Gender in Media: Navigating Toward Inclusive Content Marketing

I’ve worked as content editor long enough to have seen a distinct shift in how brands and marketers are approaching gender and minority inclusion. In the past, the call for diversity came primarily from consumers, whereas today, companies across industries recognize a need for change in their own practices. For content marketers, our challenge is to find a way to navigate toward inclusive content, from within.

Yet even with social justice constantly making headlines, from Times Up and #MeToo to National Geographic’s acknowledgement of a racist past and beyond, McKinsey’s 2018 Deliver Through Diversity report found that while “gender and ethnic diversity are clearly correlated with profitability” for businesses, inequality persists. So, what are the steps between accepting the reality that we need to achieve greater equality in our companies and content calendars — and actually making it happen?

I recently had the honor of attending an industry panel with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, where top-level executives addressed this very question in light of new research. Fresh from curating New York Film Academy’s infographic on Gender Inequality in Film, I thought I was well fortified against scary data, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the Institute’s stark findings on representation in branding, including:

  • Gender: Male brand mascots outnumber female mascots 2-to-1.
  • Minorities: While people of color comprise 38 percent of the U.S. population, they’re represented by only 15.2 percent of brand mascots.

Brand mascots may be just one small slice of the pie for marketers, but it’s a wake-up call to examine how our busy content calendars can give us opportunities to steer away from this kind of inequality. Here are a few tips from some of the industry’s top executives to help us improve our content marketing inclusivity, from pitch to publish.

1. “Take the meetings.” – Courtney Parker, VP Alternative Programming at Adaptive Studios  

Courtney Parker’s first strategy for diversifying content is “taking the meetings.”

New voices and new relationships bring the fresh ideas and diverse stories sought by companies and audiences alike. Make listening a part of your daily operations. Create an atmosphere where people have a voice, and listen. Take the meetings.

2. “Be open-minded and unafraid to speak up in the workplace.” – Laura Trevino, Vice President of Marketing, The Jel Sert Company

Laura Trevino’s advice to marketers: Don’t be afraid to speak up!

Trevino encourages content marketers and executives to think honestly about their messaging. Is it inspiring? Is it diverse? Does it tell the right story? If not, much like New York City MTA’s “if you see something, say something” campaign, speak up.

Content marketers must take responsibility for our content and its diversity of representation.

3. “Notice who is in the room.” – Torsten Gross, Head of Strategy, J. Walter Thompson New York

Torsten Gross wants marketers to notice who is in the room (and who isn’t). Chances are there are lots of stories we’re not telling – and audiences we’re not reaching – because of who is not in the room when creating strategy and content.

HP’s Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer Nate Hurst recently told Forbes, “If you don’t have diverse talent within your organization, or if women aren’t playing a key role in driving innovation, you will not keep up with the external pressures and demands of an increasingly diverse and dynamic customer base. … If women played an identical role as men in the labor market, it could add an additional $20 trillion (USD) to global GDP by 2025.”

4. “Be respectful in creative work.” – Sarah Barclay, Executive Creative Director, J. Walter Thompson New York

Research from the Geena Davis Institute and beyond shows that women and minorities are predominantly portrayed by demeaning stereotypes. Sarah Barclay’s solution: Be respectful in your creative work.

Barclay focuses on portraying people how they want to be seen, not how they are currently seen. That’s a simple shift in focus, but with major implications. Consider the Geena Davis Institute’s findings that 66 percent of women have actively switched off films or TV shows if they felt they were negatively stereotyping women. Can your company afford to have 66 percent of women stop engaging with its content?

To make these strategies work for your organization and content calendar, ask yourself (and your team) the following:

  • Am I taking the meetings and actively seeking out diverse voices and perspectives? Am I listening?
  • Am I speaking up and honestly examining our messaging?
  • Who is in the room? How can I make sure underrepresented voices are a part of the discussion?
  • Is our creative content respectful? How are we currently representing people, ideas, and stories?

These questions are the first step to stronger, more diverse content marketing, and will ultimately help your team create organic connections with the increasingly global, diverse world that is our target audience.