Before you read this piece, please note that my intention, here, is not to pit one gender against the other. I know many, many SEOs, both male and female, am honored to call them friends, and have learned tons from both genders. Also, this piece is based on my opinions, observations, and thoughts, none of which are that of Search Engine People, its staff, or anyone else unless otherwise stated. Lastly, I know there are exceptions to every rule, but for the sake of exploring the topic, I have made generalizations, and none of them are intended to have a negative connotation. With that, please read on and share your thoughts.
I'd been discussing the business of SEO with John Chen of lil Engine, when he'd asked the same question I'd asked myself many times: Where are all the women in SEO? And, if there are more than it outwardly appears, where are they, and why are they hiding? (While I'm not technically a practicing SEO, if there's a secret club or something I'm missing out on, I'd love to join up!)
There has to be a number of women SEOs out there somewhere...right? I think there is. They simply aren't as vocal, and in the public eye. In an effort to find out what's going on, I talked to some of the brilliant minds around the web and it seems my thoughts aren't too far off.
Donna Fontenot, who has been active in the online community for a number of years, seemed to echo the same thoughts as most the men and women SEOs I had spoken with:
"There are lots more (female SEOs) than most people realize, however, they tend to be less outspoken, less "out there" in the public eye. Maybe that's a function of guys wanting to shake their tail feathers for all to see, and women just get the job done. I'm not sure, but really, there are lots, lots, lots more than most people imagine." ~ Donna Fontenot, DazzlinDonna
In her message, Donna brought up an interesting point: do men simply enjoy being out in the public eye more than women? I'm not so sure, particularly when you consider the amount of time women spend getting ready for a night out on the town, for example.
Maybe women SEOs are just too busy working to be 'out and about'? Well, I don't think this is it either. I think time is a significant factor for both genders.
When I went to Twitter for the answer, I have to admit that we had fun teasing each other back and forth about this whole concept. And, even though we had been cracking jokes back and forth, I don't think women SEOs work any harder at their jobs than men do. We all want to succeed; some of us work harder than others and we each focus on a different area. There has to be other elements at play here.
The IT/Tech industry has long been male dominated. Are there fewer women in SEO because men like to tinker with gadgets and break things (or fix things, whichever the case may be), and women are more the social / marketing? That definitely seemed to be a common thread:
I say sadly as I think it's a real shame that it seems like a techy, male-orientated industry...there are too many niches that are male / female orientated. So what can we do to sell the idea in more? Do we need to sell the idea to women some more? After all, SEO does rock!
It's techy, it's sociable, it's busy, there's masses of demand, it's booming, it's constantly changing, challenging and hugely rewarding - yeah, it definitely rocks...
The women that I know in Search tend to be PPC / Display / Business Dev / PR / Social Media...not many in SEO though. From the people that I know, maybe 1 in 10 might describe their responsibilities to include SEO
And, the same sentiments were echoed to me and Rishil who innocently retweeted the message and found himself in a firestorm of responses (and, I think anyone who met Rishil on Twitter or SEOmoz prior to his avatar change will know he once played a woman SEO making subject almost ironic). Regardless, I'm sure glad he did; the feedback and opinions received came directly from female SEOs themselves.
The lack of women in IT and many academic fields is no surprise. It's happening across the globe, but in all honesty, I'm not sure why. I thought it was important to note that, while studies show females generally get better grades in school (PDF), they match the boys in terms of IQ. (Multiple studies have shown boys do have the edge over girls in math!) So, do girls generally dislike techie, geeky things? I don't think so...possible, but I wonder if the intimidation level of entering a den of well-educated guys plays a role in what girls admittedly like and dislike.
As Marie-Claire Jenkins, computer science, research loving, yoga surfer and SEO pointed out, there is a significant difference between search and SEO, but her comment also brings up something else I thought was of great importance:
I have met LOADS of women in SEO but a lot fewer women in search. In this case the technical, heavy maths angle does play. Generally women tend to like arts better and computer science has a bad rep is generally uncool in universities. SEO has a lot of women because they come from marketing mostly, which in Unis and in general attracts more of them, and is seen to be cooler I guess.
For women in search there is the Grace Hopper initiative and also Systers which I have blogged about before. Both support women in computing. The ACM has a womens club as well. There is stuff being done about the lack of women in computing, but it isn't easy to attract them to the profession.
This may come across as controversial but for me if you work in SEO you don't exactly work in search, you work in marketing and web dev. If you design information retrieval algorithms and interfaces and so on, then you work in search.
So I conclude:
SEO women = loads
Search women = few
There's a significant difference between the mind of an SEO and a computer (search) scientist. And, having dealt with academics in several fields, I'll admit that I notice a huge difference (sweeping generalization here) in the mindsets of the two.
Both sides frequently find their jobs to be an obsession, but it's the academic who seem to crave the untainted, unshakable, bare-bone facts and using those facts to make 'stuff'. SEOs, on the other hand, seem to crave information and relating that to other situations.
It's much like comparing Wolfram-Alpha to Google, if you think about it. Wolfram gives answers while Google gives information. Academics seem far more comfortable in the lab, testing their own theories than they are in public discussing and chatting about their ideas and findings. (Yes, academics meet to share ideas and concepts, but from the outside, it seems to happen in a more formal, and dare I say it, constructive setting.)
This made me wonder: could it be that, in an effort to achieve gender equality, women have assumed an almost academic approach to SEO. Are they're busy testing theories and hoarding 'facts', rather than outwardly competing with men, where they'd have a risk of 'losing'? Not saying that men don't do the same, but with them still being the dominate gender in many respects, losing would be less of a focus for them.
As for the future of women SEOs, and if we'll see an increase in the number of women in the field, the answer seemed to be a unanimous 'yes'. For most, the reasons behind it included the increasing importance of social media and the fact that the line between SM and SEO seems to be blurring more and more each day. Others felt there would be an increase in the number of women SEOs, but it was more because of the current economy and the flexibility of work at home jobs.
I think we can all agree that SEO can be a rough road. You get flack from clients, take crap from others in the industry, and maybe even from within the company, if you're part of an in-house team. Have women simply found that their jobs are far easier when they stay out of the lime light? This is, of course, entirely possible, but don't men do the same? I think so, but maybe men choose to fight it out more often because society has taught them to be tough.
After spending a fair amount of time thinking about these concepts, I can agree that there does indeed seem to be a large number of women SEOs. Does an exact count matter? Does it really matter if there's more women than men in the industry? I don't think so. I simply find it fascinating that men and women SEOs seem to play a different 'game'.
I was also quite...proud to discover that both men and women were passionate about admitting there were a number of women SEOs out there. For me, however, I think this is an important indication that there has been a meeting of like minds, the benefit of the Internet's anonymity are becoming more apparent, and a change in how society views working women (i.e it's more accepted).
So, the question remains: Where are the bulk of women SEOs and why do they choose to 'hide'?
Angie Nikoleychuk (Haggstrom) is the Senior Copywriter and Consultant at Angie's Copywriting Services. She loves to create SEO Web copy and other types of online and offline content, but she figures SEO and Social Media is pretty great too. She likes to chat about business and marketing, find great links, and more. Oh, and you can find this copywriter on Twitter too.
Angie Haggstrom is the Senior Copywriter and Consultant at Angie's Copywriting Services, specializing in online and offline content including SEO web copy, brochures, and more. A Twitter and blogging fanatic, you'll find she chats about SEO, Social Media, business, marketing, and just about anything else she finds interesting along the way.