Gender in Marketing 2017

Why we did this

Diversity. Equality. Pay parity. Privilege. Mansplaining. Manpanel. Institutional sexism. Cognitive bias. Rape culture. Smash the patriarchy.

Tired of these buzzwords yet? Unfortunately, they’re not going anywhere in a hurry. Because even though women and men have been fighting for gender equality for decades and decades, our work here is far from done.

In 2015, we asked nearly 300 marketers about the role of gender in the industry, and the results were fascinating. About 18 months on, we are checking in to see how things are now. Are employers being more flexible about when and where marketers work? Are mums still having a harder time than dads progressing in their careers? Are industry events still overrun with male speakers?

We asked another 288 marketers the same questions we did in 2015, and what you’ll read on this page is a summary of our findings. We’re publishing this report on International Women’s Day 2017, which has the theme Be Bold for Change. How appropriate. Because while our findings show glimmers of hope, we still have a long way to go to get close to gender equality in the marketing industry. In 18 months we’ve only just edged forward. Boldness is what is needed to effect real change – not just for the benefit of those who are being held back, but for the industry as a whole.

Join in the conversation using the hashtag #GenderAgenda.

Karen Webber
Marketing Director, Axonn Media
March, 2017

Who we asked

Our online survey ran in January 2017 and everyone whose responses we looked at have some sort of marketing responsibility in their organisation.

Of the 288 respondents, eight in ten came from the UK. Marketers from the USA represented 6% of respondents, with smaller numbers coming from Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, Australia, South Africa and so forth.

While we’d hoped for a 50/50 gender split among respondents, the majority of those filling in the survey were women (59% vs 41%). This is broadly in line with the gender split of the 2015 research (62% women vs 38% men).

In hindsight we should have included a third option for non-binary. This oversight is a classic example of unconscious bias and one we will overcome in future editions of this research.

In-house marketers once again made up the greatest proportion of respondents (58%), with 31% working for agencies and 11% freelancing.

This year, we also asked respondents to tell us if they were B2B or B2C marketers. Just over half (54%) worked in B2B, 29% in B2C and 17% said they work across both B2B and B2C.

How do marketers work?


In 2015, it appeared that men were more likely to occupy senior roles in their companies. Despite women seemingly being more likely to enter marketing as a career (28% vs 14%), men seemed more likely to stick it out beyond a decade (60% of male marketers we polled compared to 37% of female).

Today the landscape looks different. Women are only slightly more likely than men to enter the marketing world (21% vs 16%), and things look pretty even past ten years (34% of men and 35% of women).

Now, we need to take into consideration that this is a snapshot of the industry, but with nearly 300 respondents we can draw some conclusions.

The more balanced distribution of experience among this section of marketers can only be a good thing. It suggests the industry is getting better at encouraging female marketers to remain in the industry.

However, the research noted that while women in this sample are slightly more experienced than the men, males still dominate senior marketing jobs. The vast majority of respondents working in an organisation with a single person with overall responsibility for marketing said that job is occupied by a man (62% vs 38%). In 2015 this was more evenly matched at 55% vs 45%.

Anecdotally, respondents shared that in their experience, men dominate senior roles, as women often want flexibility once they start families. One in-house B2B marketer said becoming a mother has slowed down her ability to progress in her career and has rendered her subject to sexism.

Another freelance marketer with over 20 years’ experience said: “You can’t have everything, so you always have to give and take. It’s not because I have kids that I don’t have a more senior position (or earn more) it’s because I have kids that I prefer to spend my time with them plus I’m exhausted so I choose to balance things as best I can.”

Removing the parent aspect, one B2B director based in Scotland simply said: “Average men are overpromoted.”

Job roles

In 2015, women dominated “manager” and “head of” roles (46% vs 40%), but men were almost twice as likely as women to be a director, and over four times more likely to be CEO or MD.

The good news is this has improved, but only very slightly.

This year, women are still more likely than men to be in manager or head of roles (41% vs 33%). Men are twice as likely to be CEO or MD, with the gap closing noticeably at director level (17% of women and 21% of men).

Unlike last time, when women are more likely to be responsible for content production, strategy and design than men, this year it’s the other way around. And while in 2015, female exec/assistant/coordinators outnumbered men 2:1, now the gap is closing (15% women vs 11% men).

Women still seem more likely to rise to manager/head of level and then plateau. Several survey respondents suggested this is because it is in men’s nature to have more self-belief and as such they are more likely to stand out.

