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Paola Bergamini
16 March 2021
Reading time: 6 min.

Women in Digital Marketing: does the sector cope with equal opportunities?

To celebrate Women’s Day, let’s analyze the situation of the labor market, the number of female quotas, and the most recurring professions in Digital Marketing. We want to understand if this sector offers equal opportunities or if the gender gap is far from being bridged.

In recent years, the quality of the work culture has grown to be a key social issue. It’s among the top sources of concern for workers every year. According to Accenture‘s annual research, Getting to Equal, work culture inclusivity is a deciding factor in greater work productivity for approximately 77% of women and 67% of men.

But what’s the Digital Marketing situation? Is there equity, or is there still a significant gender gap to close?

This is the main question that we’ve asked ourselves. We’ve analyzed numerous national and international studies and researches, and here’s what has emerged.

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Has the digital marketing gender gap been closed? The data answer

The study, Gender in Marketing, shows that women are more likely to start a career in the marketing sector: 21% compared to 16% of men. Nevertheless, all the studies we’ve consulted and that you’ll find cited in this article highlight a framework of gender inequality—both globally and at the European and Italian level—testifying how equal opportunities are still a very distant goal, especially at the managerial level.

Education must certainly be excluded among the causes of this disparity. The European Parliament document, Gender Equality in the Media Sector, confirms that the so-called gender gap doesn’t start during education. In fact, the number of women who graduated in advertising, media, and marketing and communications fields and get employed accordingly is comparable to that of men. The percentage of female graduates in media disciplines has constantly grown over the years, surpassing 44%. 

Therefore, the gap stems from the start of the actual working path. All studies point to family duties as the main causes.

In particular, the GWPR Annual Index 2020 provides a complete picture of the main factors that hold women back in their career:

  • caring for children and family members (78% of cases);
  • lacking a work-life balance at top levels (for 70%), and
  • inflexibility in both work and family environments (for 67%).
cause di barriera

Source: GWPR Annual Index 2020

Women are more inclined to believe that parenthood has negative impacts on their career (62% versus 24% of men).

Above all, the gender gap surely affects all women who create a family,” confirms Laura Zanella, MailUp Product & Technology Department Engineering Associate Manager. “Not many companies are willing to invest in a working mother and her needs. However, when they do it, they often find professionals who work even harder to show that they deserve the trust given to them. I was lucky. MailUp has allowed me to work part-time since the beginning and, more recently, in distance without hindering my career. I was hired as a Web Developer six years ago and, today, I’m an Engineering Associate Manager. It’s just a matter of will!”

In the United States alone, the percentage of women who’ve quit their jobs to look after their families is 27% (versus 10% of men). Around 40% say they’ve requested time reductions and have taken a significant amount of leave and vacation time to take care of children and other family members:

madri e padri responsabilita

Source: Pew Research Center

“Being a mother is also a matter of presence. Like me, many women happen to ask for a reduction in work hours to delegate as little as possible to grandparents and school structures. However, this often turns into giving up part of their professional life, both in economic terms and in consideration,” confirms Fabiana Scamardella, MailUp Customer Support Specialist. “In fact, not all companies promote those who don’t dedicate at least 8 hours of work a day to senior levels.

Women in company management: equality or gap?

In looking at the big picture of global business management, Accenture’s annual research tells us that only 2.8% of companies within the Fortune Global 500 have a female CEO. Further, only 1 out of 5 startups have been founded by a woman. 

According to the Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media, only 27% of women hold top positions in media companies (just over a quarter).

Most senior marketing profiles are taken by men. Data from the study, Gender in Marketing, show that 62% of companies with a sole marketing manager have the role filled by a man. This managerial level gap is also confirmed in the Public Relations sector. Here, 64% of senior positions still belong to men, even though women occupy around two thirds of the entire work environment.

We asked our female colleagues at MailUp about the causes of such an evident gender gap in senior positions: “As women, we dare less. We find ourselves in male-only contexts during our professional growth. Despite having the same skills, we feel isolated and are more afraid of speaking up. By expressing ourselves less, we feed all possible prejudices about women (fragility, shyness, plus less competence and rationality). This leads to greater difficulties in obtaining roles of responsibility,” said Micol Belletti, MailUp Growth Marketing Associate Manager. She concludes with an appeal: “Trust me, women, everything depends on us: always express ourselves and help dismantle these fears and prejudices.” 

Ilaria Pellini, Sales Delivery Manager, provided us with another key point of view: “Quite often, a transformational leadership style is identified as a distinctive trait of female management. This is based not on an exercise of power for the sake of commanding but for contributing to business improvement while motivating employees. This type of leadership is key for governing change. It guarantees excellent results, both in terms of performance and satisfaction. I do prefer this leadership model to others, but I’d like to live in a world where all gender stereotypes, including this one, would finally be overcome. I wish that, even in the case of leadership forms, the individuals were evaluated for their capacity, skills, and ethics, as well as being right for the role and the organization. That’s all.

