Engaging women voters is key to victory in the EU Referendum

Brand marketers understand the value and are increasingly masters of engaging women - think the multi-award-winning #Like a Girl and One Billion Rising campaigns.

Engaging women in the EU referendum debate is key to success, argues Jenny Halpern Prince
Engaging women in the EU referendum debate is key to success, argues Jenny Halpern Prince

The success of both campaigns lay in drawing upon universal truths around gender issues and promoting an opposing point of view that instantly connected with women. Stories told by women for women.

In the coming months, the debate on Britain’s membership of the European Union will dominate the media. We will hear from the politicians – David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Alan Johnson and Nigel Farage – and from the business leaders – Sir Stuart Rose, Arron Banks, Richard Reed and Roger Bootle. And we’ll also hear from the celebs – Sir Michael Caine, Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Mo Farah. 

But will we hear from women? 

All too often, women’s voices are missing from the big political debates on the future of our country. 

The debate that will lead us up to the EU referendum on 23 June provides a moment in time for politics to step out from the past and into a future where listening counts as much as being heard – a communication skill women innately respond to and where the female perspective is truly valued. 

Why is it that political campaigns struggle so much to engage women? My sense is that it is partly misplaced political correctness – a fear of getting it wrong and coming over as patronising by being seen to even acknowledge gender differences.

After all, who can forget Better Tog-ether’s embarrassingly clumsy attempt to engage female voters in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, with its TV advert, The Woman Who Made Up Her Mind? 

Needless to say, it struck all the wrong chords – sparking a Twitter furore and swiftly undoing all the good intentions behind the idea.

To approach gender politics with care is, of course, always the right approach. But – particularly in the wake of last year’s slew of headlines about the widening ‘turnout gap’ between female and male voters – nervousness about striking the wrong note is not an excuse for continually sidestepping the issue.

We simply must reach a point – and soon – where politics is so in tune with the female voice that falling foul of pitfalls such as this is no longer a concern.

Women are not a niche market nor a minority – in the PR industry, where an estimated 70 per cent of us are female, we know that all too well. 

We know there are more female voters in the UK, and that women are more likely to be undecided on the issue of Britain’s membership of the EU than men. 

The recent Scottish referendum has also shown us they are likely to vote differently to men – 56.6 per cent of women voted No while 53.2 per cent of men voted Yes. 

We also know the tangible ways in which the EU referendum will affect women – as professionals, as entrepreneurs and as mothers and grandmothers.

The referendum provides the perfect opportunity for politics to take its lead from the commercial comms industry. 

To understand that, to connect with those women who are still undecided, the big issues about the future of our economy, our security and our place in the world need to be framed in a language and style of debate that engages their hearts and minds. 

Only by recognising and giving airtime to our different perspectives as men and women will we ensure that we engage society as a whole. 

There are exciting times are ahead – and, the conversation, cross-party co-operation, hard work and opportunity have only just begun. 

Jenny Halpern Prince is chief executive of Halpern and founder of Women In the EU

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