This is something that businesses simply have to get right in their interactions with consumers and stakeholders this year and beyond.
We have already had a powerful demonstration of female determination for change at the Golden Globes awards and ‘that’ Oprah Winfrey speech.
At almost the same time, a less global but nonetheless highly significant development came when the BBC’s China editor Carrie Gracie resigned from her post accusing the corporation of gender pay discrimination.
Linked to this are the new gender pay gap reporting rules, with the results from the first 500 companies recently hitting the headlines and showing some graphic disparities between what men and women are receiving.
With thousands more companies due to publish their figures between now and April, this issue will only stay – and grow – in the headlines.
So what does all this mean for brands and their communications? For me, it means they need to be on high alert.
Campaigns that are out of touch or use crude gender stereotyping are likely to be highly negatively received.
There’s no doubt that brands generally have become more conscious of gender and have upped their game – but there is still a long way to go.
It needn’t be difficult. It’s a case of stepping back from any planned campaign or communications strategy and asking yourself a few simple questions:
1. Does this campaign use or exploit any stereotypes?
2. If so – in a positive or a negative way?
3. How would our female customers respond to this material?
4. How would our male customers respond?
5. If there is a difference, why, and what does that show?
6. What message does this send about our brand, and is it consistent with our values?
Another crucial point to grasp is that this is not just a marketing exercise. It is all very well having your communications on point – but what is the situation actually within your own organisation?
Does the culture internally match up to how you project yourself to the outside world?
These are issues that every organisation is grappling with, so brands should not try to hide the results.
There is an opportunity to be open and constructive and show that you are serious about progressive change.
Be honest about where your company sits within the equal pay sphere, if it’s not quite there yet, be talking about the steps you’re taking to get there – prove you’re working towards being an equal payer.
This can be done simply with the messaging you’re putting out into the public sphere, but also in your day to day internal communications.
Alternatively, if you are an equal payer, shout about it – it’s important for brands to lead by example.
This could take the form of adding messaging to your website or sharing updates with customers to celebrate this path to progression.
As one of the dominant issues of the year, getting your messaging right on gender has become an imperative, and brands that are out of tune will increasingly suffer the consequences.
Sue Mullen is a board director of The Mission Marketing Group and managing director of Story UK