IWD 2022: How hard is it to break the bias?

This year’s International Women’s Day theme challenges everyone to confront bias. So in the lead-up to the big day, CMO asks: What’s being done and how much more is needed across the industry and beyond?

What does a world free of bias look like? This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘breaking the bias’ and it’s about working towards a world free of stereotypes and discrimination that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. It’s a world where difference is valued and celebrated.

So how can marketing leaders and businesses look across their organisations and processes to bring about change?

Some organisations look to develop internal yardsticks to help measure progress against diversity and inclusion metrics. For instance, Verizon has established the Verizon Diversity Inclusion Equality Measure tool to track the representation of race, gender, ethnicity and identity and ensure its creative remains free from bias and stereotypes.

“This is in addition to creating mandatory content bias training that Verizon’s marketing and agency teams must complete and the formation of Inclusive Work Panels at each agency made up of diverse team members to serve as an advisory council and pressure test creative,” Verizon Business CMO, SVP commercial operations, Iris Meijer, tells CMO.

The communication company’s global marketing partners are partnering with the organisation on these efforts to help drive change beyond the walls of Verizon.

“Our responsible marketing action plan addresses not only representation, but economic investment focused on ensuring a diverse and equitable creative supply chain, retention of diverse talent, fighting bias in our content and creating responsible content practices,” Meijer says. “It takes a village to drive meaningful change.”

Rewriting narratives

On the broader question of how to challenge biases, charity organisations working to alleviate poverty and humanitarian crises find that it’s important to show the agency of those people working hard to lift themselves out of poverty. This is driven by a desire to avoid perpetuating notions of white saviours swooping in to save the day in campaigns highlighting poverty and humanitarian crises.

CARE Australia head of product development and marketing, Olivia Zinzan, explains to CMO breaking long-held biases and stereotypes around what poverty looks is complex.

“It means we also have to break biases around how we write and build our campaigns, so we are not inadvertently perpetuating power imbalances or reinforcing harmful stereotypes of what poverty looks like. We have to examine the themes we choose, the words we use and the imagery we show,” says Zinzan.

CARE Australia has made a conscious, strategic shift in campaign narratives to focus on the strengths and resilience of communities. “We investigated our brand differentiation in terms of awareness, values and reach, and looked at the different backgrounds, attitudes and drivers of supporters,” she says. “We explored attitudes and issue salience of supporters across the key focus areas we wanted to talk about.  

“The main insight we gained was that people really resonated with the idea of a hand ‘up’, not a hand-out. They recognised the value of people's own agency and supported replacing the tired ‘poverty is driven by terrible inequality’ narrative with the more positive one of 'opportunities can end poverty’.”

CARE’s latest marketing campaign, 'Her circle' is about the key ingredient - hope. It uses inspiring stories from female changemakers to illustrate what they’re doing to defeat poverty and asking its audience to match their impact by amplifying this message: when one woman escapes poverty, she brings four others in 'her circle' with her.

As Zinzan puts it, the campaign focuses on women as agents of change. “The positive domino effect she's having in her community is 'her circle'; and the campaign audience are offered the opportunity to amplify her efforts by bringing along four people in their circle to support her efforts.”  

Up next: How we encourage gender diversity internally as well as at an industry level

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