A glimmer of hope – supporting women in digital by Alex Wright

a glimmer of hope

I live a sheltered existence. 

It’s something I’ve always been semi-aware of, but it’s been playing on my mind a lot in recent years. 

For the vast majority of my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work in digital teams that weren’t male-dominated, and in organisations that champion gender equality. However, I know that my anecdotal experience is at odds with the reality of our industry. 

As it stands

There are a variety of sources out there that cover the gender split in the digital marketing industry. North Star Inbound, for example, surveyed circa 650 SEOs and found that 68% of them identified as men and just 29% as women. The rest preferred not to say. 

It’s not just the general split in the industry that we should pay attention to either – there’s also a gender gap in media publishing. This study from Lidia Infante highlights that an average of 69% of published SEO authors are male. 

There are glimmers of hope in this story, however. Since the post, multiple people have come forward to offer an insight into the gender split in their companies. For example, Jenise Uehara from SEJ has confirmed that 75% of their team is female. 

Mark Williams-Cook also shared that of the Search with Candour podcast guests, 40% have identified as female. He’s also calling out for more female guests. 

On top of representation in roles and publishing, there’s also the gender pay gap to consider. According to Marketing Week, the gender pay gap in marketing was 23% in 2021. This was actually an improvement on the pay gap in 2020 which sat at 28%. Unfortunately, the pandemic slowed progress in this area. 

Slowly but surely, we’re making progress

Not only do I live a sheltered life, but I’m a hopeless optimist. We’re certainly not where we need to be in terms of gender equality in multiple areas of marketing, but I really believe that there are green shoots of hope starting to show. 

And that hasn’t happened by accident. 

Progress is being made due to a concerted effort from people in the industry to: 

  • Make publishers, employers and event teams more conscious of the skew in gender representation in their spheres, and hold them accountable
  • Be more open when discussing salaries and gaps
  • Partake in open discussions (on platforms like Twitter) to spread awareness around the above topics

How men can support and empower women in our industry

As part of this article, I was asked to give my thoughts on how men can support women looking to break into the industry or climb the ladder. Before I do that, I just want to preface it with the fact that this is my opinion, and it’s most certainly not fact or prescriptive. I can only speak to the experience I’ve had. 

First of all, there’s a difference between being conscious of the gender inequality in an organisation, and overcompensating for that inequality. That’s my first piece of advice – don’t try to overcompensate for a gender bias. The women in your organisation don’t need special treatment – they need equality. 

They need you to be their advocate internally. They don’t need you to pander or wrap them in bubble wrap – they need you to work with them to spot inequalities and fight with them to remove those gaps. 

There are a couple of specific things that I can speak to from experience. 

For example, if you’re in a leadership role with a view of salaries or a responsibility for promotions, you are directly responsible for reviewing pay and ensuring that the same opportunities are available to all relevant people. You might have to manage upwards and discuss that with senior leadership, but that’s fine. Make those conversations about the contribution that someone makes to the company rather than the person themselves. 

If someone in your team is returning from maternity leave, ensure that you’ve got the right processes in place to help them return back to their role. There are the obvious things such as KIT (keeping in touch) days, but just staying in touch, in general, can make a difference. I could add to this, but there’s a rather exceptional brightonSEO talk that you should probably check out to help with this. 

When it comes to helping women to break into the industry, there are also a number of ways that you can support them. Organisations such as Women in Tech SEO are doing wonders in terms of empowering women at all experience levels, and you can help by supporting WTS. Mentoring is also an option too – obviously this can apply to any gender, but offering your time for free and ‘paying it forward’ is a great way to help women break into the industry.

Recently I had the privilege of being asked to speak at brightonSEO. It’s something that meant a lot to me as not only is it arguably the largest SEO conference in the world, but it’s also one that actively seeks to promote diversity within their speaker community. You’ll frequently see tweets such as this from the brightonSEO team as they seek to give a voice to any underrepresented groups in our industry, or this one from Kelvin (the founder) where he’s actively trying to balance pitches.

They don’t just talk about it, either. They take action. In July 2021, 61% of the speakers were female which is absolutely phenomenal.

My brightonSEO experience

In April’s event, I was fortunate enough to share the stage with MTM/SOCIALight’s Lanie Bayliss as she spoke about returning to work after pregnancy and Evoluted’s Jen Penaluna, who spoke about vetting prospective employers. Both of their talks were exceptional and were unsurprisingly received so well by the audience.

Something that struck me with Lanie’s talk was how much more I could be doing to support my team as they return from maternity. It also got me thinking about the ways in which we could adapt our policies in the future. Jen’s talk gave me some hope for the wider industry and showed me that I might not live as much of a sheltered existence as I thought. Her agency are also progressive in their policies and support for their team – they could teach a lot of people a thing or two.

In general, the support that they both gave me as a fellow (very nervous) speaker was incredible. 

The wrap up

Whilst brightonSEO is a good example of an event that gets it right in terms of diversity and equality, there are plenty of events out there that still need to embark on that journey. I’ve used the word ‘need’ there as this isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s crucial for the development of our industry. Honestly I can’t think of anything worse than going to a conference that is dominated by a single, overrepresented demographic. They’ll all have similar opinions/takes on things and they probably exist within an echo chamber of their own. 

What I’m getting at is, you get a single perspective. 

But at events like brightonSEO you get to hear from so many different groups of people, all of which have different points of view and see the world through different lenses. They see digital and SEO through different lenses. 

It is only through this diversity of perspectives that our industry will be able to not just survive, but grow and thrive. 


Alex Wright is the Performance Marketing Director at Clicky Media.

You can find Alex on LinkedIn

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