Many women are helping to shape the marketing world by sharing their insights and expertise on sites like Search Engine Watch and at conferences such as the SES Conference & Expo.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, some of the smartest women in marketing reflect on the women who helped or inspired them, and share some challenges women in our industry are facing.
A Day for Reflection & Celebrating Women
So what is International Women’s Day and why does it matter? Essentially, it’s “a day where we can focus on women and their accomplishments and recognize all the amazing women in our personal and professional lives,” said Julie Joyce, Director of Operations at Link Fish Media.
Indeed, International Women’s Day is all about celebrating the achievements of women past and present. It reminds women of the possibility and empowerment they have, said Lisa Buyer, CEO of the Buyer Group. It’s also a reminder that there are talented women around the world capable of doing amazing things when pursuing their goals and passions, added Rebecca Murtagh, Founder of Karner Blue Marketing.
And it’s a day that matters a lot to Miranda Miller, Content Marketing Manager at TopRank Online Marketing.
“It's a great time to stop to see how far we've come and look ahead to where we'd like to be … and also how much is left to be done,” Miller said. “It's hard to find that time to reflect on the women who blazed trails in politics, business and technology, but without them I wouldn't have had the opportunities I've had to date, so I'm incredibly grateful. We don't often have time to reflect because as working women and moms, life is all about juggling and just trying to keep all of the balls in the air.”
Jasmine Sandler, CEO of Agent-cy Online Marketing, said today should be a reminder for women to be more cooperative and help each other succeed.
“All too often I see women being competitive towards each other and putting their emotions first in business as opposed to truly collaborating,” Sandler said. “I run a women business owner group on LinkedIn. I will be reaching out to my members to remind them that we need to help each other.”
Though it’s a good day to celebrate, it’s also important to remember that many women in other countries face much bigger challenges than women in the U.S., said Jessica Lee, Content & Media Manager at Bruce Clay Inc.
“International Women's Day reminds us of the unique challenges women face all over the world,” Lee said. “The pressures and demands women face globally vary greatly (and sometimes are unimaginable), and a day like today helps remind us of how women experience life all over the globe.”
The day is also quite significant for digital marketer Noran El-Shinnaway.
“I grew up and spent most of my life (so far) in Egypt, where we didn't recognize, let alone celebrate International Women's Day,” El-Shinnaway said. “In fact, I didn't even know about it until a few years ago when I got on a bus in Montreal, only to find out that all public transportation in the city was free that day in celebration of women. What a treat that was!”
For all these reasons and more, it’s important to celebrate the women who fought for women’s equality on International Women’s Day, said Ashley Zeckman, Marketing Manager at TopRank. “They helped pave the way for women today to hold virtually any job in any industry that interests them,” Zeckman said.
“I love having a day to celebrate women across the globe,” said Melissa Mackey, Search Supervisor at gyro. “It's a good opportunity to pat ourselves on the back and reflect on everything we've accomplished personally and professionally.”
The Inspirational Women
So who has helped these women get to where they are today? For some it was a co-worker.
Lisa Barone, Vice President of Strategy at Overit, said she's been fortunate to have several women to look up to, starting when she entered the industry and lasting all the way through today.
“I remember attending my first few SEO conferences and listening to women like Anne Kennedy, Christine Churchill, Jill Whalen, and Dana Todd school the men on SEO. Women like Rae Hoffman showed me it was OK to have a voice and to not always agree with whatever b.s. the so-called ‘A List’ was spewing," Barone said. "And I had a pack of women around my age like Rebecca Kelley who I really got to come up with this in this industry. There are a lot of powerful women here and getting to work alongside them and learn from them has certainly influenced how my career has been shaped.”
Joyce has also found inspiration from many colleagues and friends.
“All the SEO Chicks, Debra Mastaler and Jane Copland. They're all good friends and all very inspirational to me and they've all been instrumental in encouraging me no matter what I'm doing,” Joyce said.
Buyer also credited two women for helping her in different ways.
“Julie Silver Talenfeld, who owns Boardroom Communication PR Agency. I was her first employee and it was one of my first jobs out of college," Buyer said. "Today Boardroom Communications is rated on of the top PR agencies in Florida. Julie inspired me to see how rewarding it is to own a business and that it is possible for women to think out of the corporate box, and break through some glass ceilings. Julie also taught me how important it is to be resourceful."
