Women Are The Building Blocks Of The SEO Industry

Feb 28, 2013 • 8:34 am | comments (24) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Search Engine Industry News

womanThere is a ton of buzz floating around the industry about an issue of sexism at technology conferences and yea, search marketing conferences.

It probably started off when Marty Weintraub released some industry data on female representation at online marketing conferences. You should check out the statistics and details.

I first ran into this when I ran my first SMX Israel show. Miriam Schwab nicely pointed out that in our 3 panel session for the day, none of the speakers were women. I had no clue, I honestly did not even think about it. But when I learned of it, I was embarrassed and ashamed. That was back in 2008 and I promised to not make that mistake again. Since then, we have had plenty of women speakers on panels but still, the men speakers do dominate and are on more panels.

Fast-forward five years later and it is even more of an issue. Yes, there are plenty of qualified women speakers. Heck, the SEO industry is made up of founding legends such as Kim Krause Berg, Heather Lloyd-Martin, Christine Churchill , Barbara Coll, Debra Mastaler, Jessie Stricchiola, Laura Thieme, Shari Thurow, Dana Todd, Amanda Watlington and Jill Whalen (I hope I didn't miss anyone). These are all legends in the SEO space, without them, SEO would not be what it is today.

That being said, it is not an issue with the founding "mothers" of SEO. Everyone reading this post needs to understand the SEO community and space would be nothing without these women.

The issue is how some (maybe many) women are treated at these conferences. I read Lisa Barone's post named Sexism in tech and I was completely thrown back. How can this be happening? How can anyone push themselves on someone else. We are professionals not animals. And for this to happen to thought leaders in our industry, let alone anyone attending a search conference. It makes me disgusted. For them to not want to come to the conference, share their knowledge with the rest - makes the industry a worse place.

Let me share all the posts I've found on this topic in the past few weeks:

Those are some of the stories. We, as an industry, need to take care of our people and make sure we are all comfortable attending networking events where we can make a more knowledgeable and smarter industry that we are all proud of.

Forum discussion at HighRanking Forums and Threadwatch.

Previous story: Daily Search Forum Recap: February 27, 2013



02/28/2013 02:44 pm

Honestly people are just looking for a problem here. There are plenty of careers that are not appealing to people that fit a particular group or classification. I think it is fairly obvious that when are much more socially inclined than men. The last thing I would do is tell my little girl, "Sweetheart, you should so get into an industry that surrounds you with isolation and socially introverted people."


02/28/2013 03:12 pm

Good point. It's time to talk about sex when the industry collapsed.

Kristine Schachinger

02/28/2013 03:33 pm

This is not probably a popular viewpoint among women, but I posted something similar on Lisa's blog and am going to post it again here. ______ In every day life there are jerks, which means in every day work life there are jerks. This does not mean our industry is filled with sexist and misogynists or that our industry is inherently sexist. It also means as women sometimes you just deal with it. You do not call out every instance of something you do not like if for no other reason because when you do it diminishes the weight of how people receive reports of true sexism and misogyny. As for this industry, have I ever had a negative moment, one where someone came onto me? One where someone made a comment? One where I felt uncomfortable Sure, just as I do in every day life being a female where men make advances that are unwanted or put me in situations that are uncomfortable. However, I am a grown up woman who can take care of herself and does not require that a conference or other people do that for me and if I do I know how to grab a friend, find a conference organizer or call 911. Dealing with "pig people" as my mom calls them, is a part of life inside and outside of conferences. It is not a conference issue, it is a life issue. Overall though, the men in this industry have been some of the most supportive, most generous, most kind and most giving when it comes to career advice, help or boosts. They have my back when I need it, they have offered me opportunities I have never expected or asked for and when anyone has crossed a line they are the first to defend me. In fact, when some man has been out of line in a seemingly sexist way, they are the first to run interference, to stand up and make the call. I treasure the men in this industry for how they think of us as equals and deserving of everything they have. So as a woman in this industry who has greatly benefited from the men in this industry, I am tired of reading these articles that pit men against women as though there is some sort of institutionalized sexism that exists. I am tired of reading articles that make the men feel they need to be somehow on their toes for any little word so they do not offend. In fact my most negative moments, moments of sexism have been woman to woman, not man to woman. Maybe women need to take on the individuals that cause the issues and stop grouping everyone into one category. We don't like it when it is done to us and I am sure they do not like it when we do it to them. To the men in this industry that have been incredibly awesome, thank you. There are far, far more of you than not. And to the idea that there are more men speakers than women because there are more men in the field. That actually is true. It is also true that men are more likely to be in higher positions of management and business ownership than women. That is changing, but it hasn't yet. Take that up with society, not our industry. Again it is not that I am saying it does not exist, but it does not exist as in institutionalized issue and I think we as women who have had incredible support from so many of the men in this industry need to stop throwing all the good apples in with the one or two bad. All most have ever cared about is am I good at what I do. if the answer is yes, that was all they needed to know. Maybe I have been lucky and I am one of the few, but I don't see that to be true. Maybe if we start concentrating on the good men, the good people and looking forward toward how we can keep that growing and flourishing, being a "pig person" will become a societal death knell at conferences and everywhere.


