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  • Katica Roy

Marketing’s Role In Achieving Intersectional Gender Equity

Welcome to my weekly Q&A roundup. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)

If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions—tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. So each week, I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.

The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusion.

  • Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.

  • Inclusion: bringing others along on the journey.

Be Brave™

Can Marketing Move The Needle On Gender Equity?


Our CEO put us (marketing) in a bind. On one hand, the CMO has been tasked with improving diversity and inclusion in our branding. But on the other hand, we feel like hypocrites because our company doesn’t have a strong culture of diversity and inclusion. Any advice on how to move forward?


Clarifying expectations can often clarify conflicts. So let’s start there. What is your CEO hoping to achieve by improving the diversity and inclusion of your branding efforts? Does your CEO want to use marketing to move the needle on DEI at your company? If so, I see red flags.

Marketing (Alone) Can’t Improve Your Company’s DEI

Efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion will fail if companies treat them as side projects. Let’s review what DEI is not:

DEI is not:

  • A compliance mechanism

  • A social media campaign

  • An extra-curricular

  • An advertisement

  • A one-off training

  • An event

  • Only for women

  • Only for underrepresented employees

DEI is a business imperative and must be treated as one. Your hesitance to embrace “diversity marketing” suggests you understand these organizational dynamics. And your customers understand them too. In fact, savvy consumers have pulled back the curtain on diversity theater.

A survey of 132 companies that spoke out on racial justice in 2020 found that 100% of these companies used hashtags to show support of DEI movements such as Black Lives Matter. But only 9% set reasonable deadlines to improve employee representation, only 5% committed to pay equity, and only 3% committed to diversifying their boards within five years.

Marketing alone cannot turn your company into a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive place to work. I hope your CEO understands that. Marketing can, however, turn outdated stereotypes on their heads and stitch together a more inclusive social fabric. This truth should usher in a tremendous sense of responsibility for your marketing department. You play a starring role in cultural storytelling.

Marketing’s Role In The Gender Equity Conversation

What prevents us from achieving intersectional gender equity? According to 56% of women and 45% of men, “persistent stereotypes” throttle progress toward a more inclusive world. Stereotypes like the ones portrayed in the UK’s public service announcement from the early months of the pandemic. Check it out (image below). It says to stay home and save lives. Then it shows women and girls taking care of the house while they quarantine.

This simple image disseminated across Britain (and the internet) and in doing so, it reinforced women’s role as the default cleaners and caretakers of the household. The shocking reality is that the NHS’s public service announcement espouses the same cultural messaging as advertisements from over a century ago. (!)

Here’s one from 1893 (image below). It depicts the “14-hour wives of 8-hour men” who deserve a special type of cleaning product to scrub the floors more efficiently.

Inclusive media messaging is materializing. However, we still have a long way to go.

  • Gender roles are hard to break: Only 7% of women and 9% of men in advertisements are shown in non-stereotyped roles.

  • Ageism abounds: 30% of ads portray a man who appears 40+ but only 19% portray a woman who appears 40+.

  • Misrepresentation is still a problem: Only 29% of US women believe they are accurately represented in ads; only 6% say ads portray them very accurately.

  • Men want to see progress: 51% of men want to see women shown in more leadership positions.

Today, 81% of people agree the media plays a critical role in shaping gender narratives and 84% say the media has the power to influence the futures of boys and girls. Wear this responsibility with integrity.

When Done Right, Inclusive Marketing Improves Brand Perception

Inclusive marketing makes economic sense. As I mentioned above, updating worn-out gender stereotypes can hasten our journey to equity for all. Upon achieving intersectional gender equity, the US economy will be $3.4 trillion larger than it is today. Inclusive marketing can also pay dividends for brand perception—when done authentically.

Ads that positively portray women increase consumers’ long-term relationships with the brand as well as short-term purchase decisions. Black women, for instance, are 1.5 times more likely to purchase clothing advertised by a Black model. And all women are three times more likely to purchase clothing when models reflect their size.

Women control over $6.4 trillion of US spending. Why would companies want to alienate their customer base?

Resources For Inclusive Marketing

I understand the bind you’re in. Moving forward, your marketing team needs to:

A.) Ensure you’re hitting the performance objectives set by the leadership team.

~ without ~

B.) Compromising brand authenticity and feeling like a hypocrite.

As you embark on your new marketing charter, I’ll leave you with three quality resources to cover bases A and B.

  1. 3Ps Unstereotype Framework: Apply this framework from the Unstereotype Alliance to create inclusive marketing collateral.

  2. 12-point Guide for Diversity & Representation: The World Federation of Advertisers offers this open-source guide for marketers to stress-test their messaging against unconscious biases.

  3. GEM®: SeeHer uses a data-driven methodology to help marketers remove gender bias from media projects. (Membership required.)


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© 2021 Katica Roy™, Inc.

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