It was around this time last year that both Moz and WordStream published 2 articles that pointed to a gender bias in the online marketing industry. After reading the article WordStream wrote, I asked a fellow female co-worker (who works in a more client-facing role than me) whether she had ever experienced the gender bias that Moz and WordStream were talking about. She echoed a comment that one of WordStream’s reps made which was that sometimes clients do not trust or do not agree with a recommendation she has suggested, but are quick to accept the same recommendation when it is reiterated by a man. We didn’t discuss the issue any further that day, and I think it’s safe to say gender discrimination is not something that is discussed at work very often at all, but the articles struck a chord and we felt that Moz and WordStream had uncovered good information that deserved to be passed on.

Which is exactly what we hope to do today! So if you work in online marketing (or a similar field) and are interested in making your workplace more inclusive to all genders, read on, and please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

But first, the data!

Moz uncovers salary gap

In February 2014, Moz released a study about how online marketing salaries compared across the globe. Part of this study involved analyzing the average salary earned by men and women and when they did a straight-up comparison between the genders they found a significant salary gap (over $10,000.)

Salaries in online marketing by gender

Moz didn’t stop there though, they went further and analyzed salaries by gender and experience. Initially it was good news, they found that women who were new to online marketing were making slightly more than their male counterparts. Women with more than 3 years of experience though actually made less, on average, than their male counterparts, with the salary gap stretching as far as $30,000 for women with 10 or more years of experience.

Salaries in online marketing by gender and experience (in years)

Salaries in online marketing by gender and experience (in years) numbered list

So, although it is encouraging to see the new generation of women earning a fair salary, it’s clear by the large pay gap that exists among more experienced marketers that we’re not out of the woods yet.

WordStream quantifies the gender bias

In fact, soon after Moz started this conversation about online marketing salaries, WordStream published their own study which actually shed some much-needed light on this important discussion.

WordStream’s results were interesting because they:

1) Challenged the assumption that men are paid more than women (despite equal levels of education and experience) because they are simply better at their jobs.
2) Were able to quantify the amount by which women are undervalued in online marketing (21%)

How did they do this? They took the results of client satisfaction surveys and matched them up to the account rep in question. They then measured the success of each account with their AdWords Grader tool and compared these results to the client’s level of satisfaction with each account rep.

What they found was that clients were more likely to give male reps more points despite the fact that accounts managed by female reps were actually outperforming those managed by male reps.


And when they really dug into the data they found that the difference in client rep scores was the worst “in the middle”. So, where accounts are performing at an average level (not killing it, but not tanking either) there was almost a full point in difference between the scores given to female reps and the scores given to male reps.

gender-bias-data-men-vs-women 2

This significant difference led Larry Kim (WordStream’s founder and Chief Technology Officer) to suggest the following hypothesis:

My take on this phenomenon is that discrimination in our field is of the subtle, pernicious variety – there’s no overt sign on the door that says women need not apply – that would be too obvious. Rather, the strongest bias occurred in the “average performing accounts” in our pool of advertisers (i.e. accounts that were neither failing badly, nor succeeding wildly). For these “average performing” accounts, it would seem that that men client service managers more often than not, receive the benefit of the doubt where as women client service managers are far less likely to get a pass.

“Awareness is key”

After uncovering these troubling results, WordStream interviewed some of their account reps about this issue and did something remarkable when they asked them: “We suspect that gender bias is a pervasive problem in search marketing. How do you think we can address these issues?”

They invariably got some very insightful responses, but above that they empowered their employees to find a solution to this problem.

And although Bluetrain is a proud employer of women (7 of 11 employees are women), we posed the exact same question to our team here at Bluetrain so that our team could also have the chance to educate themselves on this issue and empower themselves to take action.

From our team’s responses it’s clear that we’re on the same page with gender equality. Everyone agreed that despite the persistent cultural biases that make the struggle for gender equality difficult, we still need to:

  • Seek out and celebrate women who have achieved success
  • Encourage women to have confidence in their ideas
  • Support people when they encounter prejudice at work
  • Value people based on the quality of their work, not their gender

But before we can achieve all these things, we need to be able to speak freely about this issue. It’s more than likely this problem is not isolated to online marketing, so we encourage you to challenge the gender biases in your own industry. Talk to your colleagues and employees about the challenges they face at work related to their gender and brainstorm ways to help.

Although there is still much work to be done in the area of gender equality, we can all do our part by participating in discussions like this and becoming more cognizant of our own prejudices.

2 thoughts on “Does Online Marketing Suffer from a Gender Bias Problem?

  1. There is a pervasive ‘old boys club’ thinking in many large companies unfortunately, which contributes to this inequality. However, as the number of young women starting their own companies is growing, we can only hope the situation will cease in the near future. Success for an employee’s project and in turn the company’s client, should be foremost in attributing awards regardless of gender. If a company values its staff as a whole then the gender bias should not be an issue.

    1. Thanks very much for your input, Mandy. It’s true, business owners, staff, and clients need to work together to make sure good work is valued properly.

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