Study: Gender Bias In Digital Marketing Is Real

Gender Bias study Wordstream

WordStream, the paid search platform, published an eye-opening study this week on gender bias in the online marketing industry. Using its internal data, the study concluded that there is, in fact, quantifiable evidence of gender bias: Women are undervalued by 21 percent compared to their male counterparts.

In light of anecdotal evidence and Moz’s latest industry salary survey that showed female digital marketers with the same level of education and experience as their male counterparts are paid less, WordStream analyzed its most recent customer satisfaction data regarding WordStream’s male and female account service reps. Looking at the satisfaction scores for individual account representatives broken down by gender and account performance was revealing.

Across the board, female account reps received below average satisfaction scores, and every single male account representative received higher satisfaction scores than the highest rated female (as shown in the chart above).

To answer the question of whether men are just better at making AdWords recommendations than women, WordStream pulled performance data its AdWords Grader tool for the accounts included in the survey. They looked at aggregate grades for the accounts overseen by male and female reps. Lo and behold, the accounts supported by female reps had higher AdWords Grader scores than those managed by men — by 19 percent.

So at what account performance levels were women being most undervalued? For those accounts with mid-level performance grades. The WordStream team divided the accounts by AdWords Grader scores and found nearly a full point spread between male and female scores by accounts in the middle. These accounts gave male reps their highest ratings, and gave female reps their lowest rating. “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,” wrote Larry Kim, CTO and founder of WordStream, and author of the study.

And again, across the board from the highest peforming accounts to the lowest, women reps were rated below their male counterparts. In fact, the male reps for the worst performing accounts still got better scores than female reps on the best performing accounts. What really stood out was the spread between male and female reps given by average-performing accounts.

Gender Bias online marketing

What’s interesting, is that the gender bias was more pronounced among female clients. Female clients gave male reps higher scores and female reps lower scores than the male clients did. Male reps also received higher scores from female clients than from male clients. Essentially, while both male and female clients undervalue female account reps, the degree is higher among female clients.

The anecdotes from WordStream’s female customer service reps here are telling, with some blaming the fact that women “may not always exude confidence the way a male does” and another adding matter of factly that when clients ask for a second opinion about a recommendation, she gets a male rep on the phone to repeat her advice and “Usually, they are quick to accept it coming from a guy”.

Obviously, we’re all in this industry together and recognizing the subtle forms of gender bias among us is the first step toward equalizing the playing field. This study should help move the conversation forward.