Gender bias cured through micro-decision-making in production
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Gender bias cured through micro-decision-making in production

There is ever increasing evidence that women are the primary purchase decision makers in categories where men have traditionally been considered the lead audience (like automotive, consumer electronics, financial services and so on). In male dominated categories, in an industry that clearly is gender biased, we need to focus on reaching women without alienating a core male audience through the creative work we produce.

Many brands believe they are masculine brands because that is who is currently buying from them. In reality that is only who is relating to your brand through the current creative and channel strategies that you are using right now. That isn’t indicative of your potential audience, and this gap could represent a massive missed opportunity for brand growth. The problem is a subtle one, and there are many micro-decisions that impact the production of our marketing content that subconsciously alienate women. When we have male domination in our industry, this filters right through to the creative decisions we make throughout our creative process and many are subconscious or just following the way it has been historically done, unchecked.

With poor representation of females in senior creative roles, and many of those in senior roles simply playing the masculine game, we are making the wrong creative decisions on a daily basis and limiting the potential of the market growth for our clients. We know this is off track with majority of women feeling that brands don’t understand them or are dissatisfied with the experience. We need to think of this the same as we would tapping into a very specific consumer audience and aligning the brand with them, but it starts by knowing that we need to. Taking responsibility for the words we use and the creative elements with a deeper understanding of the neuro-linguistics and subconscious cues is vital.

Here are some tips to neutralize the masculine flavour to our creative work in order to reach the female decision makers, without alienating the existing male audience despite the fact that decision making is different in each gender:

1. Gender neutral language

Copywriting is often filled with pronouns that reflect one gender or the other and sometimes to be politically correct we simply swap between he and she or use he/she. A more gender-neutral position is to refer to people as ‘they’ or ‘them’ or to avoid use of gender pronouns altogether.

2. Systemizing and Empathizing

According to scientist Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge we have two major decision making modalities – systemizing and empathizing. Both men and women can use both modalities in decision making, and we tend to have strengths in one or the other; but most significantly is the finding that men tend to dominate in the systematic and women in the empathetic (exceptions are obvious here, but the trend is vital learning).

Systemizing is all about the analytical mode and the ability to look at a situation and make sense of it by understanding the underlying rules governing the system with the objective of understanding the system and to control it.

Empathizing is people-based and making sense of the world by putting yourself in others’ shoes. It is beyond simply knowing what another is feeling but to actually feel the response as if you are them, creating an emotional connection.

Our communications should be catering for both in order to connect with the widest audience and not to alienate one or the other. Men are more likely to be looking for differences, and break things into parts with women more likely to connect through metaphors, narrative, humour and to see things as a whole.

If we get our audience captivated by the emotion first, we can justify and support with facts and evidence while catering for both decision making styles.

3. Sensory experiences

Our customers use a range of sensory functionalities to make decisions including visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory, or auditory-digital. The more we can engage in our communications and experiences to use as many of these modalities, the better we will be to connect with all customers regardless of gender.

We can do this through actual experiences that engage all our senses, but in the case of written communications we have the ability to represent all the sensors in the language we choose.

If we can’t actually have people smell or taste the experience we can give cues as to what the experience is like with descriptions, images, or show the reactions of the experience through our talent performances.

If we can’t show all of the sensors in some way, at the very least include the three most dominant – Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic.

4. Here and now or contextual

Connected to left and right brain functionality is the ability to focus on the here and now versus the ability to see the wider context. With men dominating the left brain functionality and women more able to be mid brain (using both left and right) we need to be able to show both the narrow and immediate benefits of our products and services, but also the contextual and broader place that they sit.

Using a well proven modality of communication called the 4Mat system developed by learning expert Bernice McCartney (US) that engages all learning styles (and in the right order), if we communicate these five main questions, we should be taping into both systemizing and empathizing effectively and engaging with all learning styles, left and right brained, and all personality types:

a. Purpose – What’s the purpose of the content?
b. Why? – Why do I need to know? Why is this important to me? What is the emotional story?
c. What? – What is it? What are the benefits to me specifically?
d. How? – How does it work? Including specifications, data, features, details, pricing, technical aspects, colours, range and so on.
e. What If/What else? – What are the possible objections that need to be overcome? What else is there to tell?

5. Living and non-living

With men more likely to relate to the non-living our communications can tend to be humanless. With car companies comfortable showing off the sheet metal, or technology companies all about the machine we can be alienating women in the process.