Work environment

Flexible working has definitely taken off, although the vast majority of respondents still work full-time in the office (77% compared to 85% in 2015). Women are nearly four times more likely than men to work part-time (15% vs 4%), whereas men are slightly more likely to work from home (22% vs 19%).

In 2015, it was noticeable that all agency marketers worked full-time, suggesting agency life is not conducive to part-time working. But it seems agencies are starting to embrace a more flexible approach, not least to ensure they attract and retain talent for whom a full-time office job is either not appealing or not possible. In this year’s survey, 8% of agency staff said they work part-time (although, interestingly, these were all women).

What’s important to marketers?


Flexibility is more important than ever, climbing one position to fourth in the ranking of factors marketers consider as important to working life. However, “doing something I love” remains the most important motivator for all marketers, followed by salary and career progression.

Salary has overtaken “doing something I love” for men, suggesting they are more motivated than ever by financial reward. That said, additional perks and benefits was regarded the least important factor for both genders; they’d rather have more money in their pockets.

Home life and parenting

In addition to the hard work they put in for their employers, marketers also have a long to-do list at home. Nearly eight in ten marketers (78%) still fit in up to three hours of domestic chores such as errands, cooking and cleaning every day, with just over a fifth putting in over three hours every weekday.

As in 2015, men are more likely than women to say they do at least three hours of household jobs on top of their paid work every day (25% vs 17% of women). Of those who said they spend more than three hours a day on domestic chores, 54% are parents.

Like many jobs, marketing is challenging for those with parental commitments. It’s hard to juggle client pitches and campaign launches with school assemblies, packed lunches and World Book Day costumes, and everyone knows kids have impeccable timing when it comes to being ill (usually when both parents have packed schedules and there’s no emergency childcare available).

Unfortunately, it seems that mothers in marketing still carry a heavier burden than dads when it comes to managing their career and caring for their offspring. Mums are nearly three times more likely than dads to say parenthood has had a negative effect on their careers (62% vs 24%).

This proportion has changed ever so slightly since 2015, when 66% of mums and 22.5% of dads reported a negative effect on their careers.

In the most recent survey, over one in ten mums say parenthood has had a significantly negative impact on their careers, compared to zero dads in our sample. Dads are over four times more likely than mums to say being a parent has had no negative effect on their career at all.

Travel, meetings and working hours were the top work commitments making parental responsibilities harder for mums and dads in our sample. They also highlighted lack of flexibility from employers in terms of work/life balance as a key contributing factor.

Industry events

Nothing much has changed since 2015 in terms of marketers’ motivations for attending industry events. The same proportion (16%) never attend these events, and learning is still the main reason for attending, followed by networking, for both genders.

The interesting division came when we asked those who attend industry events to tell us more about the gender makeup of speaker panels at the most recent marketing event they attended.

Just over a fifth (22%) couldn’t remember, suggesting there wasn’t any sort of concern at the time that jumped out at them. However, 37% of overall respondents said there were noticeably more men presenting. When taking a closer look at how women and men answered this question, it becomes clear this is more of an issue for female marketers. Over four in ten of women (43%) said there were noticeably more men than women on speaking panels than male marketers. Less than a quarter of men (24%) noticed the same imbalance.

Men were twice more likely than women to say gender representation doesn’t matter in this context (8% vs 4% of women).

Just 2% of respondents noticed a female bias, while a third said there was a good gender balance among speakers.

When we spoke to these events organisers in 2015, they agreed it is important to have speaker panels that are diverse not only in terms of gender, but also race, disability, backgrounds and so on. It also seemed that women were generally less likely to put themselves forward, whether that was because they don’t believe they have something valuable to say or they didn’t have the time – or some other reason – was unclear. One thing that was evident was the need for events organisers to make a conscious effort to recruit more female speakers.

One Holland-based CMO said while bias and history have a part to play, “there is something to the fact that women are more challenging to book”. She added: “I’ve experienced this myself when trying to book a diverse panel or content with quotes.”

Another respondent claimed “women don’t like to stand out”, whereas another suggested female marketers are “more likely to admit they don’t know something”.

A female B2B marketing manager weighed in: “I think men are more likely to fashion themselves as ‘consultants’ when they progress, whereas in my experience women are more likely to progress within a company and may not even consider that their expertise or opinion may be of interest to those outside of their immediate workplace. Massively generalising, but I think men have more ‘gumption’and are more likely to think that they’ve got something to say worth listening to. In this case, I would say women are probably holding themselves back, rather than any bias by industry organisers.”

