Blacks in Performance Marketing

The Role of Women in Digital Marketing: Is Equality Achieved?

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we delve into the state of the job market, gender proportions, and prevalent professions in digital marketing to understand if we can truly speak of an industry with equal opportunities or if the gender gap remains far from being bridged.

The quality of workplace culture is becoming increasingly important on a societal level and consistently ranks high on workers’ lists of concerns. According to Accenture’s annual Getting to Equal study, the inclusivity of workplace culture represents a decisive factor for increased work productivity for approximately 77% of women and 67% of men.

But what is the situation in the digital marketing sector? Can we talk about equality, or is there still a significant gender gap?

That’s the main question we’ve set out to answer, and after analyzing numerous global studies and research, here’s what we’ve found.


Has the Gender Gap in Digital Marketing Been Closed? Insights from Data

While the Gender in Marketing study suggests that women are more likely to start a career in marketing, with 21% compared to 16% of men, all studies we’ve consulted indicate a picture of gender inequality, both globally and across Europe and Italy. This underscores that equal opportunities remain a distant goal, especially at the executive level.

Certainly, this inequality isn’t rooted in educational paths. The European Parliament’s Gender Equality in the Media Sector report confirms that the so-called gender gap doesn’t begin with education: the number of women who have earned degrees in advertising, media, marketing, and public relations and have found employment consistent with their studies is equivalent to that of men, with the percentage of graduates in media disciplines steadily increasing over the years, exceeding 44%.

The gap manifests once the professional journey begins, primarily due to family duties.

The GWPR Annual Index 2020 provides a comprehensive picture of the main factors inhibiting women from advancing in their careers:

  • Caring for children and family members (in 78% of cases)
  • Lack of work-life balance at the highest levels of the job market (70%)
  • Inflexible and unfriendly work environments (67%)
  • Women are more likely to perceive having children as having a negative impact on their careers (62% compared to 24% of men).


Undoubtedly, the gender gap primarily affects women who start families,” confirms Laura Zanella, Engineering Associate Manager in the Product and Technology Department at MailUp. “Not many companies are willing to invest in a working mother with all her needs. However, when they do, they often find professionals who strive even harder to prove they deserve the trust placed in them. I’ve been fortunate; MailUp has allowed me a part-time schedule since I was hired, and in recent years, it has provided me with the opportunity for smart working without closing the door to career advancement: I was hired 6 years ago as a Web Developer and am now an Associate Director of Engineering. If there’s a will, there’s a way!”

In the United States alone, 27% of women have left work to care for their families (compared to 10% of men); 40% report requesting schedule reductions and taking significant leave and vacation time to care for children and other family members: “Being a mother also requires presence, and many women, like me, have to request reduced hours to delegate as little as possible to grandparents and educational structures. However, in many cases, this implies having to give up part of their professional life, both in economic terms and in terms of consideration,” confirms Fabiana Scamardella, Customer Assistance Specialist at MailUp. “Not all companies, in fact, allow senior positions to be reached by those who do not dedicate a minimum of 8 hours a day to their work.”


Gender Quotas in Company Management: Equality or Gender Gap?

Looking at the overall picture of corporate governance, Accenture’s annual study tells us that only 2.8% of companies on the Fortune Global 500 list have a woman as CEO, and only one in five startups has been founded by a woman.

In the marketing sector, most senior profiles are held by men: according to the Gender in Marketing study, in companies where the marketing manager role is held by one person, 62% of the time, it’s a male figure. The same is true in the Public Relations sector at the executive level: the most important positions are still held by 64% men, despite women constituting about two-thirds of the overall workforce.

We’ve asked our colleagues at MailUp what might be the causes of such an evident gender gap in senior positions: “We, as women, are less assertive: with the same training, as we progress professionally, we find ourselves in predominantly male contexts: we feel isolated and are more afraid to express what we think. By expressing ourselves less, we feed all possible prejudices about women (fragility, shyness, less ability, and less rationality), and this, as a consequence, makes it more difficult to be promoted to leadership positions,” is the response from Micol Bellettati, Growth Marketing Associate Manager at MailUp, which ends with an appeal: “Women, believe me, it all starts with us: let’s always express ourselves and contribute to dismantling these fears and prejudices.”

Ilaria Pellini, Sales Delivery Manager, provides a second, equally important point of view: “Often, a distinctive feature of female leadership is identified as transformational leadership, which does not seek to exert power through command but with a will aimed at improving the company and motivating collaborators to do the same. This type of leadership is essential for managing change and ensures excellent results both in terms of performance and satisfaction. Personally, I prefer this leadership model to others, but I would like to live in a world where all gender stereotypes, including this one, are finally overcome, and where, also in the case of leadership styles, the individual is valued for their abilities and skills, their ethics, and their fit with the position and the organization. Nothing more.”


