Conversations about diversity in the workforce are on high volume.
In a nutshell
- Kiwis feel very strongly about equality and equal rights - everyone should have a fair go and equal opportunity to succeed.
- For marketing and communications, equality is important because it's how we effectively communicate with women as employees, as customers and as shareholders.
- When we create communication material we are creating meaning in deliberate and also in unintentional ways. We inadvertently use signs and signals that convey messages coded into the communication. This can become a problem when we think that most advertising in New Zealand is created by men.
Although diversity isn’t just about women there is sure to be renewed discussion about pay gaps, glass ceilings and inappropriate behaviour toward women in the workplace. Role models of successful women will come to the fore including our own Prime Minister who is leading the way on the issue of working mums and their right to have both a family and a career.
As a nation, Kiwis feel very strongly about equality and equal rights. Our recent work exploring New Zealand culture has reaffirmed the Kiwi hardwired sense of fairness, which we see emerges in a belief in social equivalence for example – one of the Kiwi codes we identified. Kiwis feel passionately that we should behave in a way that gives everyone a fair go and equal opportunity so it vexes us that, while business and the economy are doing well, social conditions are getting worse for many people.
Another code that we identify with as New Zealanders is our self-determination, so it’s not surprising we support the rights of women and are proud to have a strong history in women’s suffrage. (September 2018 marked 125 years since women were given the vote in New Zealand, the first self-governing country in the world to grant the right to vote to all adult women.) And we can also be somewhat proud of our record in climbing gradually up the Global Gender Gap Index, ranking 9th in the world in 2017 (compared to 35th for Australia – Iceland takes out the top spot).
But it’s not just about fairness and the moral high ground. For marketing and communications, it’s also about how effectively we communicate with women as employees, as customers and as shareholders.
Whereas the IPA is responsible for the bounty of evidence that demonstrates how advertising works, it is the recruitment industry that has led the way in understanding the impact of who created the advertising – specifically the sex of the creator – and the gender bias in the language used to communicate.
Motivated by the desire to attract more women to apply for advertised roles, companies have tested ads written by men versus those written by women for the same position. What they found was that the ads written by women attracted significantly more female applicants.
When these ads were reviewed there were no obviously discernible differences between those written by men or by women. Equally, the applicants themselves couldn’t detect any bias yet the results were unequivocal. Trained semioticians carrying out discourse analysis on the text were able to identify linguistic differences where the untrained eye had not and this analysis is informing the process of achieving gender neutral language and style in recruitment ads. Software products are now available to do the job for you because, however well-intentioned, it seems that human beings cannot help unconsciously conveying gender bias when they communicate.
So extrapolate from that to the advertising industry and consider the very many ads written by male creatives that are intended for a female audience – or even a general audience which means that half will be women.