Gender imbalance in the workplace debate is nothing new. Whilst it remains consistently relevant in today’s working world, it’s a tale as old as time, albeit under scrutiny more than ever thanks to frequent media coverage and hefty social media discussion on the matter. Our internal discussions lead us to wonder where our attitude to ‘Women in Digital’ sits within the wider digital industry, so naturally, we decided to delve a little further and investigate.

One of the big issues for the digital industry as a whole is how to encourage more women to enter the profession. Figures from the Moz 2014 Industry Survey have shown that women are significantly under-represented in the UK digital sector, and other data from Brighton SEO and Wordstream have shown potential gender inequality, both in terms of perceived value and salary in favour of males.

Addressing these issues is vital to the success of most businesses – studies have found that workplaces with a more equal gender balance enjoy a range of benefits, from improved corporate governance and better risk management to higher levels of innovation as a result of greater diversity.

These benefits also extend to the bottom line. Gender-balanced workplaces can generate up to 14% higher revenue and 19% higher net profits than less diverse companies. In the UK, it’s thought that the economic benefits of making workplaces more balanced could be worth as much as £23 billion per year.

To see how we measure up at our own digital marketing agency, we’ve run our own HR figures against some industry average data, and the results are below. We’ve also included some thoughts from a few of Silverbean’s team members on the data, their own experiences and how the industry as a whole can encourage more women to consider a career in digital.

The Data

We’ve run an analysis of Silverbean’s gender breakdown – overall, by service area and by seniority within the company – compared to the UK industry average.
For our comparison data, we’ve used the Moz 2014 Industry Survey, filtered for the UK. Unfortunately, measuring the seniority of the Moz survey respondents was pretty much impossible (is a Strategist more or less senior than a Specialist? Anyone?), so for that portion we’ve used data from the 2013 Brighton SEO Salary Survey.

We’ll be the first to agree that some of the data here is a little patchy – there’s some missing areas that we weren’t able to compare against (particularly for our Affiliate Marketing team), and statistical significance isn’t great because of low numbers of respondents in some cases. If anybody knows of any better sources of demographic data for the digital industry, please let us know and we’ll be happy to update our comparison!

The Results

Agency-wide:

50% female/50% male exactly. Win!

At a glance this is great when compared to the 28% industry average figure for women in digital marketing. This is just the top-level figure though – is there any gender imbalance if we dig deeper?

By Service:

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The service-by-service breakdown also looks good – in every department, gender balance is only ever out by a maximum of one person either way. The relatively small numbers for some teams make the percentage differences look huge, but in reality that’s not the case. There’s also a strong showing of women in digital roles that are heavily male-dominated according to the Moz figures such as development and SEO, as well as in more ‘female-friendly’ areas like Content Marketing and Social Media.

By seniority:

The majority of our junior level roles are held by women, while Consultants are more likely to be men. However, there’s a strong female presence in senior management levels, heading up service delivery and setting the strategy for our clients as well as the agency as a whole.

Why is this?

We seem to have a respectable gender balance at Silverbean compared to the average for the digital marketing industry, which is fantastic, and this definitely seems to be reflected in our team’s overall atmosphere and dynamic. But, why? There’s been plenty written about the issues women face in the industry, so we’re really interested to try and figure out what we’ve been doing right, accidentally or otherwise!

Recruitment:

Naturally, our recruitment processes will obviously play a big part here. A quick tally of the applications we’ve received shows that since June 2014 (our last big recruitment drive), our applicant gender split has been 41% female, 59% male.

This is still biased towards male applicants, but we seem to be attracting applications from a higher percentage of women than we’d expect for an industry that’s “officially” 72% male. There’s a chance that this could be down to the high percentage of women already working at Silverbean – there are a lot of female faces on our Team page, blog and Facebook page, so it’s pretty clear that we’re no “boys’ club”!

The fact that our senior service delivery team (the people who usually end up specifying, advertising and promoting vacancies) is predominantly female might be playing a part, too – there’s a chance that we’ve inadvertently ended up writing about our vacancies in a way that’s more likely to appeal to female applicants. Perhaps companies trying to attract more female team members could consider getting feedback on their recruitment materials from the women in their teams?

Culture:

For some insight into our overall approach to recruitment, it’s over to our Managing Director Neil Robbins:

“Our approach to recruitment is absolutely gender neutral. We are only ever interested in recruiting the right candidates into the digital agency, people with the right experience and skills and equally important to us, those who fit with the personality and culture of our business.