A Gap to Overcome in Compensation as Well

The Marketing Week 2020 Career and Salary Survey provides significant data from the compensation perspective, confirming that gender disparities are still tangible. The gap stands at 28%, considering only full-time workers. Women in leadership positions, such as Marketing or Sales Directors, earn approximately 11% less than their male counterparts.

Looking at the evolution in recent years, it seems that some steps have been taken, though they’re too small to speak of genuine improvement, as seen in the following graph:

In Italy, the situation doesn’t improve: after three years, from 2016 to 2018, when the wage gap was slowly closing, from 2019 onwards, it has widened again to reach an average of 11.1%, with total earnings for female workers lower by about 3000 euros gross compared to male workers (Source: JobPricing/Spring Professional).


Gender Disparity in Job Roles

The Simply Marketing Job annual report 2018-19 provides an interesting perspective on the types of positions sought by both genders in the marketing sector:

The table demonstrates that job roles linked to analytical skills and activities (SEO, PPC, Data Analysis) attract more men, while sectors such as events, PR, or assistance roles are more sought after by women. However, this doesn’t translate into a greater presence of gender assignments at the highest levels of these professions.

The same scenario is confirmed in another study by The Candidate: out of 150 companies sampled, the most sought-after roles filled by women are marketing and social media (27%), public relations and communication (18%), and account management (14%), while more technical and analytical roles are predominantly filled by men.


Equality = Growth

Ensuring equal opportunities in an environment of equality is not only an ethical issue but can also bring concrete benefits, both for management, ensuring higher productivity, and for workers, creating a more stimulating work culture. According to Accenture, a 50% reduction in the gender gap can significantly contribute to increasing a company’s overall profits (up to 30% growth), in addition to being a source of incentives and professional ambitions:

  • The percentage of women who perceive their role as decisive in decision-making processes would increase by 43%
  • Gender assignments for women with leadership aspirations would increase by 21%
  • The number of women satisfied with their job would increase by 5%; this would save companies in costs for new hires, totaling approximately 8 million per year.


On the importance of creating an inclusive corporate culture to stimulate employees and increase a company’s competitiveness and productivity, Eleonora Nardini, Head of People & Culture at MailUp Group, has also expressed her views: “I believe that promoting gender equality must begin with a concept that is at the core of diversity and inclusion: feeling part of the company. Feeling part of the company is what makes each individual feel accepted for who they are. Inclusion and diversity strategies are important but not enough if the company fails to create a culture of belonging, the benefits of which are enormous. I think that dialogue and transparency are essential to foster a sense of belonging to the company we work for. In companies, this must start from a strong commitment from senior management and permeate the company’s culture from within. Intercultural understanding, along with knowledge and understanding of the market, make companies more competitive.”


5 Women in Digital Marketing to Inspire You

Because inequality exists and remains effective, women are more inclined than men to have role models to inspire them (35% compared to 24%), and about 66% consider having more female role models in top positions as one of the factors that can most contribute to closing the gap and encouraging career progression.

Let’s take a look at 5 examples of women to inspire you:

  1. Mari Smith: Recognized by Forbes as one of the Top Ten Social Influencers, she is one of the world’s foremost social media experts. Besides her extensive experience at Facebook, she is the author of The New Relationship Marketing and co-author of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day.
  2. Ann Handley: Recognized by IBM as one of the seven most prestigious professionals in today’s marketing, she heads MarketingProfs and is the author of the bestseller Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content (which has entered the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list).
  3. Purna Virji: Named by PPCHero as the most influential person in PPC, she is an expert in SEM and SEO, serving as Senior Manager of Global Engagement at Microsoft, a columnist at Search Engine Land, and listed among the top 50 most influential women in digital marketing by Voice Search magazine.
  4. Veronica Gentili: In the Italian scene, she is one of the leading marketing professionals. She specializes in Facebook Marketing and is a Facebook Marketing Expert for AdEspresso and Hootsuite. She has written two successful books: Estrategias y Tácticas de Facebook Marketing para Empresa y Profesionales (in its fifth reprint) and Facebook Marketing Plan, both bestsellers on Amazon.
  5. Mara Andria: Still in Italy, she is the CMO of Pegaso University. She appears on the list of the top 100 marketing directors in Italy selected by Forbes; after an experience at Rai, she has become responsible for the marketing, communication, organization, and event management office at Pegaso.


By recognizing and celebrating the achievements of women in digital marketing, we take a step towards closing the gender gap and fostering a more inclusive and equitable industry. Happy International Women’s Day!


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