Reflecting on diversity and equality in the affiliate marketing sector

Hand reaching in sunset

On International Women’s Day and in a year which has seen a lot of publicity, debate and change around equality and diversity I felt it a good time to reflect on where were are as an industry. I’m increasingly interested in what we can do to improve opportunities for those who have been underrepresented in the past and how we can work together as an industry to increase diversity.

I recently read a report on Women in the Digital Age commissioned by the European Commission. The study looked at the participation of women in the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) and digital sector and concluded that participation in these sectors is not improving significantly.

Reflecting on the affiliate marketing sector I wonder if we have made any significant improvements to our gender equality. Unfortunately, without any specific data I couldn’t tell you confidently either way but based on some recent personal experiences I suspect the dial hasn’t moved significantly in a positive direction.

I recently raised an issue about a conference panel which consisted solely of 6 male panelists with a male moderator. I called this out with a short, low key, frustrated comment on linked-in. This relatively innocuous comment generated over 31,000 views, nearly 200 likes and created debate. Many of the comments were supportive, but some led me to be concerned that we still have a long way to go before we all understand what diversity means and why it is important.

So why does this issue cause so much debate, and why is the importance of having this debate often not understood?

Another article written in the Harvard Business Review back in 2013, titled “Why do so many incompetent men become leaders?” recently came to my attention. The article considers why there is an under-representation of women in management. Although it was written 6 years ago the Women in Digital Age study, written just last year stated that “Gender equality in leadership positions is still almost twice that of inequality in the general labour force”. So, it is very much still relevant today.

The Harvard Business Review article bases its discussion on the reason for inequality in leadership and suggests it is because of our inability to distinguish between confidence and competence. It elaborates to say that the advantage that men have over women is that their excessive pride or self-confidence (often mistaken as charisma or charm), is commonly misinterpreted as leadership potential. And this occurs much more frequently in men than women.

The Women in Digital Age study seems to back this theory up with the finding that just 14.8% of start-up founders are female. Yet female-owned digital start-ups are more likely to be successful than their male counterparts.

So, what does all of this mean for our industry?

I’ll be blunt. I believe we have an inequality and diversity problem, both through representation at industry events and at senior and board levels within some of the key companies we all know well.

Should we try and change this?

I think most of us want to. That means being accountable and calling it out when we believe there is a diversity or equality issue, both within our own companies and the wider industry. It’s not easy. I had overwhelming positive support when I called out that panel, but there is also a small but significant element in our industry that either don’t think the problem is important, or don’t seem to want to do anything about it. So, if we want change, what should we as an industry do?

Here are three things that I believe could significantly help:

1: Event organisers

Event organisers have to take more responsibility for who they put on stage at conferences. Conferences should reflect the broad range of diverse talent we have across our industry. Anything less is lazy. PI Live are pledging a 50/50 split of male / female speakers at this year’s conference in October. A great initiative. Let’s hope that all conferences follow suit.

2: Business leaders

Business leaders need to take responsibility to support women and other unrepresented groups in getting into and staying within senior level and board roles.

Shareholders, board directors and senior managers all have a part to play by becoming aware of unconscious bias and educating themselves on the difference between confidence and competences. Alongside this providing mentoring and developing future leaders to be role models for young men and women across our industry.

3: Step up

If you want to speak up at events, get that promotion or call out something you don’t think is fair then make your voice heard. Success is not easy, it requires hard work, determination, perseverance and being brave.  We have a responsibility as individuals to step-up and to encourage and support those around us to too.

If we all become more aware, understand the issues and care a bit about solving them, we can be an inclusive, diverse and innovative industry that people want to, and can feel proud to be part of.

Enough shouting from the side-lines from me. I want to be part of the solution. Along with my colleagues at Acceleration Partners and the team at Connected Path we have launched a new initiative to help support the industry in becoming more inclusive, and diverse. This we believe will make it more successful.

Initially we want to better understand what the barriers are to people within our industry putting themselves forward and being chosen to speak at events. We know this is an issue. To that end we have created a short survey which we would love as many people as possible to fill out. You can find the survey here.

I am also taking part in a webinar today (8th March), which will be steamed live at 11.30am, and available to watch again at a later date, sign-up here to register for the live stream.

If you want to make positive change please watch and get involved in our Turn the Talk initiative.

Happy International Women’s Day lets make 2019 the year of positive change for the affiliate industry.