April 26, 2022

Ecommerce Industry Gender Bias

Dr Peter Mowforth

Background

Anyone that's planning their career will want to understand the opportunities while avoiding areas that could potentially restrict careers. Ecommerce (online trade) is one area that is rapidly growing and offers excellent salaries combined with the potential for extensive work flexibility. While many areas of business have a range of glass ceiling heights for females, how does ecommerce stack up in the gender-bias stakes?

Cranfield’s recent study showed that only 8% of top UK companies are led by women. Within ecommerce there is still a strong bias though at a reduced level. One study found that 87% of the CEOs, owners & founders of ecommerce businesses were male, whilst Cuts International found a significant majority (well over 60%) of senior executives in ecommerce were also male. There is some evidence, as shown below, that it's the smaller and startup companies where gender equality is most equitable:

Within ecommerce there are some excellent examples of female founders and leaders in Scotland. Claire Henderson at Glasgow-based OhPolly turned over £39.1m in the company's latest accounts. They are ranked as the 5th most engaged social media clothing brand with over 3 million Instagram followers. Edinburgh-based Strathberry joint founder, Leeanne Hundleby,  sees the company with a current valuation of £32m and strong growth in the executive and fashion handbag market. Across England, there are many more female ecommerce entrepreneurs, including Ecommerce Unicorn founder Marcia Kilgore of BeautyPie, a London-based online buyers’ club for high-end beauty and wellness products valued at around $1B.

While there are many individual case studies for individual businesses, few broad studies have looked at the gender split in ecommerce at different functional and seniority levels from owners through to managers, specialists and entry-level workers. Our objective here is to establish how female-friendly ecommerce is and to qualify its size, scope and suitability for unbiased talent irrespective of gender.

There are slightly more males than females (around 6% difference) in the labour market. This is particularly true for part-time workers.

Methodology

Linkedin is the world's largest professional networking and career development platform. The site has 774+ million registered members from over 200 countries and territories.

Linkedin helps monetise their business by offering members the ability to target and market to segmented groups within its database using its LinkedinAds Audience Builder Application. The application allows detailed statistical analysis around job categories, levels of seniority, employer size, industry sector, function and gender.

Experiment 1

The following screenshot shows one section of the LinkedinAds Audience Builder Interface showing how it is possible to segment a cluster of UK female Linkedin members that use the term ecommerce or e-commerce (LinkedinAds Audience Builder auto-merges the two) in their job titles:

The first experiment was limited to English speakers within the UK. Using the LinkedinAds Audience Builder, we searched for everyone in permanent employment that was described using any of the following terms:

  • Ecommerce Manager or E-commerce Manager
  • Head of Ecommerce or Head of E-commerce
  • Director of Ecommerce or Director of E-commerce
  • Ecommerce Marketing Manager or E-commerce Marketing Manager
  • Ecommerce Project Manager or E-commerce Project Manager
  • Ecommerce Product Manager or E-commerce Product Manager
  • Senior Manager Ecommerce or Senior Manager E-commerce
  • Ecommerce Specialist or E-commerce Specialist
  • Ecommerce Consultant or E-commerce Consultant

Linkedin reported that 4,300+ females met these search criteria. In contrast, 5,300+ males met the same search criteria. Next, we segmented each in terms of function, seniority, years of experience, employer size, industry sector and specific tasks undertaken.

To see whether terminology is different in different parts of the English-speaking world using the same methodology as above, we checked the male-female demographics in both the US and Australia. In the US, the split was 19,000+ females in ecommerce compared to 20,000+ males. Interestingly, LinkedIn reported a split of 1,700+ females in Australia compared to only 1,300+ males.

Experiment 2

Experiments have been done that suggest an inbuilt gender bias in Linkedin search findings. It’s also unclear exactly how the automated LinkedinAds Audience Builder uses keywords to designate roles and responsibilities. A third and related issue is the treatment of ecommerce and e-commerce roles and how they have been merged. While the LinkedinAds Audience Builder merges the two as being synonymous (which they are), separate searches in the main application for ‘ecommerce’ and ‘e-commerce’ produce different results.

