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Can too much diversity be a bad thing

06 March 2020

Anne Miles

Anne Miles (above), the founder of Suits & Sneakers, is a marketing and advertising executive with a long career in changing gendered spaces. She worked for many years in advertising in the car industry among others.

Anne says her industry (marketing and advertising) in general believes it’s creating advertising that avoids gender stereotypes, but that data shows consumers disagree and think advertising reinforces stereotypes.

Her strategy to engage in gender neutral communications might just provide a way to resolve the conflict between the perception held by those in the marketing and advertising industries and the consumer’s.

Too much diversity

Tokenism and over representation impact perception, says Anne, and may be contributing to backlash. Activism, especially in relation to female representation, and “diversity oversteer” (in which marketers and advertisers cast for political correctness rather than appropriateness) can take things too far, alienating audiences and having negative consequences, she believes.

Advertising in the home-making space might be an obvious example of gender bias but it serves to illustrate a point.

Quoting from a 40-year study by sociologists Joanna Pepin and David Cotter, which demonstrates that the number of young people who believe that “The husband should make all the important decisions for the family” has grown from 30 percent in 1994 to nearly 40 percent in 2014, Anne points out, “we’re… in trouble with gender rights according to this data.”

Domestic products and men are rarely if ever coupled and, if they are, men are mostly portrayed as incompetent, bumbling housekeepers, unable to care for the kids or if so, only in a way that is irresponsible and verging on the dangerous.

Women on the contrary are all over it whether they are or want to be or not.

When it comes to making decisive and expert calls in the ‘important’ aspects of life men are the predominant protagonists. Women are classified as dealing with the fiddly, inconsequential details of homemaking, birthdays, anniversaries and the care of the kids.

Classification, as many a behavioural economist and psychologist will tell you, reinforces stereotypes, and the predominant depictions in advertising are not doing much to change them.

It’s a trap for men and women, allowing neither the scope to explore role diversity and doing little or nothing to create equality.

Then there’s the mistake many a campaign has made of forcing women into masculine concepts. If you put ‘the round peg in the square hole’ you will create gender equality is a strategy that leaves women feeling misunderstood.

Gender neutral solutions

Casting for the role, says Anne, is very important. She has other solutions to create a more gender-neutral strategy. They include taking the time to learn more about our unconscious bias and resolving them, as well as aligning marketing and advertising creative with the actual population count rather than using people from different backgrounds to tick the box.

Anne is not advocating a return to traditional gender stereotypes or the abandonment of diversity. She is advocating for a more nuanced approach, which is not an easy path. See some of her thoughts on what constitutes gender neutrality in the table below.

Gender Neutral Thoughts

Like advertising in the car industry, careers for women in the automotive industry have not been an easy road to travel. WIRE writer Emma Foster spoke with Paula Collinson about her career in the automotive industry, read more about Paula’s journey and a new program from St.George which aims to “correct the blokey nature of the industry”.