a stay at home mom for 6 years, the realization of having to make up for lost time resonated. Regardless of whether or not you’ve been absent from the work force or plan to be it’s a part of many women’s story. Getting paid less initially felt like trade off for time spent at home and I apologized for it a lot at the beginning of my career. Now that I’ve been back in the work force for 18 years that conversation isn’t as relevant. Learning to negotiate your worth is something that men are historically better at than women, but that’s changing.

3. What can we do to promote diversity within the industry? What can we do to keep this discussion going?

Women empowering other women through consistent support and mentoring is important. I’ve been lucky to be mentored and guided by some great women, including Anne Kennedy. Her willingness to share her life experience and help raise my profile in the industry by introducing me to brilliant people in the space has been invaluable.

As we value other traditional elements of success besides money and power, such as protecting and nurturing our "human capital” and valuing organizational health, deeper diversity will be a by-product.

As marketing professionals, we can continue to keep the conversation going by focusing less on gender and more on embracing the diversity in thinking and values women bring to the business table.

As a long time board and advisory board member for SEMpdx (Search Engine Marketing Professionals of Portland, Oregon), I was thrilled that Joanna Lord was our opening keynote for SearchFest but she wasn’t selected because she’s a woman. She was selected because her story of nurturing the customer and seeing search as a way to impact the full customer journey including the retention and loyalty phase is really powerful. It’s that kind of thinking and brilliance that will get more women to the podium and to the leadership table. 

13. Dana DiTomaso | Kick Point @danaditomaso

1. Based on your experience as a digital marketer, why do you think men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry?

I don't think this is unique to our industry - I certainly run across this in a wide range of industries. I think specifically in our industry it's due to the rise of SEO from a technical foundation - I know that's certainly how I came to it since I originally was a website developer. Unfortunately, web development (then and now) is male dominated and therefore our industry is as well.

As for pay, well, that's another kettle of fish. Women make less, we all know that and the reasons why are well researched and stated.

There's definitely a pressure to work your ass off in the industry and greater pay comes with greater hours in many instances. I hope that can change, as work life balance isn't just a women's issue.

I think that Kick Point is unusual in that all the partners are women.

I wonder if sometimes that leads us to not getting as much money as we would if we were men. I have noticed that most of our clients are women. I don't know why but I find it very interesting.

2. Understanding that inequality is largely a systemic issue that reaches far beyond our industry, do you feel that your gender identification has affected your experience as a digital marketer? How?

I think I have a slightly different experience as a woman in the industry since I dress very masculine. I haven't had any sort of "creepy man hits on me at conference" experience although I know far too many women who have. I've also worked for myself since I started in the industry, so I've never had to try and get a job, but I know that I haven't won a few contracts because people weren't confident in my abilities to deliver. And as I noted earlier, many of our clients are women and we're often told how much they appreciate the fact that we're honest and direct with them. I wonder what their interactions were like with our male peers in the industry.

3. What can we do to promote diversity within the industry? What can we do to keep this discussion going?

I think we need to be visible and outspoken in the industry. We also need male allies - men who will push for gender parity at conferences and will call out others for being sexist. Oftentimes it's more effective to call someone out if it comes from a (male) friend. We need to support women getting into the industry and teach technical skills at every opportunity. We should see 50/50 across the board, regardless of the topic.

If someone asks you to speak, take the opportunity. Don't shy away because you think you're not experienced enough - they wouldn't have asked if they didn't think you were capable!

Point out inequities. Don't be afraid to speak up - we've got your back.

And lastly, it isn't just women who are underrepresented in the industry. Consider all the other facets of privilege and how they are expressed in the "major players" in our industry. Gender is just one aspect.

What’s Trendy: The Cliff Notes Version

TL;DR? Men hold most of the higher paid jobs in most industries. Because like tends to hire like and women are less likely to ask for raises and more likely to give birth to babies and have those births affect their careers. If we value diversity and equality, everyone has to play a part in examining their own behaviors and biases and then change their behaviors accordingly.

A few women who responded to my first question wisely pointed out that this is less an industry trend and more of a women-in-leadership-in-general trend. However, most respondents noted that tech/STEM-related jobs are more likely to be associated with men, so then they start the companies and receive recognition and “like-hires-like” and finally, men hold more of the higher paid jobs in the industry. There are many interesting articles on the web that tackle this phenomenon. One of my favorites can be found here.

Tangential to this, those of us raised with “math class is tough” Barbie didn’t necessarily feel as urged to pursue to STEM careers as some of our fellow smarties. If the Page One Power legends are true, our company remains male-dominated because significantly more men applied for jobs here back in the days that our link builders sat on kitchen chairs in someone’s garage (and then they received recognition and “like-hires-like” and you see my conclusion?)

Respondents also pointed out that women were less likely to ask for raises, promotions, etc. We have a “confidence barrier.” We sometimes get diverted onto the “mommy track.” Whether we should have to “lean in” or ask for/demand participation is currently irrelevant-- if we want to succeed in certain tech environments, we have to take responsibility for what we can change and change it.

