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International Women’s Day 2016: Is the digital industry doing enough to elevate women into senior roles?

  • New figures from Forward Role show that women accounted for 53% of the company’s digital placements in 2015
  • Around 61% of junior jobs were filled by women
  • Three successful females explain how the digital industry is shaping up
  • Big changes are afoot, as the government forces companies to publish gender pay gap data

The number of women securing digital roles is increasing, but more still needs to be done to address an “obvious discrepancy” in the ratio of women who land senior positions within the industry when compared with men.

This is the view of Steve Thompson, Managing Director of leading North West digital marketing recruitment specialists Forward Role. He pointed to new data, which showed that 53% of the company’s digital placements in 2015 were female, while circa 61% of all junior jobs (under £25,000 per annum) were filled by talented young women.

In February 2016, Women and Equalities Minister, Nicky Morgan, announced revolutionary plans to narrow gender pay gaps across the board. New legislation will force businesses with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap data - a move that will affect around 8,000 UK companies.

The reforms will also ensure that thousands more girls are studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects at school.

As we get set to mark International Women’s Day (March 8th 2016), Steve Thompson insisted that digital businesses across the North West are already driving positive changes, although there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

“There is an obvious discrepancy when you examine the number of women in senior digital roles in the region versus men. In what has been traditionally seen as a male-dominated, highly-technical sector, it’s great to see a movement for change driven by digital bodies and women in technology groups to redress the balance. I think as the industry becomes increasingly demystified and marketing led, we’re seeing a new generation of women in digital who can hopefully narrow the gap,” he commented.

Forward Role asked a number of women who have forged successful careers in digital roles to share their thoughts on how the industry is shaping up.

Kobi McCardle, Director of Ecommerce at, believes that one reasons for a lack of women in senior creative roles relates to the challenge women can face when trying to combine family life with a demanding career.

“Some men in senior management (not all!) automatically assume that you’ll have a baby and never return to the role because your priorities will change. This mindset, although this can be true for many women, doesn’t help to encourage women to find the balance between work and family. I remember meeting the female MD of a successful advertising agency in Manchester a few years ago who told me that you can have both and how she had made it work for her. I’ll never forget that conversation – it’s just a pity I haven’t had more like that.”

Founder and Director Manager of Small Man Media PR Agency, Rachel Smallman, has been in the industry for 20 years, and she feels that women have been deterred from applying for web development and graphic design roles because they’re viewed as being male-dominated professions. This is steadily starting to change, though.

I think this stems from the notion that boys are mainly gamers when they grow up, or at least very influenced by their PlayStations etc. Their future careers lead them into this world. However, with design and digital being more accessible through platforms like WordPress, Facebook, apps etc. more and more people (females) can ‘explore’ design in the secure location of their home/lunch hour, hence the growth of bloggers, who are a major influencer in the world of marketing and PR,” Rachel commented.

Co-founder and Executive Creative Director of Spring, as well as a Board Director of the Design Business Association, Erika Clegg, explained why some women start off in the industry, but don’t stay for too long.

It might be a culture thing. Many very successful creative directors take the rock star approach, where the studio supports their vision and talent. This isn't a role that comes naturally to most women. However, some equally successful creative directors are mentors, muses and meritocrats; this role is more traditionally in tune with the female psyche. There is room for both at the top; and both can of course be fulfilled by either gender - I know plenty of rock star women and male mentors,” she commented.

As with any industry or specific career choice, sometimes it’s who you know, as much as what you know, that gets you ahead of the game. Antonia Taylor, Founder of Antonia Taylor PR, believes that women shouldn’t underestimate how important it is to network.

“Something I wish I’d realised from the very outset of my career is the power of networking. Build those connections, begin slowly through social media and simply start putting yourself out there. My personal mantra is ‘make friends, not contacts’, and taking this approach really shifted my mindset,” she remarked.

“Don’t walk into a roomful of strangers thinking: 'What can I get out of this?' Focus on what you have to offer, how you can help - we all have something to give no matter where we are in our careers.  When you shift towards that spirit of generosity - rather than the desperate needy person we’d all choose to avoid - you start becoming that go-to person. Then watch how your network flourishes - and opportunities, partnerships and new openings follow.”

This year’s International Women’s Day carries the theme ‘Pledge for Parity’ and is an opportunity for all of us to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.

About Forward Role Executive Recruitment

The leading digital and marketing recruitment company in the North West, Forward Role has built a strong relationship with a host of top brands across the region, connecting them with some of the best talent the industry has to offer.

Categories: Digital & Ecommerce