Including people and adding a human element to our work will ensure we cover both bases and engage both genders without alienation.

Women consider food as a living thing, as it is processed as having come from a living plants and animals.

Put a mind in the machine and you’ll cover both genders effectively.

6. Self doubt or self belief

Left brain users correlate to tendencies of self belief, perhaps self confidence, and can stick to their path (sometimes bordering on denial). Women are more likely to be questioning and checking their beliefs and assumptions as new information appears and sadly for women this can create self doubt. This is women’s undoing in career progression and in creative decision making on the job, too.

This can affect how men and women make decisions at purchase point, and post purchase (eg. buyers remorse). Knowing this, we can create content strategies that educate and validate throughout the buying process in order to manage the female tendency to self doubt.

Women will tend to ‘tend and befriend’ which gives brands the perfect opportunity to help build relationships through communications and to foster brand loyalty and overcome negative post rationalization or decision making stresses. Male dominated communications strategies tend to forget this, and focus on the here and now only.

The ability for women to collaborate and co-operate that means they often will put up with a masculine dominated communication or environment to their own detriment for the sake of the connection. We need to help them, help themselves here a bit too.

Visualization of a positive future, as a result of the purchase, will go a long way to validate a woman’s buying decisions.

7. Say it like it is

With masculine tendencies to be competitive, exaggerate and ‘hard sell’ we alienate women who are more concerned with connection, reality and authenticity.

Think about the customer perspective, and don’t just be about what you do.

Brands are well advised to demonstrate realistic reactions to products, rather than exaggerations and over the top talent performances. Don’t hard sell the brand and stop ‘pushing’. Be real. Be human. Be humble. Inform not push. Show how it feels to have purchased or used your products.

8. Don’t be all about woman power

Many brands polarize by the over-use of the colour pink, or they feature female talent only. Some will over-sexualise men, or humiliate a man as a bumbling fool in order to make the woman the hero. Please don’t.

Think about US, not he, not she.

9. Neutral imagery

Dark and dominant colours are polarizing to women. Consider ‘happy’ colours and warm lighting.

Muscular and foreboding imagery will alienate women.

Big and loud text and signage will likely be perceived as over-bearing, and even shouting, to females.

Show the products in the way that the customers use them. For example – would a woman drink a beer from a large pot or schooner? (Probably not). Would a woman be visualizing herself on a race track? (Probably not).

Add some engaging or uplifting music.

The shifts are small, and should be sensitively executed. If you are unsure, then qualitative consumer research will serve you well.

10. Learn from the best

Brands that have succeeded through gender neutral brand creative are great inspirations to those brands wanting to break free of the gender restraints holding back the growth of their brand.

Take Apple for example – a technology brand that is highly successful and effectively neutral in gender. Every touch point from branding, communications design, store design, language, product design to sales processes online and in store is gender neutral and successfully managing all of the points in this article to the highest level. Most of all the focus on how we feel from being an Apple advocate is key.


Nintendo successfully moved a male dominated gaming brand into a gender-neutral one with the launch of new products like the DS with gender neutral games, and the appropriately neutral and relevant supporting brand communications.

Volkswagon in the iconic early works for the ‘Think Small’ campaign, while featuring male talent and voice talent has successfully managed to be more gender neutral than most automotive companies today.

Anne Miles is Managing Director of International Creative Services. As a content strategist and executive producer of International Creative Services, Anne has a focus on producing content that better connects with the female consumer without polarising men.




[1] Statistics vary from country to country and between various sources, but the evidence shows a range from 52.2% to 85%. Women influence up to 80 percent of all car purchases –, 2010. Women spend more than $5 trillion annually (over half of the U.S. GDP) and account for 85 percent of all consumer purchases, including everything from new cars to electronics –, 2010. In automotive women are 52.2% of new car purchase decision makers – Women Motorist, US, 2000.

[2] 91% of women said they felt advertisers didn’t understand them, according to Greenfield online, Arnold Women’s Insight Team. 12,000 women surveyed by Boston Consulting Group across 21 countrie: 86% hate buying mobile phones and cars. 74% felt misunderstood by car manufacturers. 73% dissatisfied with service and 71% product in financial services. Insurance corresponding figures were 75% and 74%. Credit cards at 64% and 62%.

[3] 4Mat

P.S. Apologies to non-binary gender neutral people for polarising here at times. The intention is to move people to a gender neutral world!





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