Evaluating the data of our internal research is very interesting, especially when compared to the outside world and I am proud we are bucking what appears to be a national trend. However, I don’t feel there is any specific reason why we have such an even balance of male and females here but I do believe it does positively contribute to us having an atmosphere and camaraderie that we all enjoy working in.”

The Interviews

To get some more insight into what our team think about the gender balance at Silverbean, plus their experiences in the career to date within the digital sector, we asked a selection of the team a few heated questions…

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Name/Title: Charlotte McMurray, Digital Performance Director

How did you get into digital?

By accident, really! My first ‘digital’ role was a part-time eCommerce assistant job while I was a student, adding products to the company website and answering customer queries. Over time that expanded into email marketing, SEO, content creation and some basic development work. From there I worked in a couple of in-house digital roles before moving agency side to join Silverbean three years ago. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of really interesting work, and I’ve had a lot of support from the team at Silverbean which has enabled me to progress within the company, for which I’m very grateful indeed!

What’s your experience been like as a ‘woman in digital’?

Before I came to Silverbean I was used to being in the minority – I’ve been the “token woman” in a couple of roles, although I can’t say it’s really bothered me – I’ve been part of some fantastic teams and worked with some very knowledgeable people. That being said, it’s great to be working in a more gender-balanced team at Silverbean and I definitely feel like the atmosphere and culture is better as a result!

Personally I’ve never felt discriminated against, but I’ve heard enough stories from friends in the industry to suggest that I’m pretty lucky in that respect. I do come across the odd thing that makes me angry – about a month ago I saw an ad on Facebook from a company recruiting for developers, who apparently thought that plastering the ad with a seductively-posed, bikini-clad woman was the best way to attract high quality candidates! I don’t think things like that do the industry any favours, but it’s not the norm either – that ad in particular was ripped to shreds in the comments and taken down pretty quickly! On the whole I think the online marketing community is really progressive and welcoming, and it’s great to see how much discussion and interest there is in encouraging more women to consider careers in digital.

What do you think should be done to get more women into the industry?

While I agree that the digital industry is unbalanced (even biased in some places), I’m not sure it’s all that different to society and the business world as a whole. Sometimes I don’t think the industry does itself any favours (the stories of ‘booth babes’ and harassment at conferences in particular don’t paint us in a good light!), but there’s a definite will to improve, and I think this puts us ahead of a lot of other industries with similar problems but no real drive to make things better.

I’m a big fan of Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘lean in’ approach – if women are in the minority, we need to make sure we’re as vocal and visible as possible to try and make up for that. I’m nowhere near as active on this front as I should be, so maybe I need to get more involved in the community too (*gratuitous guest post/speaking opportunity plug*)!

What’s sad is that this approach can actually backfire on women if they’re not very careful – women in leadership positions are much more likely to be regarded as “abrasive” or “bossy” than men in similar roles (even when they’re not), so this can be a bit of a Catch-22. Personally though, I’d rather be “bossy” and speak my mind than sit quietly like a good girl any day!

Name/Title: James Mechan, Senior Search Marketing ConsultantSB_Heroes-03

How did you get into digital?

I got into digital through my university degree, which covered Business & Marketing and had a few modules on digital marketing, sparking my interest for a career in digital. These early modules led me to do some further reading around the industry and led me to pursue work in this area, with my career beginning at a local online retailer of consumer goods and rentals.

How does the gender balance at Silverbean compare to other digital jobs you’ve had?

The gender balance is something that I feel is very unique to Silverbean, every other digital company I have worked for (3 now) has been very male dominated, especially in the senior positions. I would say that none of my previous employers have had a female member of staff in a senior management position, which is not the case here.

If it’s different, what do you think the effect of that is?

I think having very little female influence in senior positions can stifle progression and willingness of other female staff into those more senior positions. It isn’t through any negative agenda or sexism, but it can be hard to break the mould if the traditional set up has been all male for the previous 10-15 years.

What do you think should be done to get more women into the industry?

I believe that there needs to be more emphasis on digital marketing and digital industries when students are making their decisions on career and university studies. If there was more visibility around the careers available at High school, 6th form and University then an interest would be ignited at the right point, everything is still very traditional in terms of career choice and career path.

Having more visibility at this stage will not only get more women into digital, it will get more people into digital which can only benefit the industry in the medium to long run.

SB_Heroes-04Name/Title: Lauren Archer, Marketing & PR Manager

How did you get into digital?

