Businesses are Turning to Community to Gain a Competitive Advantage. They’re Turning to Women to Make it Happen.

By Rob Fawkes on 9 Mar 2020

Five female community experts, interviewed.

For this year’s International Women’s Day, themed  “An Equal World is an Enabled World”, we decided to take a closer look at ourselves and our industry. According to Equality Can’t Wait, it will take 208 years to achieve gender equality in the United States. Well, we’re pleased to report that as a company, Standing on Giants staff gender ratio is nicely balanced, with a slight majority of women. As we were scanning our surroundings, we noticed that especially the Community Management team is predominantly female. Both our Heads of Community are long standing professionals in the field and manage two of the biggest branded communities in the world – both of them are women. London’s CMX Connect, a series of events for professionals in the community industry,  are also organised by three exceptional women, all of whom occupy vital Community Management roles in the organisations they work for.

We started to wonder what it was that makes these women so good at what they do – are there ‘female qualities’ that are essential for someone who manages communities? Is it something about the industry that attracts women more than men? Is it neither of these things?

For International Women’s Day, we want to shine a light on female community professionals. We reached out and wanted to hear what brought them into the industry, why they believe women are ideal for Community Management, how they see the state of equality within the organisations they work for, and finally, what their opinions on the future of women in the community space are.

Equality doesn’t just happen, it is crafted

Sixty years ago, Serena Snoad’s grandfather helped bring about the UK Equal Pay Act through strike action at Ford in Dagenham, which makes equality a topic close to her heart. Today, she knows that professionals in all industries still need to make a conscious effort to get the issue of gender equality on the agenda. She got into Community Management by accident back in 2008, when non-profits were just starting to use social media to communicate and build communities for their organisations. She is now the leader of a Community Management team at Alzheimer’s Society UK, where she helped publish a gender pay report and held open discussions about gender equality: 

“It has been so encouraging to see the leadership take gender equality so seriously. It ultimately starts with equal representation in the industry. I think it’s vital to empower and encourage the women in our teams so they can become more skilled and have opportunities to develop and to be the community leaders of the future (…) Women need to be given the chance to succeed – the only way is up!”

Nancy Kinder has been working in the industry for 18 years. She has previously worked for companies like Cadbury/Kraft and is now a Knowledge and Community Consultant at her own company, Connect & Share Consulting. She hopes that female voices in Community Management will become even stronger in the future and is proud to be involved in projects where gender equality is a top priority: 

“I am very proud of the communities I support and coach because they are very much gender neutral. We draft and agree to a clear charter of expectations and launch with a good understanding that all members are equal, are listened to, its safe environment to grow and prosper together. (…) Role modelling these behaviours in communities has been echoed across the organisations our members have lived in.” 

Finimize, a platform that gives their users a daily run-down on the top finance news of the day,  has a community of over 800,000 members worldwide. In an effort to invite more women to invest in their future financial security, Michelle Sims, Global Community Manager, launched an event series in 2018 called the Female Financial Dialogue. In its first year, the London event was attended by over 250 women. Last year, it was brought to over 15 cities around the world by Finimize’s community members. In 2020, they are going one step further, hosting 15 events in 48 hours during Women’s History Month.  

The future for women in the Community Management industry brings promising opportunities

Communities are the future of customer relationship management and the foundation on which big, structural change for society is built. As with any big endeavours, Community leaders and Community Managers are desperately needed. Michelle is a big believer in connecting people. After making her move from Australia to London in 2015, she saw her chance in doing so through Community Management. 

The reason I feel Community Managers are so important in the world today is that not only are we the glue between so many vital parts of any business, but we’re set to make the world a happier, kinder and less lonely place.”

Although she has worked with equally talented Community Managers in the past who have been both male and female, she points out that studies show that women tend to have a higher level of emotional intelligence than men. These include talents like empathy, listening, and patience, which are key soft skills required in a Community Management role: 

 “The Community Industry is growing rapidly and it offers a sustainable business model for companies as well as a competitive advantage. As more companies start to realise the benefits, the industry will continue to grow. I believe women will naturally identify with a Community Management role and in the future, it could become the no.1 industry for women to work in.”

Serena Snoad of Alzheimer’s Society agrees, and believes that in order to succeed in Community Management, you need to know how to meet the needs of the community and the organisation they are run by alike. That means empathic communication, which women are often more attuned to. However, she points out what she considers a common misconception:

“Empathy is an underrated skill which a lot of people in business consider a soft skill, a nice to have – actually it’s about learning how to really understand people and how to speak their language. That means empathy can supercharge so many tasks from issue resolution, getting buy-in, building influence and supporting people.”

Lizzie Hipkins, Airbnb Head of Community at Standing on Giants, has been in the industry for roughly 10 years, and enjoys working in an environment where men and women are equally valued and have shown her that personality and passion, not gender, make a good Community Manager. 

“I work with some incredible female and male Community Managers and I strongly believe both should be present in any community (I would just want a few more people to become Community Managers in general!) I think it is true for any industry, organisation, or company that in order to really succeed you need a good balance of gender, interests and knowledge.”

She points out that, growing up, she didn’t even know what Community Management meant, which is why it wasn’t an obvious career choice for her. What brought her into the industry was her love of meeting new people and bringing people together around things they love, in return. 

Women are on the rise, in any industry

Although progress has been made globally in recent years, Lizzie would like to see more women in leadership positions.

“The exciting thing about our industry is that it’s still young and so the future of Community Management, and for companies thinking of their fans/customers as integral part of their business, is very exciting. From my perspective, I think women and men have an equal role to play in this. Generally speaking I would like to see more women taking more senior positions in companies across industries and the Community Management industry can certainly lead the way in this.”

Marjo Hallapera, Head of the O2 Community at Standing on Giants, and community professional of 8 years, became a Community Manager through the gaming industry, which is male dominated. She also hopes that the future will bring more females in senior management.

“I would think that, even though our own company is really great at gender equality in more senior positions, there will be even more women in top positions in the future. But that’s in any industry, not just Community Management.“

Nancy Kinder of Connect & Share Consulting, knows that it is a tough job but hopes that female voices will be heard more in the future.

 “I hope women in community management will become even stronger and more powerful in the future. Have a bigger voice and influence both internally and externally. It’s a hard job, it can feel relentless but connecting people, building strong relationships around something they are passionate about benefits us all. Don’t forget to stop and see the progress you are making together.” 

At Standing on Giants, we believe that gender equality is one of the key factors in our open, engaging, and encouraging company culture. We hire men and women equally in both junior and senior positions. This takes a conscious effort. Our hope is that in the future, more companies will take the leap and pledge themselves to gender equality. 

For International Women’s Day, we would like to thank our current and past female employees for the work they have done for Standing on Giants every day as well as all the fantastic female community professionals who keep pushing gender equality throughout the industry. #EachforEqual #IWD2020

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