Job Titles and Gender Bias

The tech world loves to talk. God we can talk. We can talk in 140 characters, Medium posts, whispers and Whispers, from conference stages and in blog comments. We talk to ourselves so much we’ve developed special vocabulary like a 6th grade clique. Secret signals that are utter nonsense to outsiders but make us feel special, apart, better. We’re all a bunch of starbelly sneetches. But the words we choose matter and sometimes they are bad for business.

Today I am going to focus on one specific term, job title really: Growth Hacker. I hate this term. Why do we need it? What new meaning does it convey? Line up the word “marketer” next to “growth hacker” and tell me the difference. Turns out there have been growth hackers growth hacking for hundreds of years. We call them marketers. Is this just a vocabulary update? No; it is a big deal. Vocabulary is nefarious. Seemingly innocuous word choices are freighted with meaning, perhaps unintended, perhaps not.

What comes to mind in the instant you think of the word “hacker”? I bet nine out of ten of you just thought of a man, probably young. Now what comes to mind when you think of the word “marketer”? The images are probably much more diverse. Psychologists talk about “Selective Perception” which is the tendency for expectations to affect how we view things. And according to research published in 2006 people form lasting impressions in 100 milliseconds. We do that by taking mental shortcuts rooted in biology, experience and perception.

Using Growth Hacker instead of Marketer in a job description creates expectations that affect outcomes. Think of it like customer signaling in a purchase funnel. The employee pool and the hiring team get subtle but consequential messages about the role when you give it one title or another. Marketing is one of the few functional areas where women have strong roots. This vocabulary shift undermines that strength. This is stupid.

Women make 85% of all consumer purchases including half of all products marketed to men, and have higher rates of engagement– including content creation and consumption- on every major social network except LinkedIn (Snapchat was not surveyed). But according to a widely discussed report from She-conomy, 91% of women say marketers don’t understand them. Companies that care about diversity, for business and moral reasons, must work harder to include women in marketing roles. This starts with how we talk about these roles.

We A/B test the hell out of email subject lines but we give far, far less scrutiny to the words we use ourselves everyday. This isn’t about political correctness or the first amendment. The words we use matter. They reflect a worldview, create perspective and give direction. Growth Hacker, like any business title, is free to give and use. But just because it is free doesn’t mean it is without cost.

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