In the main application (not the LinkedinAds Audience Builder) we ran the following searches:

  • Ecommerce Manager (568,000 results)
  • E-commerce Manager (1,650,000 results)
  • Ecommerce Assistant (170,000 results)
  • E-commerce Assistant (698,000 results)

As we recognise that the results will be skewed favouring the users location and connections, we asked a female ecommerce manager in a different company at a different geographic location to perform the same searches. She found almost identical numbers, making any potential bias on this point negligible.

For each of the four searches, we looked at the first 200 results and counted how many of the individuals were either male or female. With a few exceptions, it tended to be reasonably obvious if the person's gender (as projected by the individual) was male or female based solely on their name and photograph. A few results were less obvious. For those cases, the individual Linkedin pages were looked at and further scrutiny was given to see if it was possible to clarify how each individual gender-assigned themselves. For example, If a person used a traditionally gender assigned name (e.g. Julie) and visually appeared to be female, then they were counted as female.

Because of the way Linkedin Search works, the current job position did not always directly fit the current primary job description given by the individual. Instead, it simply reflected the keyword mix on their page. For example, When typing “Ecommerce Manager”, while most of the returned results were for current Ecommerce Managers, it also included a few people who had been ecommerce managers in the past or were in very similar positions now. To illustrate this, using the search “Ecommerce Manager”, as well as showing people whose current position was shown as an Ecommerce Manager, results included people whose current job titles included Digital & Ecommerce Manager, Digital Product Manager, Ecommerce & Omnichannel Manager UK, eCommerce Trading Manager and eCommerce Lead. Again, this will provide a small bias in the results, but we do not believe this will change this study’s overall results and conclusions.

Results from this second experiment were as follows:

If we average the two numbers ((43.75+72)/2) then we see around 58% (57.875) of the staff involved in ecommerce teams being female.

Conclusions

In the first experiment the numbers indicated a male to female employment bias of around 20%. In the second experiment, the bias was reversed to show a female bias of 16% in their favour. Given that there are 6% more males employed overall, it appears that the total numbers of males to females employed within the ecommerce industry is about the same. This conclusion is in stark contrast to other areas of digital (e.g. gaming, Ecommerce IT services, security, & programming) which strongly favour male employment at all levels.

The second conclusion from this study demonstrates that females are more likely to have their careers in areas such as Marketing, Advertising, Brand Management and Social Media. This is particularly true in markets such as apparel, beauty and fashion.

The third and final conclusion is that across the entire ecommerce sector, males are much more prevalent than females at Director or owner/founder level. This finding indicates a male bias in business seniority irrespective of what the company does - especially so with larger businesses.

Using LinkedIn will almost certainly favour those that are most keen to promote themselves in terms of their careers and professional network. It will also favour people that are more likely to be senior. It’s also likely that more junior members of an ecommerce team may have job descriptions that are not specific to ecommerce even though they will be key members of an ecommerce team (e.g. warehouse manager, product content manager or accountant). Workers with fewer skills are less likely to be using linkedin.

Finally, terminology remains an issue. Many businesses describe themselves as running web shops, online retail or digital trade while never using the term ecommerce. This is increasingly likely for those small businesses where single individuals cover many different areas. Ecommerce is a term more commonly used by well established larger companies. Many businesses will have come to ecommerce from different starting positions (e.g. from being a traditional retailer or as a brand that has only recently started selling directly to consumers). These businesses may use job titles that reflect an earlier organisational structure, such as a position in IT, Marketing or Sales.

A Footnote from INDEZ

INDEZ (50:50 founded and owned by Gillian and Peter Mowforth)  started trading in 1995 and delivered ecommerce solutions pre-millenium. In the earlier days of ecommerce INDEZ clients and the people we interacted with were almost exclusively male. Today the gender split is around 50:50. Ecommerce appears to be a popular area for female employment where it provides a strong fit with areas of personal interest. Ecommerce is also a popular career choice because many employers in the sector offer a lot of flexibility. This is particularly true in areas such as fashion, design, social media influencing, beauty & health.

Latest Posts from the Ecommerce Excellence blog

Want to be informed of upcoming webinars & events?