Opinion

What does the LinkedIn gender divide say about adland?

Red Engine's Kate Richardson has been conducting an experiment, and the results reveal an uncomfortable truth about an industry where five out of six leadership positions are filled by men.

Last Monday morning I scrolled through my LinkedIn feed and noticed a lot of male faces staring back at me. This got me thinking, so I went back to the top, counted the first 50 individual posts, and discovered that 41 were by men, and nine by women.

For clarity, my count included posts by individuals which appeared in my feed by commenting, sharing or direct posting, but excluded those that made their way there via likes.

I completed this casual experiment every morning last week and the results were fairly one sided.

Monday – 41 men / 9 women
Tuesday – 40 men / 10 women
Wednesday – 33 men / 17 women
Thursday – 38 men / 12 women
Friday – 40 men / 10 women

I reviewed my most recent 260 connections (22% of total) to see if there was a significant gender imbalance, but actually it was fairly even with 125 women and 135 men.

A mention on LinkedIn prompted Mediacoms Claire Alpine to say shed done her own analysis and had similar results. She noted her initial findings “… were certainly that men appeared more in my feed, and were posting more. If I remember right women werelikingroughly equal to men. But, of course that could be my feed and my algorithm so was keen to see what other people had.”

I roped in a days worth of data from a few LinkedIn connections, agency colleagues and Mumbrella staff. Of the 13 volunteers, two came in about 50 / 50 and the remaining 11 were consistent with the numbers I pulled. (Interestingly one of our crew is French and his numbers matched these, but when he looked at French people only, the number was closer to 50/50. He believes his countrywomen are more outspoken than Australian women, but thats a story for another day.)

So, do men post more frequently than women? Or is there another explanation? Is it algorithmic trickery or broader platform trends contributing to the uneven stream of voices?

LinkedIn is unable to release the data but anecdotally reports increased activity from males (including posting and commenting) when compared to females. The platform skews slightly towards men so this could account for a small increase, but not to the level myself and the other participants experienced.

While it’s only a morning cup of tea experiment, it does support the existing body of evidence that men are much more likely to selfpromote than women.

And, while some might dismiss LinkedIn posting as superficial posturing, the tendency towards selfpromotion comes from confidence. This, together with visibility, is what fuels career progression and earning power. If you dont talk up your talents, youre seen as ‘not leadership material’, and perceived to be lacking confidence and competency.

Unfortunately, women are often less comfortable advocating for themselves. Theyre more likely to talk down their achievements and attribute credit to others. Theyre less likely to advocate strongly on their own behalf, for fear of coming across as pushy or aggressive.

Im not suggesting all men in media and advertising in Australia are supreme selfpromoters; or that all women lack confidence, however these results echo the current issues in adland around the lack of diversity of voices and seniority of women.

The results from my little exercise also reflect broader trends.

Last year, the journal Nature reported that after reviewing selfcitation in 1.5m academic scientific papers, it found men reference themselves 56% more than women. When you isolate the findings to the last 20 years, that number increases to 70%.

In her study of business school students, Economics Professor Linda Babcock found men initiate pay negotiations four times as often as women. In addition, when women do negotiate, they ask for 30% less than their male counterparts.

Im expecting the usual barrage of ‘Why are we still talking about this?’, ‘Who cares?’, ‘There is no gender pay gapand the rest, in response to this article. For me, this is a reminder of why we need to be talking about this issue because as Sam Mostyn commented last week, “Hoping, wishing and praying for gender equality doesnt work”.  

The thing that I find most curious about this experiment is that I hadnt really noticed the gender split prior to last week. Most of the time we dont, and therein lies part of the problem.

P.S: Id be really interested to hear the results from others doing the same experiment and happy to find out that Im wrong.

Kate Richardson is national general manager at Red Engine SCC

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