International Women’s Day 2021: How is the Marketing World Fighting Gender Bias?

gender bias in marketing

As far as the world has come in recent years, women are still fighting gender bias in the workplace. Every single day. And it’s these day-to-day experiences of bias that creates prejudice, which in turn creates a situation where structural inequalities can occur, from representation to pay disparity. In fact, according to a study 42% of women have experienced gender discrimination at work. And that’s not to mention the problem with securing a job in the first place: this study showed that both women are on average 30% less likely to be called for an interview than a man with similar skills/characteristics, with women performing much better at blind auditions. It’s clear that all of this is fuelled by gender prejudice and helps to strengthen a male-dominated status quo.  

Let’s be honest: there’s still a long way to go for the world to reach gender equality and that’s the same for the marketing industry, notwithstanding the many strides forward that have been made in recent years. Gender bias in marketing still exists, whether it’s in applied assumptions and stereotypes or in representation. One bright spot: women now hold 45.4% of all marketing executive positions compared to just 29% in 2019, according to a study by She Runs It and Diversity Best Practices. There are, indeed, a whole host of successful women kicking it in tech leadership roles. Still, this statistic hides other defects: with their study showing that Black and Latinx women are highly under-represented in said roles.

It’s time to battle the status quo. This year’s International Women’s Day has chosen the theme choose to challenge and that’s why we spoke to some of our team members, both male and female, asking them three questions around the topic. How do they challenge gender bias in marketing? And is enough being done? Read on to find out about the challenges they undertake in their day-to-day work to help fight against gender bias in marketing and beyond.

There is still a lot to be done to get rid of gender bias in marketing. But there’s a lot you can individually do: Find out more about how you can personally #ChooseToChallenge here.

How do you challenge gender bias in your day-to-day work? 

Isla McDougall, Global Expert Key Clients: “I think the best way is to continuously encourage women and build a working culture where women have access to senior roles. A part of building this culture is also challenging unconscious gender bias, for example the traits most commonly associated with successful leaders are those that align with stereotypically male behaviours. So being mindful of how you describe a leader, what gender pronouns you use and what traits they should require are all helpful ways in ensuring women feel part of the conversation.”

Hillevi Lausten discusses how she is fighting against gender bias in marketing

Hillevi Lausten, CCO

Hillevi Lausten, Chief Communications Officer: “For me it is a lot about ‘minding your words’. Especially in German. I try to use gender neutral descriptions of professions as much as possible, as in German professions are traditionally separated by gender. I also really try not to speak in stereotypes. For example, I would never say ‘I’m so emotional just like other women’ or ‘you throw like a girl’, and when I write to a group of people from both genders I try not to write ‘hi guys’.

“Because when I look at my experience in the last few years, I think my stereotypes (and we all have them) are quite soft, but obviously still existent. So I just try to be as aware of them as possible and I think language plays a strong role in this case. That’s why I also try to call out other people if they use gendered stereotypes or do not use gender-neutral language. Furthermore, I try to encourage people to use gender-neutral language too.”

Charlotte D'Souza discusses how she is fighting against gender bias in marketing

Charlotte D’Souza, Senior International Account Manager

Charlotte D’Souza, Senior International Account Manager: “In my opinion the best way to challenge gender bias is via encouraging my female colleagues. Before we look at what someone else can do for us, we need to look within and see if what we are doing is supporting our female colleagues or invariably adding to the chains of bringing them down. We, as women, do not want handouts given to us on the basis of gender. But what we do need is encouragement, encouragement to be bold, to be more vocal and to become empowered.

“At a time when I wasn’t as confident as I am now, the best thing that happened to me was my female colleague, who not just offered encouragement, but was my sounding board, she challenged me to the point of self-reflection. And now, it’s my turn to give back and incite this ripple effect.”

Mustafa Himdi, Growth Marketing Director UK: “Let’s first say that it is very difficult to counteract unconscious bias. It’s more about what you do with it and how quickly you correct yourself concerning these thoughts.

“I taught myself to have as diverse a view of this world as possible by allowing different perspectives. The broader the frame of reference, the more realistic your view of this world is. A one-sided view of reality is what I try to avoid. This allows me to fairly quickly correct myself for ideas of myself or others, but also challenge the status quo. Growing up in a female household made me realise that something like performance is not related to gender. Research shows that there is no difference in functioning in terms of gender.