My digital journey started back at Uni when I took over as Head of Communications at the student radio station for the duration of my course. I was the only female in the Senior production team and was responsible for transforming our entire digital presence, i.e. actually creating one. At this stage, I was completely self-taught – from learning to code, to mastering social media channels before pretty much any other student station had even bothered with it. This helped us secure funding and increase listener stats, so the power of digital engagement was evident to me from the off.

I actually studied English Lit & Broadcast Journalism at Uni, so I suppose I went down the less traditional route to get to where I am now. That said, digital has always been ingrained in everything I’ve done to date, both professionally and as a freelancer, so a move into the digital sector was the ideal progression for me.

What’s your experience been like as a ‘woman in digital’?

I guess the misconception is that all things digital are toys for the boys and us girls should just sit back and let them get on with it, while we update our Pinterest boards with pictures of wedding dresses. Err, no. Times have changed massively of course and clearly, thanks to the huge number of inspiring women in digital, we’re no longer a minority.

At Silverbean particularly, there is literally no gender divide. We work as a team because we respect each other’s expertise, experience and opinions. While there are obviously a lot of us ladies in senior positions which is brilliant, it should be noted that this isn’t due to some ridiculous scheme to tick boxes. The positions are filled by women because that particular person just happens to be the best for the job. I feel motivated and inspired by everyone in the business regardless of gender, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit chuffed that we have so many kick-ass girls OWNING IT to take inspiration from.

What do you think should be done to get more women into the industry?

This might be a little controversial, but I honestly believe the way women are portrayed in the wider media might have a negative effect on the roles young women see themselves taking on. The likes of TOWIE/Geordie Shore and the Daily Mail’s “Sidebar of Shame” still insist on sending the message that young women should be aspiring to be the next Ariana Grande, rather than the next Arianna Huffington. I also think that digital needs to form a bigger part in the school curriculum so that attitudes toward digital evolve at the same speed as the industry. Virtually every sector is represented digitally, so the sooner this is echoed in education, the sooner future generations will get on board and be inspired to choose digital as a career.

What I find encouraging now is that so many professional publications are keen to profile successful women in digital, both well-known ones and those on the ascent. This shows younger women that there’s a place in digital for their skills and enthusiasm, and there’s no reason why they can’t be the next Marissa Meyer if they work hard to get there.

SB_Heroes-06Name/Title: Sam Barnes, Search Marketing Consultant

How did you get into digital?

I’ve always been interested in the Internet as a tool for business. I started out working for a domain name company as a Community Manager, focused on content and social media marketing. In that position, I was fortunate enough to get exposure to a huge range of digital marketing projects. That only fuelled my interest in the topic and encouraged me to take my career further. After getting more and more exposure to the SEO side of marketing at my previous company, I knew where I wanted to specialise. It was then I decided to move into agency work and Silverbean was a great opportunity for me!

How does the gender balance at Silverbean compare to other digital jobs you’ve had?

My other digital jobs have been fairly well balanced. There’s certainly not been an outstanding bias towards one gender or another.

If it’s different, what do you think the effect of that is?

Having a balanced workplace is important. Whether male or female, it’s important to have a range of opinions, skills and personalities. If the workplace is heavily weighted to one gender or another, there’s a risk that the less represented gender may struggle to ‘fit in’ or may feel less confident in giving their opinion. That can be hugely damaging to professional development and create a feeling of insecurity, which nobody wants to experience. Conversely, if the gender balance is good, people tend to feel empowered enough to give their opinions without feeling like their opinion matters more because they are in the better represented group. That’s the confidence ‘sweet spot’, so to speak.

What do you think should be done to get more women into the industry?

This is a difficult questions as I feel as though there are plenty of women entering digital at present and it’s an industry that’s fully embracing gender equality, from small businesses to corporate boardrooms. However, there could also be an argument that certain preconceptions are still rearing their ugly heads from time to time.

Digital businesses should be doing all they can to support gender equality in the workplace, not just by ensuring that they employ a balance, but also by supporting relevant causes and being proud to use this employment structure. The more we can do to dispel the old stereotypes about working in the digital industry, the lower the barrier to entry becomes for women.

SB_Heroes-08Name/Title: Gemma Neesham, Head of Search

How did you get into digital?

I started early, studying IT at University. I’d always enjoyed the more digital based topics of my studies and after a placement year at BT, I pretty much knew this was the industry I wanted to work in. On a very practical level, it was the industry which presented good employment opportunities which at the time was a rarity, particularly in the North East, but it was also one which offered me the chance to work in a growing and exciting fast paced environment. After an early role as a systems engineer, I moved into SEO which is where I’ve stayed ever since. My experience is agency based, and no two days are ever the same, but it’s an environment I love to work in.