Which brings me back to the second question, which is complicated. All across the responses, most women were quick to point out that personally, they didn’t feel like their gender identification has affected their experience as a digital marketer (unless they work at Page One Power).These women were also more likely to point out the gender balance (or even bias towards women) in their respective workplaces. The notable exception to this trend included reports of experiences at professional conferences, where women either felt left out, or in some cases, open hostility or harassment.

I tend to agree with Kate Gramlich Roumbos’s “basic motto” “that our identity affects our experience of everything in some way.”Our “female” identity shapes our experience as digital marketers (and leaders and professionals) because what we are taught to perform doesn’t necessarily complement the assumed “default” identity of the often straight, often white, often male-identified digital marketer. If the way we were taught to perform our genders didn’t effect our experience, would we have to teach women to “lean in,” participate more, ask for raises?

As long as we, both inside and outside of digital marketing, assume that the the masculine performance is the default performance, like will hire like unless a concerted effort is made otherwise and women continue to “lean in” and ask for more.

This, of course, leads to the issue of tokenism. Erin Everhart responded that “it bothers me when people associate my gender with my profession. Why do I have to be a good female digital marketer?” Why can't we all just be recognized as good digital marketers, without qualifiers? I agree that the ideal situation would be for everyone to be hired and promoted because they’re awesome at their jobs, not because they’re some token female among sea of default-neutral male marketers.

But it’s hard, because it seems that when a concerted effort is made to draw attention to this issue and/or other imbalances, we run the risk of saying “we need more women!” and women fearing that they got the job because we needed a woman and not because they’re excellent at their jobs.

And this brings me back to how “excellence” is constructed, and answers to question #3-- our “solutions.” No one here thinks that this industry is consciously biased (or at least I don’t think that this industry, or men in general, are consciously biased) against women. I doubt that fewer women are asked to speak at conferences or to participate industry surveys/articles simply because more men are “excellent.” It goes back to the issue of “like hires like.” Like recognizes like. It’s not malicious. It’s still problematic.

Elisa Gabbert brought in the example of blind orchestra auditions:

"Orchestras used to be primarily male. (In 1970, some as few as 5% women.) At some point, someone had the brilliant idea to move to a blind audition process. These are now standard. When applicants would play behind a curtain, the number of women accepted into orchestras increased sharply. In an industry like SEO, where men get most of the money and high-profile jobs, and where few things are measured blindly, it’s worth questioning whether there is unconscious gender bias involved."

If Gender Bias, Then...

Here are five quick takeaways about what we can do in the event of unconscious gender bias, but I recommend reading all of the responses above.

1. Examine ourselves and our own practices, both men and women alike. Do our hiring/promotion practices favor one gender or one race over another? Do we notice ourselves judging certain resumes/performances/proposals differently because of name or “culture fit” or fear that the person behind the resume may leave to have a baby? Once you find your answers, do something about it.

2. Consider blind approval processes for conference applications/pitches. Failing this, insist on a diverse conference-speaker population. As Lisa Barone put it, “[t]hat doesn’t mean selecting a woman because she is a woman, but finding people who are super smart AND female. They’re not few and far between."

3. Women can work to be visible, to hone their skills so that they’re so necessary that they can’t be ignored, and then refuse to be ignored. Women can ask for raises, publish articles, create new leadership roles. Becoming indispensable doesn’t mean ignoring this conversation, but instead devoting more effort to being a supersmart badass than worrying about being a “good female digital marketer.”

4. Women can support/mentor/nurture other women (instead of bashing them or distancing themselves from them.) Men can support/mentor/nurture women. As long as we are aware that unconscious bias can be an issue, it’s important that we’re consciously making space for all folks who are new to our industry (or even not-so-new) to speak and grow and build fulfilling careers.

It’s up to everyone to change this. It’s not as simple as women asking for more raises and taking on more leadership roles-- it’s also acknowledging the circumstances that allow certain women to “lean in,” or make work/family balance a near non-issue for men. It’s about having compassion for everyone who is trying to make a living.

5. Melt the memory of “math class is tough” Barbie. Encourage girls-- and women-- to get involved in STEM-related fields. This doesn’t necessarily mean go back to school for engineering; every tech company needs an English major, after all. This relates back to being excellent and visible and reaching out and mentoring. When younger women see more women in leadership roles (heck, when women who are new to a particular company see women in leadership roles at that company), they are more likely to believe that it is possible, nay, desirable for them to do the same.

I felt flattered by the number of respondents who think that articles like this are important in that they keep the conversation going and as Kelsey Jones puts it "brings awareness to the fact that women ARE a significant force in the search industry."

Again, there are a great number of ways that our industry can start to better reflect our values through our actions throughout this article. But if we've forgotten anything or have something to add, please feel free to do so in the comments!

 

 

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About The Author

MeganWilliams

Megan Williams is a poet and writer based in Boise, Idaho. When not working as a Content Marketing Specialist for Page One Power, Megan runs GHOSTS & PROJECTORS. a poetry reading series and concocts new ways to prepare kale for her hunny and her bunny.

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