Does Gender Bias Exist in E-Commerce?

In a tech industry that was once male dominated, the number of women in e-commerce is now levelling out, however, are females getting fair representation?

In commemoration of International Womens Day on 8th March, I thought I would shed some light around the deep conversations that have been taking place within our industry over the last few years, but no more so than in the last few weeks.

While the industry in Australia is nearing a tipping point of equality in terms of gender numbers, the representation of women at a range of recent industry events were male dominated, not in terms of attendees, but moreso representation. Why was it skewed despite the vast number of successful female e-commerce leaders in our market?

I have found myself asking the question through observations in my own experience time and again. While companies even out the male:female numbers in the workforce, whether intentional or because more women applied for the role or because they chose the best person for the job who happened to be female, are women getting a fair go in representation at events? I’m talking speaking opportunities, panels, hosting and the like.

I recently caught up with some of our fellow online retailers, some of who are considered pioneers in our industry, and amongst all, there were deep conversations around this topic.

“There is a diversity problem in our industry and it needs to be fixed so we can be stronger as an industry…. and not just because a few brave women are speaking out, but because it just makes sense and everyone will benefit,” Dean Salakas, CEO of The Party People told Power Retail.

“I’m not doing myself any favours by supporting more women speakers as I would get less speaking opportunities as a result, but as an attendee, I want a diversity of views to help me form my own views on strategies and that means hearing from both female and male speakers equally. I may also be overlooked now for speaking my mind on this issue but would rather work with those conferences that have gender diversity anyway as I feel they will be better conferences.”

Read on for what our other e-commerce leaders are saying:

Kate Morris, Founder, Adore Beauty

“It’s 2018… and despite all the momentum of #MeToo and #TimesUp, women are still struggling to be heard. I’ve noticed a rash of “manels” (all-male panels) lately at retail and e-commerce events I’ve attended, and upcoming events I’ve been invited to,” wrote Kate Morris, CEO and founder of Adore Beauty in a LinkedIn post two weeks ago which sparked new conversations around this.

“Event organisers would have us believe that despite women accounting for 80 percent of retail purchase decisions, they have no expertise and nothing of interest to say on any of the following: The outlook for retail in Australia, innovation and technology driving business success, retail fulfilment (several ‘manels’ in one day! Sixteen speakers and only two women) and the future of Retail.”

“Honestly, I think the only way you could NOT find talented and amazing women in retail to speak about all of these topics is to put a bucket on your head. I think the truth is that event organisers are not trying, or don’t think it’s important.”

Dean Salakas, CEO of The Party People

“I was recently at a conference (which I will not name) and the speakers and panellists were heavily skewed towards mostly male presenters. I am told that apparently “there is a lack of female speaker options” in this industry which I can relate to but with the opposite issue.

“At The Party People, 75 percent of my senior team are female and below that, most of them are also female. More women apply for jobs with us than men so our bias is not a deliberate choice, we just hire the best people for the job and the stats ended up that way for us. I am sure some business have more males than females for similar reasons. Given all that, it would seem there might be a case for the current state.

According to Online Retailer, 36 percent of attendees are women. Yet at another conference I attended a friend kindly pointed out that only 11 percent of panellists and speakers were female. Certainly at awards nights these days, we seem to recognise an equal number of women and men so there also couldn’t be the excuse that women in e-commerce are not as successful as males. I know most of the organisers of these events and they are not consciously biased – so, what is going on?

I’m not doing myself any favours by supporting more women speakers as I would get less speaking opportunities as a result but as an attendee, I want a diversity of views to help me form my own views on strategies and that means hearing from both female and male speakers equally. I may also be overlooked now for speaking my mind on this issue but would rather work with those conferences that have gender diversity anyway as I feel they will be better conferences.

What I am trying to say is that having more gender diversity presenters is not a charity case for women in my opinion. There is a diversity problem in our industry and it needs to be fixed so we can be stronger as an industry…. and not just because a few brave women are speaking out but because it just makes sense and everyone will benefit. The issue for me is not about women specifically, it’s about equality and diversity.

I am on the advisory board for the Online Retailer Conference Start Up stream, and I put forward that we mandate 50% women speakers. My email was responded to on the same day from all with consensus on the request. There was not a single question or objection to the request which I think says a lot. It might only be a small step but nonetheless, I think it’s a step in the right direction towards fixing a clear issue that needs attention for the benefit of us all.”

Julie Mathers, Founder & CEO of Flora & Fauna 

“Equality is still a huge issue in any industry and retail is no exception. We may have equality, and by that I mean numbers as opposed to pay, in entry-level roles, but as we climb up the ladder the number of women represented falls away and at C level and board level, women are noticeably absent. It’s simply not good enough – I question if we are supporting women enough.

“This does not mean gift roles or opportunities, but consciously considering women for speaking roles, for job opportunities, for projects and for leadership courses. I was at a conference a week ago where 10 percent of the speakers were female. I was so disappointed. I gave my feedback to the organisers and offered to sit on their advisory board next year to stop that happening again. We all have to change this industry to ensure we see a genuine balance and we have to hold those who aren’t making change accountable for doing so.”

Tony Nash, CEO and Co-Founder of Booktopia

“As an entrepreneur, it is my imagination that makes me able to make the invisible visible. Because of that it is easy for me to imagine a world where women are equally represented in industry, where they lead companies, take positions on boards, govern countries. Why? Because there are already tons of examples of women succeeding in these positions for decades. More importantly, if I look back over history there was a time… when women could not vote, could not get jobs in many industries, could not fight in armies, could not compete in the Olympics, and so on and so on. And now they do and we all accept it as the status quo. We have to be bold to imagine the future as if it is the present.

“To accept the universal truth that women are as capable, competent and in many cases better than men to lead in any role. It is an exciting time to be in this era of change. I like it… a lot. More importantly for me, there is so much of it happening in online retail because we are a new industry that is unencumbered by outdated mindsets. Thank goodness for that. Online retail can truly create a ripple effect that will impact other industries. Men and women must collaborate to ensure we shatter the glass ceiling forever.”

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1 Comment

One thought on “Does Gender Bias Exist in E-Commerce?”

  1. Mark Freidin says:

    I agree that gender inequality is something that should be spoken more about, however, I must point out that things aren’t always the way they appear. I chaired a panel last week, and in our search for an equal split of male to female panel members, out of all the women that were approached, only one could attend the panel. The other women we reached out to all couldn’t attend on the day and guess what… One of the first things one of the attendees asked was “where are the other women?” Well, they simply couldn’t attend so as time started to run out and we couldn’t find any other women to fill these spots, we had to invite men. Two sides to every story and the truth. Truth is always simple

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