What’s your experience been like as a ‘woman in digital’?

I’ve only ever had good experiences. I don’t know if it’s just been a result of time, but with each new company I’ve worked for there has been a greater percentage of women employed. Although I’ve never minded being the sole female in the department, I do think having a more balanced workforce has great benefits. Whilst we work hard the atmosphere at Silverbean is fun and enthusiastic, which is a stark contrast to some of my previous roles, and is an environment I feel much more comfortable and happier working in.

What do you think should be done to get more women into the industry?

I think having more female role models in the industry would be a big help towards encouraging more women. Even today a large majority of the speakers at digital conferences are male. I’m not sure whether this is down to there being less women in the industry or just less women who like public speaking, but either way, I think having more female figures could help make digital more accessible to women. I NOMINATE CHARLOTTE!

Name/Title: Michael Brown, Search Marketing ExecutiveSB_Heroes-02

How did you get into digital?

I got into digital through a natural process of evolution, working for a company who needed to grow the online marketing side of their business. I worked on web and app content, social media, email newsletters, advertising and blogs, as well as offline marketing. I pursued a 100% digital position due to interest, variety and the changing nature of the digital world itself.

How does the gender balance at Silverbean compare to other digital jobs you’ve had?

The gender balance at Silverbean is similar to my previous post, although a lot of places I have experienced in passing tended to have a higher male-to-female ratio. Whether relevant or not, it seemed a lot of the women employed in my last post were recent graduates, whereas the men employed came from positions of direct experience. I’ve worked in all-male and all-female environments in the past and believe a 50-50 split to be the most beneficial, especially in a creative post – the more ideas and different perspectives on things the better.

What do you think should be done to get more women into the industry?

As for getting more women into the industry, I think education plays a big part in opening doors, not just for digital marketing but for all ‘traditionally male’ jobs. Certain industries still have reputations as being male domains, for no reason other than old stereotypes. If such ‘traditionally male’ jobs could be made appealing to all from an early age it should have a positive effect on the male-female split in this industry and elsewhere. Another big issue is pay, with a lot of women paid less than men for doing the same job, which is nonsensical. Equality of pay and thus opportunity is a good starting point.

One issue in particular is the lack of knowledge about online marketing outside the industry. In comparison to other fields of work it’s relatively new and always changing. I wonder how much teachers and careers advisers (etc) know about it and how many varied ways into the industry there are, from technical stuff to writing, to admin etc.

Name/Title: Eva Flammensbeck, Affiliate Marketing Manager SB_Heroes-09

How did you get into digital?

I came to digital whilst working in book publishing. I was dealing with the company’s website, which was really fun for me as I took some web publishing classes at University. Managing the social media channels was part of my job as well. In addition I was responsible for keeping everyone up to date on e-book development in Germany, and for evaluating which other publishing options we had next to the traditional print edition.

I was curious to learn more about the digital world – it was a new field back then. I didn’t get enough chance to do that in my position so I started a master’s degree in Cross-Media Publishing. Here I got good insight and knowledge across various media channels. After that, I looked for a job in the digital world and landed in a full service online marketing agency.

What’s your experience been like as a ‘woman in digital’?

To be honest, being a woman in digital has never been an issue for me. I guess it’s different if you are a coder for instance, but in Germany where I started my career, the digital marketing agencies are very mixed. Particularly in fields where more communication skills are required, as it is in Affiliate Marketing where I work, you often see more female than male employees.

Again, in more technical heavy jobs, such as SEO among others, you tend to find more men, but from what I see it is changing at the moment and many more women are working in digital and technical fields.

What do you think should be done to get more women into the industry?

From what I see, women are not shy anymore to get involved with technical jobs, as they’ve grown up with digital media and it‘s natural for them to deal with computers and what’s connected to it. In Germany, universities are already employing good measures in promoting stereo-typically ‘male’ degrees to women, such as Girls Days etc. I’m not sure if this also happens in the UK, though!

The Conclusion

As a forward-thinking organisation, the issue of ‘Women in Digital’ isn’t something that’s ever really concerned us at Silverbean. Sure, gender inequality very much exists despite the fact it’s 2015, but what we have and always will be committed to ensuring is that the right person gets the right role, irrespective of whether they’re male or female. It’s clear from our research that the rest of the digital industry isn’t far from the same outlook.

We’d be really interested in hearing your views on our gender equality study, as well as any personal experiences of gender imbalance in your digital career, whether you’re male or female. Join the discussion in the comments below, or share your views with us on Twitter.