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

Page Break

Encouraging diversity

International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for businesses to rethink their policies and encourage gender diversity within their culture.

“There’s a need to enhance the representation of women in the general workplace, considering more than four in five Australian women agree they would be more interested in male dominated industries if they saw women succeeding within their industry,” says Reckitt Health A/NZ marketing director, Holly McCarthy.

Yet it’s not enough for businesses to be champions for women as one heterogenous group. “It’s important to break the bias with respect to race, sexuality, family responsibility and gender identity,” McCarthy says.

More than four in five Australian women agree they would be more interested in male dominated industries if they saw women succeeding within their industry.

Reckitt Health A/NZ marketing director, Holly McCarthy

Internally, Reckitt Health’s managers have completed conscious inclusion training to better understand and tackle unconscious bias. Understanding that bias is a complex, multi-faceted issue, it’s working to address change for women of all diversities and intersections of faith, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual identity.

“The Regional Leadership Team will pledge their commitment to #BreakTheBias, along with the launch of a Women in Reckitt series and survey on gender-related issue to celebrate and demonstrate our support IWD for 2022,” McCarthy adds.

Partnering to bring change

Lenovo is another company looking to improve representation of women in the technology space. The tech vendor has championed the Women in Lenovo Leadership (WILL), a series of initiatives to support women in the workplace and cultivating their careers and personal growth to improve its internal metrics.

“It’s vital for brands to push the envelope in driving positive change through external communications, but companies also need to look internally,” A/NZ marketing Lead, Sara Palmieri, says.

Looking across the industry, Palmieri points to gaming as another area that still trails behind efforts to break the bias. Lenovo commissioned research which showed women (48 per cent) are less likely than men (72 per cent) to consider a career in gaming and less likely to know how to get a career in the gaming industry if they were interested (16 per cent of women vs. 22 per cent of men).  

“To counter this, we created ANZ’s first ‘E-pprenticeship’ to find overlooked, underrepresented talent, that didn’t know how to get a foot in the door of the gaming industry and give them the chance to transform their passion into a career,” she says.

Gaming platforms themselves are also working to challenges biases. Twitch senior vice-president of marketing and Communications, Rachel Delphin, now has teams and initiatives specifically tasked with finding ways to elevate the voices of our women creators.

Last year, the digital business piloted the Twitch Women’s Alliance, a new community to provide a support network for its partnered creators who identify as women as well as educational and on-service opportunities to push forward their visibility and growth.

“We believe the Twitch Women’s Alliance’s mission is imperative to shifting the industry landscape to better welcome and foster diversity, and support women streamers,” Delphin says.

Challenging the industry itself

For Sekuro CMO, Nick Flude, breaking the bias means consciously promoting based on talent and outcomes. Sekuro is a cybersecurity and digital resiliency consultancy.

“What this means is we need to stop creating processes that inadvertently punish women, particularly working mothers, and start to leave behind outdated measures of performance,” Flude says.

Through his own hiring policies and by sponsoring groups like Girls Who Code or AWSN, Flude has tried to break biases. He’s also fought internally to create a structure that has pay parity across all roles and established a framework whereby people were promoted within or across the organisation’s structure to encourage building new skills that, women in particular, may not have had the opportunity to be exposed to before.

A similar approach has been introduced at financial institution, Yieldbroker, according to head of business operations, Isabella Teixeira.

“In the case of remuneration, it’s critical all of our staff are benchmarked appropriately. That’s why we ensure we remunerate based on role and performance, not on the individual’s characteristics,” Teixeira says.

It has a 50/50 split on the leadership team, parental leave for both men and women and focusing on equality and transparency. “It’s about helping both men and women stay relevant and current in the workforce,” she adds.

While marketing as a whole has strong female participation, Flude has found when you dig deeper, “there are still inconsistencies, particularly when you’re talking about ‘technical’ versus ‘non-technical’ roles”.

“We still see less women in product marketing roles that tend to require more technical knowledge, versus roles that are seen as more creative, like brand and marcomms. This doesn’t have to be the case anymore,” he argues.

The marketing industry is not always aware of all the steps within the marketing process that have potential bias, according to marketing executive and anti-stereotype advocate, Anne Miles. She believes the reliance on sales data captured with bias in place and the demographics that the media outlets cling onto so tightly persists.

“Clearly there are good people doing harmful things unwittingly,” she comments. “Strategists dig up demographic profiling and hang on fictional generational segments. This sets the foundations of briefs that make it to their ad agencies who don't question these and then go into autopilot and produce further biased content. We then send this out to the world and it amplifies to millions.

“We are often focused on our HR policies and how people treat each other in the office, yet blindly support biased process and strategies. Agencies themselves are full of a biased workforce on top of this with little questioning and transparency to their clients either. Much is to be done.”

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here.  

You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page