Like Barone, Buyer also credited marketing expert Dana Todd.
“She inspired me with her leadership and expertise in the search industry,” Buyer said. “Dana helped open doors for me and thanks to her I am part of this awesome community.”
Zeckman is another who credits a co-worker as one of her inspirations.
“I worked with a woman named Jennifer Lefor that taught me what it was to be a strong, fair, and confident woman in the workplace,” Zeckman said. “She didn't put up with excuses and expected excellence. She earned the respect of colleagues and clients by displaying intellect and remaining steadfast in what she knew to be true.”
Lee said she’s “grateful for what the women have done before me to bring us to where we are today” but in particular noted the inspiration from one co-worker.
“In one of my first marketing career moves, my team was led by a vibrant, creative, energetic woman who had no fear. She was an ex-Disney exec and she was an exceptional leader – supportive, enabling and she always had our backs, no matter what,” Lee said. “She let us explore our ideas and creativity to no end, and that was one of the most efficient and collaborative teams I'd ever been a part of, and we produced some amazing results.”
One mentor was very special to Christina Zila, Director of Communications at Textbroker.
“When I graduated college, my first step was a doozy: an internship in a foreign country, namely Germany,” she recalled. “A student-run internship swap organization arranged the contracts and even the lodging. However, when I arrived, the apartment they had for me wasn't available.
"My boss, who I hadn't met yet, stepped up and welcomed me into her home with her husband and dog. While the living situation was only temporary, we developed a close bond that helped guide my career, from creating a German resume to starting my own business. Without Maren Kroeske and her patience and encouragement, I wouldn't be the success I am.
Kroeske told Zila that when she got in her position that she was expecting Zila to do the same, which has led Zila to working with WIMMI to encourage and mentor other women in media and marketing.
Others, such as Sandler and Miller, credit their mother for helping them get to where they are.
“She always had two or three jobs to make sure me and my sisters were taken care of and was a natural entrepreneur,” Miller said. “I started working for one of her businesses at eight years old. By 13, I had my first "real" job and at 15 I was kicked out of the house and out of school (I was a bit of a wild child) but looking back now, those were all things that needed to happen in order for me to be who I am today. When I finally came around, she was there to help me get back on track, finish school and go on to better things.”
“Later in life, she ran a homeless men's shelter and I learned then just how tough and compassionate she really is. They absolutely appreciated and respected her; she treated them with dignity but didn't take any crap. Definitely someone to look up to in my life!”
Laura Roth, Senior Conference Manager for the SES Conference & Expo series, also credited her mother.
“She’s always encouraged me to put my mind to whatever I want to do and not believe there are any ceilings as to what you can achieve. I’ve never felt that I couldn’t do something just because I’m female,” Roth said. “There are also women in more male dominated industries who are constantly pushing the boundaries and achieving things that others have not done before them which acts as good inspiration for all women – [Yahoo CEO] Marissa Mayer would be a great example of this in our industry.”
El-Shinnaway had a family full of strong, exceptional women who defied all cultural boundaries and went on to have remarkable careers, she said.
“My great grandmother, the first female to hold office in the Egyptian Ministry of Education, my grandmother, one of the first female judges in Egypt, and my mother, an outstanding restoration archaeologist. So you see, there was absolutely no pressure on me,” she said.
For some, such as Mackey, it’s impossible to name just one.
“Powerful women are a source of constant inspiration to me,” Mackey said.
Challenges For Women
Marketing is still a male dominated industry. No doubt about it.
One of the recurring themes women brought up when asked about the biggest challenges seemed to revolve around marketing conferences – with many noting that men far outnumber women as speakers, and many women have endured harassment or worse.
Recent articles, such as this one on aimClear’s blog stirred up some interesting debate about equality in the industry and how there are still issues that need addressing.
“I spoke out recently about sexism in tech and changes I'd like to see in regard to how women are physically treated at events,” Barone said. “That is something I believe needs to be seriously addressed to protect the safety of women.”
Miller agreed that sexual harassment and even assault are issues at conferences, but noted that those aren’t unique to the marketing industry.
“For every sexist man with antiquated views and entitlement issues in marketing or SEO, there are dozens more who are genuinely good people and fight back against sexism as hard as we do, because it's not even in their realm to think that way,” Miller said. “I never felt while working for SEW, for example, that my input was any less valuable or my work less appreciated because I don't have an Adam's apple. On an individual level, we can address sexism by flat out rejecting it. As an industry, we need to support those people who expose it for what it is: unacceptable.”
