Will Women Make More Empathetic Marketers?

At the risk of sounding sexist, I wonder if women might make better marketers then men?

If you’ll remember, I proposed a new way of defining the job description of a marketer in last week’s column: "to understand the customer’s reality, focusing on those areas where we can solve their problems and improve that reality."

If we’re painting with incredibly broad strokes here – which we are – and we had to attach that description to one gender, which gender would you pick?

I know I’m dancing on shaky ground here, but I think we all agree that, while equal, men and women are different. Men are better at some things. Women are better at others. Yes, there’s a normal distribution curve in both cases, but for some things, the female curve is going to be further to the right. When I look at the qualities that might make an awesome marketer in the new world order, I have to say it seems better suited to the natural strengths of women. That’s why I don’t believe it was coincidence that more women showed a positive response to my column last week then men.



Let me give you an example of a sex-based difference we found in our own research that will help explain my reasoning. We looked at how men and women navigate websites using an eye-tracking station. When we looked at aggregate heat maps, which showed all activity, there was little difference. But when we sliced the activity into half-second by half-second increments, there was a significantly different scan pattern between men and women. Men went right to the navigation bar and started mapping out the architecture of the site. They made a mental wireframe to help them get around. Their first priority was how they were going to get things done. Women, however, first looked at images, especially people and the main content on the homepage. Their first priority was with whom they were dealing, and what the site was about.

That, in a nutshell, sums up a crucial difference between men and women. Men are driven by tasks – they work to get stuff done. Women are empathizers – they work with people.  In the end, both often get to the same place. But they may take very different paths to get there.

The new world of marketing I’m proposing is all about nurturing relationships – true one-to-one relationships. It’s much more about “who” and “why,” and less about “what.”  It’s about sensing what the world looks like from the prospect’s perspective and moving an organization’s internal strategy closer to that perspective.

I’m not saying men can’t do that, but I am saying that women can do it at least as well as men. And perhaps that can help bring more balance to the world of marketing. While total head counts of men and women in marketing are roughly equal (with some reports giving women a slight edge) the same cannot be said of pay scales. According to the latest Marketing Rewards Survey, published by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the gap between men’s and women’s salaries has widened by 10% since 2012. This gap shows up most noticeably at the highest levels of the industry, where more than twice as many men (18%) reach director level as women (7%). This also holds true for marketing heads, with men almost doubling women again: 22% vs 12%. These numbers are out of the U.K, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics has similar numbers for the U.S.  They’ve lumped in marketing and sales managers, but the stats show that women earn about 67.7% of what men earn.

There are going to be some massive shifts in marketing in the coming decades. One of them might be between the genders, changing who holds the top marketing roles.
3 comments about "Will Women Make More Empathetic Marketers?".
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  1. Geoff Pickering from Blue Brahma, February 27, 2014 at 12:36 p.m.

    Gord - it's not shaky ground at all. You are right, women are more empathetic than men - period. I do not think that means there not as strong in business or strategic. They are that too. I enjoyed your thoughts and think the bottom-line is this - continuing to elevate the game by fielding the best team - if that means more women because then hire them and kick ass.

  2. Kat Gordon from Maternal Instinct, February 27, 2014 at 5:13 p.m.

    Guess what else? The majority of buying influence rests with women also. 70% of ecommerce purchases are made by women. That means that the target you're more likely to be trying to motivate is female. Male marketers can exhibit empathy for female consumers, sure. But it may come more naturally to women marketers. Thanks for a thought-provoking piece, Gord.

  3. Susan Breidenbach from Broadbrook Associates, February 28, 2014 at 4:54 p.m.

    There's a lot of science behind all this. Cross-cultural studies show that if you put a bunch of little boys who don't know each other together, they immediately start testing each other and quickly form hierarchies and pecking orders. In contrast the little girls form overlapping networks (relationships) and pass leadership roles around. Also, Dunbar's Number of anthropology fame -- the number of relationships humans can maintain -- is significantly higher for women than for men. Similarly, there are those photograph tests, in which you look at a photograph of people in a real-world situation and try to decipher their emotions. Woman do much better on those. Until very recently -- a blink in our evolutionary history -- physical strength was very important, and half the people on the planet were 2 or 3 times as strong as women. So women evolved to network (safety in numbers) and decipher facial expressions & other body language (apply empathy) so they could either defuse a building confrontation or get the heck out of Dodge before things explode. Anyway, the flattening and disintermediating effect of the web has been very female-friendly. Thanks for the interesting discussion.

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