Our respondents had several theories about why there is still such a gender imbalance, with many blaming the particular industry (e.g. tech or finance) as being male-dominated and, as such, resulting in so-called manpanels at events.

Others suggested organisers invite the same people over and over again. “Events don’t bother to reach outside their existing network to find speakers [and the] speaker screening process isn’t objective,” said one agency partner. “[Events organisers] rely on companies putting people forward or their existing network of male-dominant speakers,” added another marketing manager.

“Men tend to hire other men similar to them,” suggested one respondent.

It seems clear that from the point of view of marketers, the onus is on events organisers to make an effort in this regard. “In my experience balanced gender representation needs to be actively managed. I imagine balancing out the panel comes some way down the list of priorities and isn’t something that happens on its own,” said a B2B director in New Zealand.

Those who do this already stand out. Organisers of Learn Inbound and Moz events were highlighted as ones that are “deliberate in diversity”, as one respondent put it.

Our research in 2015 uncovered a definitive male bias on speaker panels at marketing industry events. We looked at five leading marketing industry events that had taken place in the previous year, and found male speakers at these outnumbered women at least 2:1, with the worst offenders clocking a ratio of 2.6:1.

One of these “worst offenders” has improved to a ratio of 1.8:1 at the most recent event, but another has deteriorated further to a ratio of 3.6:1.

We also looked at the gender disparity among the the judging panels of prestigious industry awards. Most have improved, for example if you entered the British Media Awards then, there are 25 men scrutinising your entry, and three women (8.3:1). This has improved slightly to 17 men and eight women (2.1:1). In 2015 the CIM Marketing Excellence Awards were judged by 20 men and six women (3.3:1) and this has improved to 13 men, eight women (1.6:1). The B2B Marketing Awards 2014 were judged by 18 men and nine women (2:1), but the most recent panel was made up of 13 men and 11 women (1.2:1).

Only one has gone backwards: the Drum Marketing Awards going from 1.5:1 to 2.5:1 (23 men and nine women this year).

Role models

Marketers are slightly more likely to have role models now than in 2015, though only three in ten have role models (31% now compared to 24% then).

Female marketers are more likely than men to have a role model (35% vs 24%). Popular role models among both genders are previous and current managers, as well as people such as Karren Brady, Sheryl Sandberg and Richard Branson.


This year, for the first time, we asked marketers responding to the survey to tell us if they worked in the B2B or B2C sector. Interestingly, it emerged that salary is the most important aspect of working life for B2B marketers, trumping factors such as doing something they love and career progression.

While both genders valued factors such as doing something they feel passionate about and a good salary, findings reveal that male B2B  marketers want to do something they’re good at while women ranked career progression more highly. Once again, when women become mothers flexibility is a key concern.

However, it seems employers are failing to allow parents to embrace flexible working, with more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of B2B marketers saying they work full-time and in the office. Men in particular seem to be shackled to their desks, with female B2B marketers nearly four times (15 per cent vs 4 per cent) more likely than their male counterparts to work part-time.

So where does this leave us?

We still have a long way to go to achieve equality in the marketing industry. And while it’s easier to point the finger to others to sort it out, the reality is that it is the responsibility of everyone to eradicate discrimination, prejudice and bias. Here are some practical tips to help you get started.

  • Speak up when you see something that doesn’t sit right with you. Whether that is as obvious as catcalling or as subtle as sexist language, don’t stay silent. Educate others, because only when they know better will they start doing better.
  • Become a mentor. Use your experience to guide others and lift them up. Give others access to your contacts and highlight opportunities to them. Not ready to be a mentor? Then find one. Join a mentorship scheme or read a biography of someone you admire.
  • Assess your social media filter bubble. Don’t only follow people who are similar to you. Diverse opinions and points of view will enrich your experience on social and give you a new perspective on the world.
  • Hold events organisers to account. If you’re asked to speak at an event, ask about the diversity of the rest of the speaking panel. Refuse to take part in events where all the speakers are male. And if you’re a woman, put yourself forward to speak!
  • Embrace flexible working. Employers who do so will attract and retain the best talent.

We plan to pick this research up again next year and hope to see some improvement. One thing we already know will be different is that our survey will have the option for non-binary people to share their opinions with us as well.

In the meantime, get involved on social media and use the hashtag #GenderAgenda to share your stories. We would love to hear from you.

Share this report and join the conversation.#GenderAgenda