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Marketers Address Gender Equity and Inclusivity

The conversation about gender equality in media isn’t new. The entertainment and advertising industries have long struggled to combat gender stereotypes and gain more inclusive representation for women. This battle is being waged in countries around the world. Case in point: In 2019, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) reacted to a series of widely criticized commercials, like one for baby formula that showed a girl growing up to be a ballerina and a boy becoming a mathematician. In response, the ASA announced that “advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offense,” effectively banning gender stereotypes from ads. In India, a 2019 study by UNICEF and the Geena Davis Institute looked at 1,000 of the country’s most-viewed TV and YouTube ads, finding that female characters were more likely to be seen food shopping, cooking or caring for kids. The report delivered recommendations on how to instill a more diverse media landscape promoting equity and positive gender norms. Here’s how other brands are getting involved.

Fighting Gender Bias
Procter & Gamble’s newest campaign for its Olay skincare brand works to address discrimination caused by computer algorithms that perpetrate exclusionary definitions of beauty. This typically happens because white males comprise the majority of American computer scientists, and their own unconscious bias is often reflected in the design of everything from search engines to social-media platforms. Olay’s initiative, #DecodeTheBias, aims to diversify that pool by sending 1,000 girls of color to coding camp. An accompanying 60-second spot features Joy Buolamwini, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League and star of the Netflix documentary Coded Bias about bigotry inherent to facial recognition technology.

From beauty to brawn, Michelob Ultra pledged $100 million over the next five years to increase media coverage of female athletes, in support of their ongoing push for equal pay. “We need to set the example, and the time for equality has always been now,” said Ricardo Marques, VP of marketing. “Our commitment demonstrates Michelob Ultra’s core belief that female athletes deserve an equal experience, whether they’re on the court, in the newsroom or on our TV screens.” The Anheuser-Busch beer brand is kicking off its effort at home, via a “See It, Save It” spot that shines the spotlight on women basketball players, soccer stars and runners, among others.

Across the pond, the British Army’s July campaign, called “A Soldier Is a Soldier,” reminded viewers that when it comes to the armed forces, equal pay and equal commitment are expected from all members, regardless of gender. A 60-second film opens with a woman asking, “What’s it like being a female soldier?” Striking visuals are accompanied by narration from several female fighters performing tough tasks, like stitching up wounds. “The most important thing in the Army is what kind of soldier you are, not what gender you are,” said Nik Studzinksi, chief creative officer at London-based Karmarama ad agency.

Promoting Inclusivity
Inclusivity gets even trickier when marketing to transgender, gender-nonconforming and nonbinary individuals. Despite significant increases in representation for these groups over the last decade, they are featured in ad campaigns from only a small number of brands. In fact, half of Gen Z and millennial consumers believe society isn’t sufficiently accepting of “people who don’t identify as either a man or a woman,” according to a 2019 Pew Research poll. But brands are working to change that paradigm, starting with Pacsun. The clothing line just debuted Colour Range, its first line of gender-neutral clothes featuring cotton-based staples like T-shirts and pants. A series of “Life in Colour” videos released on TikTok are meant to reach the retailer’s 1.4 million followers and appeal to Gen Z buyers, who value both diversity initiatives and sustainability efforts. Pacsun’s products are made from partially recycled fabrics and organic yarn, and its Gender-Neutral Shop lets online consumers easily browse unisex options.

UK-based company Freda, makers of organic menstrual and bladder-care sanitary products, recently acknowledged that periods are still a reality for trans men and nonbinary individuals. The company teamed with director Mar del Corral to create “Cycle,” a campaign promoting menstruation as a “natural human phenomenon.” The eponymous documentary-style hero film features three people discussing their experiences with periods, touching on moments of shame or discrimination, and calling for #PeriodCareForEveryone.

Positive Body Imaging
Positive messaging and equal representation are just as important when it comes to body imaging, which is why Old Navy launched “Bodyquality” in August. The clothing giant now offers all women’s styles in every size—from 0 to 30 and XS to 4X. Inclusive styles are priced the same, with additional sizes available online, merging plus sections with other categories. What’s more, models are seen sporting sizes 4, 12 and 18. “We saw an opportunity to meaningfully change the women’s shopping experience by making it more inclusive regardless of size,” said Nancy Green, Old Navy CEO. “BODEQUALITY is not a one-time campaign, but a full transformation of our business in service to our customers based on years of working closely with them to research their needs.” Actor and comedian Aidy Bryant stars in a 30-second spot, as well as out-of-home placements and social content on Instagram and Twitter.

Meanwhile, salad maker Sweetgreen continue to stress a holistic approach to wellness focused on both body and mind by partnering with tennis pro Naomi Osaka for a campaign that debuted with August’s US Open. That move was intentional: the United States Tennis Association’s “Be Open” campaign focused this year on diversity, gender equality and LGBTQ representation, among other issues.

As talks about breaking down gender norms become more mainstream, brands are taking notice. From sports to fashion and beauty to personal hygiene, marketers are rising to the challenge of creating a more inclusive world. Some credit can be given to younger demographics, who are helping spur this change. “Gen-Z are looking for increased transparency in the companies they buy from, and will call out those who aren’t living up to what they preach,” said Ryan Sherman, senior creative at Virtue Northern Europe, an agency that recently helped launch the first gender-neutral AI voice, called Q. Much work remains to be done—but recent efforts prove that the conversation is at least well underway.