02/28/2013 03:34 pm

Not to detract from the conversation but at first glance I thought the title of this post was 'Women Are The Building Blokes Of The SEO Industry'


02/28/2013 03:37 pm

Is this why all the Indian link requests I get come from "Peggy Anderson" "Cindy Smith" and "Ashley Lee"? *giggles*

Heather Curtis

02/28/2013 03:43 pm

I also hardly notice the bias towards male speakers at industry events. It usually goes over my head until someone points it out. So I think it has less to do with sexism and more to do with speaking up. More men are quick to offer to speak at an event than women.

Suresh Babu

02/28/2013 07:04 pm

Good points here Barry. after we organized the Search Marketing Summit Bangalore in 2011, we reached out to anyone who can add value. We love to have dynamic female search marketers in our conferences/meetups in Bangalore,India. Indian Digital Marketing is growing like crazy too. Here is a video of Gillian in Bangalore : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onGqo9RMonY and Search Marketing Summit Overview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onGqo9RMonY @disqus_5baobAaHsY:disqus In fact, I contacted some of the female industry leaders to be as speakers, of course sponsoring for the travel and stay, and a most of them agreed, I am still working on the sponsors. Would love to hear from our industry female speakers who are interested.Hope you remember about the emails we exchanged about the upcoming conferences. Just sharing my thoughts Regards Suresh


02/28/2013 07:35 pm

Most of the comments appear to be about the lack (or non lack) of women speakers at conferences, however the posts cited are talking about something very different. They're talking about women being abused at conferences. We don't seem to want to talk about that, so we brush it off as "that happens everywhere" or "just deal with it". I shouldn't have to "just deal with" sexual attacks. But maybe that's just my thinking.


02/28/2013 09:23 pm

Sexual attacks is a strong phrase. Maybe I missed it in the article but it seemed like you were describing socially stunted creeps acting like socially stunted creeps; not sexual attacks which I would classify as varrying degrees of assault, molestation, and rape. There are jerks who act like jerks, and while you shouldn't have to accept it and I would hope others call the jerk out on their behavior...calling unwanted advances or creepy behavior a 'sexual attack' is doing your valid point no help. I am sure it is frustrating/uncomfortable/scary but the behavior described in the post is so very far from a sexual attack.


02/28/2013 09:25 pm

I have been sexually attacked at search conferences in the past. The behavior cited in the posted often escalates.


02/28/2013 09:37 pm

Well, that puts me in my place, and deservedly so. I should remember what is said about 'assuming' before I post sometimes. I am sorry to hear that it actually escalates to the physical at times and am disgusted. I have three sisters and was considering taking my youngest (20) along for the trip next time because she is interested in what I do...I will think twice about it and will most likely avoid it.


02/28/2013 09:47 pm

Certainly not "putting you in your place". It's not specifically mentioned in the post.


03/01/2013 04:20 am

I think there is no importance for sex discrimination in SEO or online marketing industry

Sourabh Rana

03/01/2013 12:18 pm

Agree with @suresh babu in recent ADTECH India event in Gurgaon also honouring the women. In india women are getting lots of deserving space .


03/01/2013 12:49 pm

When I started in SEO about 1995-6 there were basically 0 women. Women are much better represented these days. I think the problem quite frankly is women were late to the party. That is changing quicker than in a lot of other professions and now we are seeing women every where, which is GREAT! Why all you ladies or men for that matter, want to go to SMX or any other conferences is beyond me. You learn no real SEO at those events!