There’s still a wage gap

The Marketing Week 2020 Career and Salary Survey provides significant data about remuneration. It confirms that, unfortunately, gender inequality still leaves its mark here, too. When considering full-time employees, the gap is 28%. Women in managerial positions, like Marketing or Sales Directors, earn around 11% less than their male colleagues. 

The trend over recent years has shown some steps forward—albeit too small to represent a real improvement, as can be seen from this graph:

Source: Simply Marketing Jobs

In Italy, the picture doesn’t get better: the wage gap slowly closed over the past three years from 2016 to 2018. However, it started to grow in 2019, reaching an average of 11.1% so that the total gross female salary is approximately €3,000 less than that of males (Source: JobPricing/Spring Professional).

Roles and gender difference

The Simply Marketing Job 2018–19 annual report also provides interesting insights into the type of roles sought by the two genders in the marketing sector:

ruoli marketing 724x1024 1

Source: Simply Marketing Jobs

This image demonstrates how job profiles related to analytical skills and activities (SEO, PPC, and Data Analysis) attract more menwhile sectors like events, PR, or assistance roles are more sought by women. However, this doesn’t translate into more females at the top levels of these professions.

The Candidate confirms this scenario with a further study of 150 companies. Mostly, women seek and fulfill the following roles: marketing and social media (27%), public relations and communications (18%), and account management ( 14%), while the more technical and analytical roles continue to be mainly held by men.

Equality = Growth

Ensuring equal opportunities and a fair working environment isn’t just an ethical issue. It can bring concrete managerial benefits that guarantee greater productivity, as well as create a more stimulating work culture for employees. According to Accenture, a 50% reduction in the gender gap can significantly boost a company’s overall profit (up to 30% growth), plus be a source of incentives and career ambitions:

  • the percentage of women who perceive their role as key in decision-making processes would increase by 43%;
  • women with leadership aspirations would grow by 21%, and
  • the number of women satisfied with their work would increase by 5% to save companies on the cost of new hires—for a total of around 8 million per year.

Also Eleonora Nardini, MailUp Group Head of People & Culture, had a say on the importance of creating an inclusive corporate culture to stimulate employees and increase competitiveness and productivity: “I believe that the promotion of gender equality must start from a concept that underlies diversity and inclusion: belonging. Belongingness makes each individual feel accepted for who they are. Inclusion and diversity strategies are important but insufficient if the company is unable to create a culture of belonging—the benefits of which are enormous. I think that dialogue and transparency are essential in fostering a sense of belonging to the company. Companies must commit to starting this process from above for it to permeate the corporate culture from within. Intercultural understanding, together with knowledge and understanding of the market, makes a company more competitive.”

Five inspiring Digital Marketing women

Precisely because the disparity exists and is still effective, women are more inclined than men to look at inspiring figures (35% vs. 24%). About 66% believe that having more top management female role models is one of the most contributing factors to bridge the gap and incentivize career progression.

Here are 5 examples of inspiring women:

  • Mari Smith: Named by Forbes as a Top Ten Social Influencer, she’s among the world’s leading social media experts. Besides her long experience with Facebook, she authored The New Relationship Marketing and co-authored Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day.
  • Ann Handley: Recognized by IBM as 1 of the 7 most prestigious marketing professionals today, she’s the head of MarketingProfs and the author of the bestselling book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content (which landed on the Wall Street Journal’s list of best sellers).
  • Purna Virji: PPCHero nominated her as the most influential person in the PPC arena. As a SEM and SEO expert, she’s a Global Engagement Senior Manager at Microsoft and columnist for Search Engine Land. Even more, she’s been cited among the 50 most influential women in Digital Marketing by Voice Search magazine.
  • Veronica Gentili: In Italy, she’s a key web marketer. In particular, she deals with Facebook Marketing and is a Facebook Marketing Expert for AdEspresso and Hootsuite. She’s written two successful books: Facebook Marketing Strategies and Tactics for Businesses and Professionals (fifth reprint) and Facebook Marketing Plan, one of Amazon’s top sellers.
  • Mara Andria: Mara, also from Italy, is the CMO of the Pegaso University. Among the Forbes 100 main Italian marketing directors, she became head of marketing and communications, organization, and event management at Pegaso after working for RAI.
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Paola Bergamini

I was born in 1993 in Como and I escaped from this little town to study in Milan, where I graduated in 2017 in philosophy. I've always been interested in marketing and communication and I love writing and reading. As Content Editor at MailUp, I try to keep up to date with Email and Digital Marketing news, in order to share trends, theories and tools about this constantly evolving sector.

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