Women in SEO: Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future of Women in the IndustryIt's the unfortunate truth: like much of tech, SEO has long been a male-dominated industry. Recent surveys indicate men outnumber women in SEO two-to-one. But even in its earliest days, women were moving and shaking, making their impact on our industry known — and that impact has only grown with time.
Today, I reflect on the contributions women in SEO have made over the years, and highlight the work we still have to do to achieve true gender equity.
The lasting impact of women on the SEO industry
I've been in the SEO industry for almost 15 years. In that time, I've seen women in our community do brave things and hard things. I've seen them make formative changes to how we do SEO, how we interact with each other, and how the education that's integral to our space evolves. I’m here today due to the mentorship, inspiration, and compassion provided by the women in SEO that came before and alongside me.
You could argue that Rhea Dyrsdale (a leader I've long admired) saved the industry in 2012 when she took on the individuals who tried to trademark "SEO." Pioneers like Vanessa Fox founded Google Webmaster Central; she always blew me away with her technical know-how and desire to help people make better websites. Aleyda Solis, an international SEO consultant, has been a consistent advocate for women in SEO, sharing her insights on technical SEO and how to create 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 directed technical marketing at Yahoo! and crafted their first SEO program; smart as a whip and comfortable forging new paths, she's also been a voice for accessibility in the SEO space. In recent years, Nicole DeLeon, founder of Northstar Inbound, has led several in-depth studies exposing the gender and diversity gaps in the SEO industry. More and more, we're seeing women in leadership roles, from directors to CEOs, broadening their impact and forging opportunities for others.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives championed by women and allies are looking 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 serves to change the gender balance at technology industry conferences. It hosts a complete directory of professional women in technology so conference hosts can source speakers and showcase an equal share of men’s and women’s voices.
And I can't fail to mention Areej AbuAli, SEO consultant and founder of the Women in Tech SEO network, who has been a champion of women in the technical space. Her efforts to make technical work — long considered a "boy's club" in the SEO industry — more inclusive have resulted in the creation of a large and powerful community run by women and for women. From community support to industry opportunities to an SEO conference, Areej has enabled a sea change for women's technical visibility in SEO.
From Women in Tech SEO to Sisters in SEO, a 9,000-member Facebook group that serves as a space for women to share both SEO insights and industry experiences, we're seeing women-led communities grow and thrive.
We’re making progress, but the work isn't finished.
There's still progress to be made when it comes to bridging the SEO gender gap. Here at Moz, we believe having a platform means having a responsibility to uplift and to speak out. We invest in several programs that encourage girls and young women to seek careers in STEM fields, like Techbridge, Ignite, and Ada Developers Academy. But we have our own work to do, as well: while our board of directors, executive team, and management maintain a good gender balance, they aren't as diverse in other ways. Gender diversity is a worthy aim that we've made progress in, but if we look beyond the gender lens, we are not truly succeeding in our desire that everyone be given the chance to do their best work, not just white women like me.
Barriers increase significantly for BIPOC women in tech compared to a white woman from a privileged background like myself. One recent survey found that over 75% of BIPOC respondents experience racial or ethnic bias in our industry at some point, compared to only 32% of white respondents. There's tremendous work to be done by industry leaders. We need to hold difficult conversations and be unafraid of conflict to tackle the dangers of implicit bias, stereotype threat, coded language, and more. Understanding those barriers is just the start; the real task lies in actively intervening to dismantle them.
If I had a do-over, I would have taken an intersectional lens to our equity efforts at Moz much, much earlier. Anti-racism work takes a lot of effort and courage; It’s long past time we made this a priority.
Elevating diverse voices has a proven positive impact
Elevating women’s voices has a positive impact on company performance, company culture, and long-term employee retention overall. Inclusion at every level is good for SEO companies and the tech industry as a whole. The evidence is clear: Companies that have higher female representation at higher levels of leadership and management show higher returns on equity, higher valuations, and higher payout ratios. Operationalizing gender equality empowers companies to shift policies toward more inclusion and can have a positive impact on sales, as well as opens the door to new markets.
Diversity has also been shown to foster more creativity and innovation. Top organizations across industries are moving to prioritize diversity and cultivate an inclusive work environment. At Moz, we've hired a DEI consultant to assess our company culture, audit our systems for implicit bias, develop a diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI) roadmap, and form an employee-led DEI council.
Where do we go from here?
Diversity and inclusion in SEO is how we all move the industry forward and create more seats at the collective table. The question becomes, what steps can we take now to support the advancement of women, especially BIPoC women, in technical fields?
Addressing hiring bias
We must address the bias in existing hiring practices, making sure 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 bias
On a deeper level, we should all strive to be conscious of the implicit biases we carry as individuals. What beliefs do we hold that come between us and progress? This is an opportunity for our industry to lead a cultural shift and create a more welcoming environment for all.
Diversity in speaking opportunities
At Moz, we’re invested in providing opportunities to diverse contributors, both via our website and at MozCon. We take the 50/50 Pledge for our annual conference and strive to uplift new voices in our industry from underrepresented groups.
If you’re invited to speak on a panel or keynote, let the organizer know that you only feel comfortable committing time to conferences and events that have representation from a broad spectrum of people. Be willing to walk away if they can’t demonstrate diversity.
Women in Tech SEO also hosts a mentorship program where women can provide support, knowledge, and a listening ear to other women in the industry. Mentorship allows us to share in our collective knowledge and cultivate more acceptance in our community.
Mentorship can also help women be better advocates for their ideas and careers, counter cultural norms, and push for fair compensation. We are all in a position to lift each other up and make the SEO industry a more accepting place for all.
Representation and fellowship have helped both pave a way for me in SEO and have given me countless opportunities to learn from the influential women who have come before me.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives
DEI initiatives help companies stay accountable to themselves, their customers, and the people they aim to hire. SEO agencies and software companies have the opportunity to cultivate their own inclusive policies, combat biased hiring practices, and create more job openings for women.
We would all do well to examine our existing structures and processes, and to fill the gaps when it comes to job opportunities, compensation, speaking engagements, and even networking opportunities. Equity is not strictly about leveling the playing field, but rather shifting the cultural narrative to value diversity in all forms.
Use your spending power with intention
If you're in a position to hire a marketing agency or contractor, use your dollars and prioritize firms that have a demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion. Look at their management team. Ask who will be working on your account. Let them know you're looking for a diverse team to work with.
Moving towards a more inclusive future
As a white woman in the SEO industry, I’m grateful for the work done by the women and male allies who came before me and for the advocates who continue to push the industry forward.
I see immense progress as well as significant areas for growth. Keeping our eyes open to the possibilities is what makes this industry so exciting, creative, and adaptable. Like Google’s algorithm, we are constantly changing. It is a beautiful thing.
Let’s move toward a more inclusive future, valuing diversity on all fronts. This is how we change the SEO industry as a whole and become more effective SEOs, thought leaders, teachers, advocates, colleagues, and collaborators.