Dana Todd

03/01/2013 02:43 pm

Barry, first of all thank you for the kind compliments and for recognizing that women played (and play) a significant role in the search industry. When the industry was new and small, I think we all felt that we were a team, part of something wonderful - both men and women. You were there too, Barry, one of the "founding fathers". I came into this industry knowing that women in tech were rare creatures, having been a member of WITI and having led many sales pitches where I felt the need to bring along a male engineer so that clients could play "stump the geek" and I could gain their respect and business contracts. In the first five years of the commercial web, the decisions and conversations were ruled by corporate IT departments, which were largely men. But I digress...my purpose in posting was to point out that there are two different conversations, which sort of impact each other: societal sexism and under-representation in visible industry leadership roles for women. I will also say that in general it's not my nature to talk about sexism. Being raised in the South and from a prior generation, you are taught to just keep your mouth shut and swim to higher ground as quickly as possible so that no one "loses face". Does that erase the shame and feelings of powerlessness? No. Does it change men's behavior? No. But nevertheless, it's a common reaction and I hear it echoed among a lot of women. I don't like to talk about it because I keep hoping it'll go away. That if I gain a high enough title, or make enough money, or wear high neck clothes, or get old enough, that'll men will finally look at me with the same respect they give their buddies in a business conversation. But to be honest, it's still rampant in business today. In fact, it happened to me just recently; I was at a friend's art opening and was introduced to a prominent tax attorney who I engaged in a conversation about the local Chicago business community, tech stocks, etc. We were in a remote area with few cabs, so he offered to split a cab after (a common occurrence in cities, and I felt I "knew" him at that point since he knew my friend and told me about his wife and kids, so I reluctantly agreed). On the way to dropping him, he reached across the seat and put his hand firmly on my knee while still continuing to speak in a casual business voice about how I should call him to be invited to his private club where there were other powerful business decisionmakers that might be interested in bizdev discussions. I'm 47 years old, a global SVP with a patent and an IQ of 137, wearing a demure business suit, and suddenly I felt as powerless and trapped as I did when my retail manager cornered me in the closet at the age of 20 and subsequently fired me because I wouldn't let him touch me. I felt completely diminished and shamed, as much because I didn't yell at the guy than for it happening in the first place. So yes, it happens. A lot. And no, we don't ask for it. And no, it's not unique to any industry. I'm sure it happens in any industry. With regard to women speaking, there are a number of reasons that people have pointed out which all have validity: women may be primary caretakers and can't travel; women don't submit as often; women are more risk averse; women may not feel they have enough technical skill to go onstage and get hammered by technical questions; women aren't fostered by their own companies to learn to speak in public and teach what they know; women don't nominate each other enough for speaking roles; women feel intimidated by the swaggering egos of many SEO "celebrities" because their style is different, etc. I will say that I recall having conversations with Barbara Coll and others back in the early day about how cool it was that the search industry felt largely equal, and we felt we were respected and included. There were no booth babes, and we loved that. It was so refreshing. I still recall the day that BOTW showed up with booth babes at SES...scantily clad with tank tops carrying a sexy slogan "we love you long time". And the booth was slammed with attention, guys knee deep to get in. And my heart dropped, and suddenly I felt aware of my female-ness at SES. My safe space was gone, and it was just like any other tech industry show. Many of the women I knew then remarked about it. We were all pretty disappointed, frankly. For guys reading this, let me try to put you in different shoes: you're in a business suit, trying to sell me your software. Next to you, there's a low-IQ male model in a speedo who's flirting with me. It's at that point that the conversation and environment changes dramatically. The signals are all out of whack. I'm for sure going to be ogling the hot dude and comparing you physically, which is not at all the right atmosphere for productive business discussions. It turns you into a piece of meat, and lowers your chance of success since I'm not listening to or valuing your intelligence. I have changed the game and removed your power. Do conference leaders have a responsibility to do anything? Yes and no. They need to make money in order for the industry to thrive, so one can argue that it's not their role to do anything but provide standard safety measures and encourage respectful dialogue. Is there an opportunity for a brave conference leader to set a standard around something as basic as "No booth babes"? And would it bring in more female attendees to that show vs. the competitive shows? Maybe. I would certainly give it some love. But there's no guarantee, and it might exclude the guys, so I expect we won't see that in my lifetime. In closing, I guess I'd say that women should do two things: apply for speaking gigs (tip: make a video of yourself teaching something, so that conference organizers can hear how great you are) and confront booth owners with booth babes to register your dislike. They need to hear that they're offending potential customers, or the behavior won't change. Sadly, I have found a very high frequency of female marketing directors who hired the booth babes...tsk tsk ladies. And yes ladies - find your voice and let each jerk know they're being a jerk. If I was stuck in that cab again, I'm hoping I'd overcome my fear and tell him to f* off. Next time... :-)

Lisa Agostoni

03/01/2013 03:04 pm

Great post, Barry. Well done.