“I try to empower women as much as I can because there is so much unfulfilled potential in what we can learn from women in this world. As a man I like to engage in the conversation because gender inequality is a human right issue.”

Is the marketing world, and your field in particular, doing enough to challenge gender inequality? If not, what needs to be done?

Isla McDougall, Global Expert Key Clients

Isla: “I think marketing has made some leaps and bounds in ensuring there is more gender equality between men and women in the field. However, I feel there is still a long way to go to include all genders (trans, non-binary). The world is evolving and if we are to work in a field that advertises to the ‘market’ then we have to be mindful of all genders that make up this market.”

Hillevi: “Luckily the communication and marketing sector is quite balanced in the sense of having all genders working here, also in leading positions. When I started my career in PR, I actually worked in some almost only female agencies and had only female bosses. But nevertheless even in our sector we still see an imbalance in leading positions, often leaning towards more male leaders. And I think that is something we should always question and work on.

“So I actually regularly ask myself: Do we have a healthy balance of gender in the company? Do we have a healthy balance of diverse leaders? Of parents and non-parents? And I think those questions should not stop at gender, but continue into all diversity topics we have.”

Charlotte: “I started working in the field of marketing around 8 years ago. We have come a long way since then. I remember, when I worked at a former company (in my early years), we of course were interviewed on our skills and an exam, but later I got to know a lot of importance was also given to the way we looked and dressed. It was in the role of public relations, so I understand we need to look presentable, but the parity was significant between the male and female colleagues. We needed to look good, so we could make a good impression on the press (which was significantly male skewed).” 

“Since then, so much as changed, we are recognised for more than just how we look and our opinions matter. Lots more companies are taking the initiative to organise events that help and support women – events like this equip us with tools that will get us that coveted seat at the table. We definitely need to encourage more women to take up leadership positions as well – without labelling them as bossy.”

“Of course time and again, as part of networking you do come across people belonging to the generation preceding mine, and you still get to hear sexist jokes, which can make you feel uncomfortable. We don’t need handouts, but we definitely don’t need untoward comments and labels.”

Mustafa Himdi, Growth Marketing Director UK

Mustafa: “A good thing is that more and more brands are starting to realise that they have too one-sided an image of their target group. Many ideas are still too much from the time when there was an imbalance between gender when it comes to decision making. The decision-maker is not always a man: the decision-maker within the family, but just as much the CEO of a company. There is still much to be done in challenging this one-sided perspective and I am happy to provide evidence that it is not that one-sided.

“When it comes to initiatives to fight gender inequality, I give A for effort but a D-minus for sincerity. As with Valentine’s Day, I think there is something fundamentally wrong in your relationship when it takes one commercial day in the year to say you love someone. This also applies to International Women’s Day: live it 365 days a year and not one day a year. Walk the talk to make the change! We have to challenge three goals: knowledge, attitude and behaviour.”

Do you have any examples of how you have seen gender inequality successfully challenged in the workplace? 

Isla: “At DCMN, our management board is more or less equal between men and women. Not only does this help in encouraging the next generation of female leaders, but it helps everyone to have more females part of the decision making process in the company.”

Hillevi: “I think what I like here at DCMN for example is that the founders asked me after some time with the company to speak about my honest opinion, asking me what I think of gender equality at DCMN. Since they are two men they didn’t want to be blindsided by the fact – and I think that’s already the right step forward. Also as mentioned before I try to step out of my everyday work and ask myself the questions above. But I also believe there are many more things we could actually do so that we are even more aware if we are still moving into the right direction.”

Charlotte: “Definitely, working in a company like DCMN feels like a blessing. The management strives to make this a safe place, and they do it at any cost. Sexism and untoward comments are taken seriously and stopped. We have lots of women in leadership positions and strong women at that. We speak about issues openly. We are given a medium to speak about it as well, whether it’s through SCALEup events, discussions or social media. I am known for my work and my quality of work, and nobody says ‘for a woman, she does a decent job’.”

Mustafa: “I read an article about Eindhoven University of Technology in which they indicated that for the next year and a half they will only hire women to have a balance within the academic world. Scientists are women too, and the goal was to get rid of the image that scientists are men. 

I think these kinds of decisions should be encouraged so that we can have a better discussion in the longer term when the discussion is conducted where there is a balance between gender. Otherwise, you will keep the one-sided image. As Simone de Beauvoir said: “Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth.” 

We are fighting for a future without gender bias in marketing. Find out more about how you can #ChooseToChallenge here.

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