Girls in web optimization: Reflections on the Previous, Current, and Way forward for Girls within the Trade
It’s the unfortunate truth: like much of technology, SEO has long been a male-dominated industry. Recent surveys show that men are two to one more than women when it comes to SEO. But even in the earliest days, women were moving and trembling, which publicized their impact on our industry – and that impact has only increased over time.
Today I reflect on the contributions women have made in search engine optimization over the years and highlight the work that we have yet to do to achieve true gender equality.
The Enduring Impact of Women on the SEO Industry
I’ve been in the SEO industry for almost 15 years. During that time I saw women in our church do brave and hard things. I’ve seen them make formative changes to the way we do SEO, how we interact with each other, and how the education that is essential to our space evolves. I’m here today because of the mentorship, inspiration, and compassion from the women in search engine optimization who stood before and next to me.
One could argue that Rhea Dyrsdale (an executive I’ve long admired) saved the industry in 2012 when it took over the people who were trying to label “SEO”. Pioneers like Vanessa Fox founded Google Webmaster Central. She always blew me away with her technical expertise and desire to help people create better websites. Aleyda Solis, an international SEO consultant, was a consistent advocate of women in search engine optimization and shared her insights into technical search engine optimization and creating a seat at the table. Moz was co-founded by Gillian Muessig, an early leader in our industry, who welcomed me with open arms and encouraged me to take on new challenges. Laura Lippay was Head of Technical Marketing at Yahoo! and designed her first SEO program; Smart as a whip and easy to break new ground, she was also a voice for accessibility in the SEO area. Over the past several years, Northstar Inbound founder Nicole DeLeon has conducted several in-depth studies that uncovered the differences between gender and diversity in the SEO industry. We are seeing more and more women in leadership roles, from directors to CEOs, expanding their impact and creating opportunities for others.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives endorsed by women and allies are designed to make the industry a more inclusive place for people of all genders, races and sexual orientations. One such initiative is the 50/50 Pledge, which is designed to change the gender balance at technology industry conferences. It contains a complete directory of professional women in technology so that conference attendees can find speakers and present an equal proportion of male and female voices.
And I can’t fail to mention Areej AbuAli, SEO consultant and founder of the Women in Tech SEO network, who is a tech advocate for women. Their efforts to make the technical work – long considered the “boy’s club” in the SEO industry – more inclusive have resulted in the creation of a large and powerful community led by and for women. From helping the community to industry opportunities to hosting an SEO conference, Areej made a fundamental shift in women’s technical visibility in SEO.
From Women in Tech SEO to Sisters in SEO, a 9,000-strong Facebook group where women can share both SEO insights and industry experience, we see women-run communities grow and thrive.
We are making progress, but the work is still ongoing.
There is still progress in bridging the gender gap in search engine optimization. At Moz, we believe that having a platform means having a responsibility to stand up and speak up. We invest in various programs that encourage girls and young women to pursue careers in STEM fields, such as Techbridge, Ignite and Ada Developers Academy. But we also have our own work to do: while our board of directors, leadership team, and management maintain a gender balance, they are not that different in other ways. Gender diversity is a worthy goal that we have made progress on, but when we look beyond the gender lens we don’t really succeed in getting everyone to do their best job, not just white women like me.
The barriers to BIPOC women in tech are increasing significantly compared to a white woman with a privileged background like me. A recent poll found that over 75% of BIPOC respondents have had racial or ethnic bias in our industry at some point, compared to just 32% of white respondents. Industry leaders do a tremendous amount of work. We need to have difficult conversations and not be afraid of conflict to address the dangers of implicit bias, stereotypical threat, coded language, and more. Understanding these barriers is just the beginning. The real task is to actively intervene to reduce them.
If I had a do-over, I would have cut a lens on our equity efforts at Moz much sooner, much sooner. Working against racism takes a lot of effort and courage. It’s been a long time since we made this a priority.
Increasing different voices has been shown to have a positive effect
Increasing the number of women’s votes has an overall positive effect on company performance, corporate culture and long-term employee loyalty. Inclusion at all levels is good for SEO companies and the entire tech industry. The evidence is clear: Companies with higher levels of female representation at senior management levels and levels of leadership have higher return on equity, higher valuations, and higher payout ratios. The operationalization of gender equality enables companies to shift their policies towards greater inclusion, can have a positive impact on sales and opens the door to new markets.
It has also been shown that diversity encourages more creativity and innovation. Cross-industry top organizations prioritize diversity and maintain an inclusive work environment. At Moz, we hired a DEI consultant to assess our corporate culture, test our systems for implicit bias, develop a roadmap for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and set up an employee-led DEI council.
What do we do now?
Through diversity and inclusion in search engine optimization, we are all moving the industry forward and creating more seats at the collective table. The question arises as to what steps we can take now to support the advancement of women, especially BIPoC women, in technical areas.
Addressing distorted attitudes
We need to address the prejudices of existing recruitment practices and ensure that women have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. We must work to remove the social, professional and economic barriers that make it difficult for women to enter STEM fields.
Addressing Implicit Distortions
At a deeper level, we should all strive to become aware of the implicit prejudices that we carry as individuals. What beliefs do we hold between ourselves and progress? This is an opportunity for our industry to drive cultural change and create a more welcoming environment for everyone.
Diversity in speaking options
At Moz, we invest in providing opportunities for various contributors, both through our website and at MozCon. We take the 50/50 pledge for our annual conference and strive to raise new voices in our industry from underrepresented groups.
If you are invited to a panel or keynote, let the host know that you will only feel comfortable if you have time for conferences and events that will be represented by a wide range of people. Be ready to walk away if they can’t show diversity.
Women in Tech SEO also runs a mentoring program where women can provide support, knowledge, and an open ear to other women in the industry. Mentoring enables us to participate in our collective knowledge and to promote greater acceptance in our community.
Mentoring can also help women better advocate their ideas and careers, counter cultural norms, and push for fair compensation. We are all able to strengthen one another and make the SEO industry a more acceptable place for everyone.
Representation and community have helped pave my way in search engine optimization and given me countless opportunities to learn from the influential women who have come before me.
Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives
DEI initiatives help companies remain accountable to themselves, their customers, and the people they choose to hire. SEO agencies and software companies have the ability to maintain their own inclusive guidelines, combat biased hiring practices, and create more job opportunities for women.
We would all do well to examine our existing structures and processes and fill in the gaps when it comes to employment opportunities, compensation, speaking, and even networking opportunities. Justice is not just about creating a level playing field, but rather shifting the cultural narrative so that diversity is valued in all forms.
Use your purchasing power on purpose
If you are able to hire a marketing agency or contractor, use your dollars and prioritize companies that have a proven track record of promoting diversity and inclusion. Look at the management team. Ask who will be working on your account. Let them know that you are looking for a diverse team to work with.
Towards a more inclusive future
As a white woman in the SEO industry, I am grateful for the work of the women and male allies who came before me and for the advocates who keep the industry moving forward.
I see immense progress and significant areas of growth. Keeping our eyes open to the possibilities is what makes this industry so exciting, creative, and adaptable. Like the Google algorithm, we are constantly changing. It is a beautiful thing.
Let’s move to a more inclusive future and appreciate diversity on all fronts. In this way, we are transforming the SEO industry as a whole and becoming more effective SEOs, thought leaders, teachers, lawyers, peers and employees.