Unbound Marketing

03/01/2013 04:31 pm

You'll see more women in the industry now you can't get by in SEO just by being sat behind a computer building spammy links on forums. You need to get out there more to build relationships, and i think this is more suited to a female role than messing about with Xrumer and Scrapebox all day is. I think it'll even itself out eventually. Maybe this in itself is a sexist comment, but like a poster further down said there are plenty of careers or activities that don't fit with particular groups of people.

Jenny Halasz

03/01/2013 05:38 pm

Dana, thank you for your insightful comment. As a result of reading your comment, I went over to Lisa's blog and left the following comment that I think needs to be shared on this thread too: I started attending SEO conferences back in 2003, and the very first one I went to, I stayed out too late and had too much to drink, then found myself in a compromising situation. I got myself out of it with no damage, but swore I would never let my guard down so completely at a conference again. I blamed myself for having too much to drink, rather than realizing that what the man had tried to do was unacceptable. At future conferences, I was exceptionally cautious, not going out beyond the conference sponsored events and only having one drink... and leaving quietly. I became known as someone who was no fun without realizing it -because I was no fun. I didn't make the contacts and connections I needed to make, and I didn't get picked to speak no matter how many times I pitched because I was an unknown. I always got the "great pitch, we just had too many other qualified candidates" note with my rejections. When I finally did get picked to speak, I vowed to myself that I would be fun, but just not too much fun. And as soon as I let my guard down just enough to have some fun, it happened again. I was stone cold sober at an after party, and one of the male speakers started hitting on me. I tried to rebuff him by reminding him that I'm happily married, and he responded "So am I, and I stay that way by f*ing women at conferences." I got away from him as quickly as I could, and thankfully, he wasn't a regular speaker; I haven't seen him again. I have been one of those women who quietly deals with it since then, reading threads like these and thinking "right on girl"! But never sharing my story. Because I had accepted that's just what happens at conferences. It doesn't happen as much to me anymore, but I want everyone to know that it does happen. More often than you think. And I feel that I accidentally stunted my own career by avoiding it. The bottom line is that to network effectively and keep getting asked back, you have to go out with people. Which sadly means that you have to deal with this behavior sometimes. And that's not fair to anyone.

Jenny Halasz

03/01/2013 07:01 pm

I *love* SEO. I *love* marketing. I *love* speaking. I've been a working, successful SEO for 13 years and a speaker since 2007. I'm socially outgoing. Are you really saying that I should stop doing what I love to do just because the conference behavior is often distasteful?

Stacey Mayer

03/01/2013 11:01 pm

Fifteen years ago, I considered becoming a full-time web designer. After a while in the business, with suited, briefcase carrying young men scooping my jobs, I said, "forget it." For some reason, when it's a tech assignment, men are seen as the "go to" gender. OK; maybe they're given the front-line jobs; I'll be glad to be their manager.

Stacey Mayer

03/02/2013 12:50 am

Paul; not all coders or engineers are introverted, or isolationists. Even were it so, not all women seek or need chatty folks around them to be happy. That being said, we have much to contribute as creative, intelligent minds! You need us. Our country need as many Jenny Halasz types as we can possibly produce!

Stacey Mayer

03/02/2013 12:52 am

I love the same things you do, Jenny! Hold on Jenny; there's a wave of women growing into this work force, and we need you!

Miriam Schwab

03/03/2013 10:45 pm

Barry, Sphinncon was my first foray into the world of SEO conferences, so I was really surprised when there were no women speakers, as my post expressed. A few years down, and as the local organizer of WordCamp Jerusalem, I've discovered another side to the lack of women speakers at tech conferences: they don't want to speak! We put out a call for speakers for WordCamp Jerusalem 2013, and I specifically gave a shout to women that they should apply. Out of almost fifty speaker applicants, less than five were women. Five! So is the lack of female representation on the stages at tech conferences the result of some form of discrimination, or a fear of speaking? Or is it some kind of catch 22?

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