It’s Time To Challenge Gender Stereotypes!


Friday 8th March is International Women’s Day, and this year we’re being challenged to consider how we can help forge a more gender balanced world. How can we raise awareness of gender bias?

The consideration of women’s issues is perhaps more important to us as marketeers than most. As people in a position of influence, where we push out messaging, imagery and ultimately ideas to the public, we have a responsibility to be aware. To ensure we’re doing our part to quash gender bias and promote positive attitudes towards women within society.

It might sound simple and obvious, but the lack of consciousness about the message we are sending is perhaps rifer than we may realise – even in modern society. An example springs to mind from the holiday season. Last November, there was uproar across the internet in response to Marks & Spender’s Christmas window display in Nottingham. One window promoted the ‘must-have’ items for men: ‘outfits to impress’ including suits and smart wear. But for women, they suggested the ‘must-have’ item was ‘fancy little knickers’. Shocking, right?

Now, I’m not suggesting this type of negative female characterisation was intentional. On the contrary, it was probably completely unintentional, caused by a lack of awareness of the message they were portraying. But isn’t this alternative just as worrying? This is why the role of incentives such as International Women’s Day are still so vital and most definitely have their place in the modern age.

So what steps should we be taking to regain our social consciousness and promote balanced gender perceptions in marketing?

Step One: Be Aware

The first step in promoting a more gender balanced marketing world is simply being aware.

Treading thoughtfully is particularly important when it comes to the retail sector. In fashion retail for example, most of the time products are considered ‘male’ or ‘female’ (of course with the exception of unisex products), and therefore creating 2 distinct gender messages is often part of our everyday working lives. Without consciousness, we may more readily fall into the trap of negative gender stereotyping. This is not to say the segmentation of messaging itself is wrong. Of course, it makes sense that we may want to adopt a slightly different sales approach for each product set, based on what we know engages each demographic. However, we must ensure that the tone adopted for each is appropriate and fitting for a gender balanced society.

Similarly, outside of fashion in industries like FMCG, we must also be conscious and aware of products that aren’t innately gendered. Yet stereotypes and outdated gender associations that are sadly engrained within society may unconsciously lead us to promote them with a gender. We can all recall the old household appliance and washing powder ads. When this occurs, we must find the time to stop, consider and fight to ensure we stay neutral.

Step Two: Challenge Others

Maintaining gender balance in marketing is not always going to be easy, particularly if those around us might be predisposed to adopt an outdated approach. It therefore takes a bit of guts to speak up and challenge what we see. Keep an eye on copy that’s been proposed or imagery we get sent, and don’t be afraid to raise concern. This applies for colleagues, agencies and clients alike. You’ll probably find your constructive feedback is more than welcome!

And what’s more, we must also be unafraid to challenge our audience. Simply because we may know certain ‘traditional’ ways of marketing may resonate amongst our target demographics, it doesn’t mean we should adhere to them. We must challenge our users to break free of these ideas and encourage them to view the world in a more balanced light.

Step Three: Promote a Powerful Message

This leads onto the final step – active promotion of positive female messaging.

Where possible, find the time to stand up and create a message that breaks the mould. Whether it’s during the formulation of an entire campaign, or on a much smaller scale with your PPC ad copy, Facebook imagery or on site stories. Within all streams of media, you still have a chance to make a difference.

For inspiration, I’d recommend the post ’17 Marketing Campaigns With A Positive Message For Women’ on E-Consultancy. Each and every example is incredibly powerful, and encapsulates just how much capacity we have to influence and make a change as advertisers. They’re all so good I couldn’t bring myself to choose just one as an example – you’ll have to give it a read!

So by next Christmas, all we want is a bit of gender equality – and maybe some ‘must have suits to impress’ for women.

About the author

Sarah Barker
Sarah Barker

I've worked within digital marketing agencies for 4+ years, across a variety of different verticals. But without a doubt, I'm particularly passionate about retail.

My current role as Head of Biddable Media Strategy not only means that I stay on top of the latest news, but also ensures I'm continually developing new best practice and biddable media plans.

So it seemed incredibly fitting for me to start my own retail marketing blog. Not just to cover industry updates, but to include thoughts from my own experience to help get others thinking and talking about all things retail!

Sarah Barker By Sarah Barker