Regardless of the slice of this industry you’re in — paid or organic, local or international, technical or content — there’s a kind of universality to being a woman in the search industry. The constant challenge of trying to find the balance between striving to be recognized as a knowledgeable expert and being dismissed as, well, “the B word.” Of struggling to balance work and home demands. Of shouldering the weight of trying to change institutional attitudes toward gender and diversity. And, of finding your voice — imposter syndrome often runs deep.
These were common threads from my conversation with SEOs Nicole DeLeon, Aleyda Solis and Amanda Jordan on closing the gender gap in the search industry during a recent Live with Search Engine Land.
“There is an onus on women to lean in in a culture, frequently, that doesn’t welcome that leaning in at all. And so you have to do twice the work, you have to lean in twice as hard. And in the face of that environment, many women just say, You know what? I tried, it didn’t work. Why am I going to put myself out there again?” said DeLeon, who recently published research on the gender gap in SEO.
This led to a discussion on the importance of allies, networking and the role men and women can play in helping to support their colleagues and push for equality and inclusion in the search industry. Note: The quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How to be an effective ally at work (and home)
“We have a lot of wonderful male allies out there who are really wondering, ‘How can I be the best ally I can be?’” said DeLeon. “It’s OK if you’re a man to speak about these issues. And, if you are a man and you’re noticing that the speakers [at a conference] are male, that it’s not diverse, it doesn’t have people of color, tell people, ‘I’m not going to go. I’m going to cancel,’” she said.
Jordan discussed how the work she has put into networking has paid off. “I have people I can fall back on. I have men that are allies that will speak up for me. I have men that are allies that are really important in my little niche of SEO that will say, ‘Hey, you should get her to talk at your event,’ and things like that. They’re really important,” said Jordan.
“That’s the accountability,” said DeLeon. “That’s really, really being an ally: You have to be at the table on behalf of people who aren’t, can’t, or have been excluded — usually unintentionally. These are the kinds of actions I think it’s going to take to move the needle more quickly.”
Solis agreed and added that this engagement and allyship from both men and women needs to happen across the workplace and at home. She now works for herself, but recalled in the past being asked in interviews if she was married. It wasn’t stated explicitly, she said, but the implication was, “Is she going to get pregnant and take time off or leave?”
She said one of the motivating factors for her evangelism of remote work “is that it provides flexibility to women and much better lifestyle and balance of personal and professional side of things. But, the reality is that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have someone at home, in many cases male allies at home, with you to also step in there to help you to focus on your career or giving the appropriate support to balance the work at home, etc.”
Why allyship is good business
We know the data is in on the benefits of team and leadership diversity on business outcomes. Amanda Jordan has been working in SEO since 2012. In discussing her career path, she discussed how she had worked at several male-dominated agencies and is now thriving at a female-majority agency. It reminded me of a survey from The Harris Poll in which 71% of men and women said that having a woman in a leadership position makes them believe that they too can achieve a leadership position. More than half of respondents also said the believe female-led organizations are more purpose driven (56%), are more likely to include access to childcare (78%), and are more likely to offer equal pay (75%).
Agencies, clients, in-house teams that don’t foster supportive working environments for women to be heard, to grow and to advance in their careers and in their organizations will risk losing that talent. It may not be immediate, but eventually talented women will grow exhausted from the lack of fulfillment and move on — taking their expertise, connections and drive with them.
Building your network
“To me, the most important thing is just to be eager to learn, find good allies, find good mentors. Join programs for people and women in digital marketing and tech SEO and in SEO in general and try to make connections,” said Jordan.
Here are several networking and speaking resources for women in search:
WomenInTechSEO.com is a community for women working in technical SEO. But, you don’t have to be working in tech SEO specifically to add your profile to the list of speakers. This is a handy resource for conference and event organizers looking for knowledgeable female speakers.
Mujeres en SEO is an SEO community for women in the Spanish-speaking community that Solis is involved with. It started as a directory and now has a Slack group.
Shine Bootcamp offers a 6-week online public speaking workshop for women as well as ongoing resources.
Women in Data is a non-profit community focused on building awareness, education and advancement to women in the tech industry, and specifically in analytics, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Women in Tech: How to become a conference speaker Upasna Gautam, product manager, e-commerce at CNN, held her first virtual speaking workshop this month and is planning another for October.
Twitter chats and Facebook groups. #PPCchat isn’t gender-focused, but it is a welcoming community for PPC pros and newbies alike. The chats are held on Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. ET.
Harvard’s implicit bias tests. Noting we all have biases, DeLeon called attention to this resource. “We internalize all of these ways of thinking and so we sort of put them back out into the world the way that they are taught to us, unfortunately. So take these tests, they are wonderful resources to kind of look in the mirror,” she said.
Addressing imposter syndrome
And as for that imposter syndrome nipping at your mind? “Don’t be too hard on yourself. There’s plenty of people who think they know everything about SEO and they do not. None of us do,” said Jordan.
Treat yourself well, said Solis, who is an internationally-renowned speaker and yet, recently realized imposter syndrome had been holding her back from mentoring first-time female speakers. Mentoring, she said, “taught me to understand that we all have good things to share, that there are other people who will always be in different stages that we can definitely help. It’s not that you need to be the absolute expert at something… So it’s important to control that imposter syndrome that can definitely happen at every stage of your career.”
Good allies also help others recognize their own potential.