International Women’s Day: Why a Gender-Responsive Approach to Brand Strategy and Creativity Is Needed to Drive Real Change

By R. Larsson, Advertising Week

This year’s International Women’s Day theme – DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality will explore the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities and call on businesses, policy makers and activists to create more inclusive and equitable environments for women and girls.

Just 26% of those in the tech workforce are women and most senior positions in advertising are still held by men. Which begs the question, is the digital gender gap holding back creative, marketing and advertising industries?

In part one of this two-part installment, we speak to female industry experts on what can brands and agencies can do to build an inclusive and sustainable future when it comes to transformative technology and digital education and why a gender-responsive approach to brand strategy and creativity is needed to drive real change.

Laura Jones, Strategy Partner, Joint

As an industry we need to accept some responsibility for the existence of the digital gender gap. It’s our job to show positive accurate representation of women and technology, not just regurgitate the same old stereotypes. This isn’t just about who we feature in adverts about the latest laptop or mobile network, it’s about what they are depicted doing. If technology adverts feature women struggling to use tech, or using it to simply do online shopping or online dating, this doesn’t accurately represent women who use tech. 

In the advertising and tech industries, it is still men who primarily hold senior roles. Both industries need to focus on hiring, retaining and promoting more women. We can’t create brilliant integrated campaigns, digital tools and innovations for women, with no women in the room. Too often the narrative focuses on what women need to do to close the gap when really the focus should be on what businesses/industries collectively need to do. As Joy Burnford said “don’t fix women, change the system.” We must prioritise things like flexible working, inclusive leadership, parental policies and childcare support – we must hero these in our job descriptions and stop using language that lends itself to a male audience. This is where tools like Gender Decoder can be introduced to help fizzle out any gender biases in the language used to recruit. 

As advertisers, we can also attack the digital gender gap directly with what we all do best – brilliant creative work. The leading non-profit, Girls Who Code, worked with Doja Cat to release DojaCode, an interactive experience that inspired a new generation of young women to direct aspects of a music video, using code. This experience opened the eyes of a generation of fans to a wealth of career opportunities in the technology field, and is another step towards building a more inclusive, digital world. 

Natalie Chu, Account Director, b2b marketing agency alan

A gender-responsive approach to innovation, technology, brand strategy and creativity is critical to heightened imagination and creative thinking, leading to better products, services and experiences for customers.

“Business as usual” methods are no longer serving their purpose, therefore we need to introduce transformative changes to address the systemic gender inequalities that exist.

Historically, women and other gender-diverse individuals have been underrepresented in these industries, resulting in a lack of diversity, one-sidedness, bias and inequitable practices. Gender sensitivity training would help educate those to understand the impact of gender stereotypes and how to eliminate them. This can include conducting surveys and focus groups to gather insights coupled with training on how to use inclusive language and how to identify and challenge gender biases to garner gender-responsive results.

Fostering a culture that values and respects diversity, where people feel supported and comfortable expressing themselves helps promote inclusiveness. Businesses need to adopt considered approaches by ensuring all genders are involved in decision-making processes and are provided with equal opportunity for career development by having the same access to resources and networks. When these unique needs and perspectives are championed, enhanced creativity and innovation can flourish.

The United Nations General Assembly’s Sustainable Development Goals champion that gender equality is not only a basic human right but that it is essential for creating harmony, prosperity and sustainability. We need to go beyond just acknowledging and raising awareness of gender inequality by implementing transformative changes, adopting integrated approaches and embracing gender-responsive solutions in order to be reflective of today’s inclusive community. 

Nicole Baragwanath, Interactive Projects Director, Imagination 

The gender gap doesn’t help anyone. Historically, we’ve seen how excluding women in industries such as art, history, and science later caused a misrepresentation of historical events. So as our lives and stories are increasingly being told through technology, we need female leadership and representation in this realm.

Various statistics report that high-gender diversity generates more revenue and helps the economy. Another compelling argument for diversity in the workplace, is that different types of people think differently, and we need technology that encompasses the perspective and needs of all people.

Agencies and brands are positioned both financially and creatively to provide funding and training services to women across the globe. More importantly, creative agencies are experts at marketing and campaign generation. A smart collaborative campaign created between various agencies would be strong enough to get messages out to the people who need them. Additionally, between agencies there should be enough skill and resources to create an online platform that could offer things like grants, internships, hardware, and online training as well as access to a curated database of conferences, programs, and mentors. 

Louise Johnson, CEO, Fuse

There is a real danger that without more women in cutting edge fields like machine learning, large language models, and generative AI we run the risk of increasing gender biases distorting the content that is shaping the world around us. But when it comes to attracting these women to the field, we need to start early on. 

We really admire the effort that organisations such as Girls Who Code are putting in to teach young girls computer skills and show them that a career in tech is an option. At the other end of the spectrum Women and STEM Returners are doing excellent work to plug the STEM gap by supporting women finding their way back to the tech industry after a long career break.

But we can’t just rely on external support – brands themselves should be doing more to bring women into the field and helping them once they’re there to navigate and thrive in what is still such a male dominated environment.

Caroline Kan, Director (France), Analytic Partners

Limiting access and inclusion of women to digital media, technology and its education means limiting every company’s access to their true creative potential. The industry has to start diversifying its approach, and there are many ways in which it can do this. Building role models that every woman can relate to, making these sectors more accessible for all, setting up better recruiting processes, and providing further, individualised education along their journey, can all have a positive impact.

Data Science is unfortunately still a very evident example of this gender gap with many women not even knowing what they could achieve, or not having the right level of confidence to even try. There is a lot of innovation happening right now and the industry is looking into even more opportunities in the near future. Involving more women will be key to shaping the future of this industry and could result in more diverse problem-solving and greater creative solutions that speak to a broader share of the whole population.

We need to help shift the mindset from digital being a barrier, to digital being an enabler for future personal success. The longer we wait to tackle the problem, the stronger the inequality will get, and the harder it will be for those left behind to catch up with the rest. We need to be bold and courageous now for a more inclusive and creative future.

Got a Question? We’ve Got Answers.