Joyce also said women being made to feel unwelcome at conferences is a huge issue.
“I think we all need to just stay aware of the issues women face, but I think they vary. Some women may never feel like they have to deal with any drama, while some may encounter it constantly,” Joyce said. “Being aware of it and talking about it can only help.”
Roth noted that even though this is an issue, the comments by men and women in posts discussing these issues have shown that efforts are being made across the board to open up more avenues for women in this industry.
“However the fact still remains that this industry is dominated by males – you only have to look around the networking events at most of the conferences to see the ratio of men to women at events – there are other factors to remember such as women having children and not being as flexible as men to attend such events,” Roth said.
As for those women attending SES events, Roth notes that “a female speaker at SES New York is looking into arranging a girls night out for female speakers – so hey we could be getting somewhere in making the female marketers a powerful force!”
Mackey said women must encourage each other and keep pushing to make their voices heard. Murtagh echoed this point.
“Women may sometimes feel as though they have to do it better, longer and shout about it louder, to get the same recognition that men may with much less effort. However, when you are doing the work for the right reasons, you can, and will earn the respect, support and recognition deserved,” she said.
Another challenge for women: finding the right balance, Mackey said.
“As women we all need to continue fighting for flexible workplaces and work/life balance,” Mackey said. “The recent uproar over Yahoo disallowing working from home is a step back for women, and we need to keep pushing against family-unfriendly policies in the workplace.”
Another issue is that women still have to work harder to prove their worth, said Zeckman.
“Finding that balance between being feminine and authoritative is not always easy (just ask me, I'll tell you). If we want other people to take us seriously, then we need to display confidence in what we know and show we are just as competent as the next ‘guy’.”
Stereotyping is still an issue but getting better, Buyer said.
“Some of the best qualities of women unfortunately can be the worst qualities,” Buyer said. “So balancing that in business and marketing is key. The more balance, the more power, for both men and women.
Another issue, though not unique to marketing, is the issue of pay, Sandler said.
“I am not sure about marketing, but women certainly still work harder than men for less or equal pay,” she said. “This, I strongly believe, women do to themselves. It takes a strong woman to stand on her own and get what she deserves.”
Where to Now?
So what does the future hold for women in marketing? Barone said that the barriers for entry (and having their voices be heard) are pretty much equal for men and women.
“I've never felt held back or like I was dismissed because I was a woman,” Barone said. “One of the greatest things about our industry is that we truly care about what people are capable of doing, not their gender.
El-Shinnaway agreed, noting the number of female entrepreneurs and CEOs is on the rise, which is “both inspirational and empowering.”
“I think the industry is still very much dominated by men, but I see that as more of an opportunity than a challenge,” she said. “I've been working a lot with Big Data and Predictive Analytics recently, so you can imagine I've been mostly working with men. Which is great! We're creating a gender-neutral environment of collaboration where everyone's work matters and different skill sets complement each other.”
Murtagh said she looks forward to a day when women don’t need a dedicated day to elevate appreciation and awareness for the valid and significant contributions they make every day.
“Women want to be measured by the contributions they make, not on a separate scale, but on the same level playing field as men,” she said.
With so many bright women already in marketing, Lee is confident that we'll see more and more female voices as time goes on.
“I think one of the ways we can overcome some of the challenges women face in marketing or any field is to celebrate the unique differences and attributes women bring to their field and the workplace, and take care not to force the same standards men hold for one another,” she said. “Women define success in different ways, and the best thing we can do is to evolve with those definitions of success.
Lisa Raehsler, Founder of Big Click Co., said that in the past, it was difficult and discouraging for women to get into search marketing because they were more likely to face male-oriented tech-like teams and lack of female mentors and leaders. But she has noticed an upward trend of more women getting into the field than 5 years ago, and is now seeing many teams equally men and women.
“With the wild growth of the search marketing and so many exciting opportunities, more woman have been attracted to the field to lead – and excel – in search,” Raehsler said. “I personally strive every day to make a positive impact on the search industry by practicing SEM ethically, knowledge sharing, and examining the bigger picture trends. International Women’s Day is a good opportunity for all of us to reflect on how we impact the world as women search leaders.”