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The Road To Equality: How Marketers Can Help Close The Gender Gap Gender discrimination gets worse as you go down the social ladder. But what causes such inequality? Here's a primer.

By Marwa Kaabour Edited by Aby Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Why are we still talking about gender equality in 2022? It seems such a juxtaposition to be crusading for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the same year that the world has made giant strides in its lunar space mission, ventured boldly into the metaverse, begun accepting decentralized transaction platforms, and shone the spotlight on emerging cryptocurrencies, while non-fungible token (NFT) millionaires rise to the top of the news headlines.

But the reason we continue to talk about gender equality today is because we've not done enough in our collective "yesterdays." It's an unfortunate truth that gender equality still is not one of the top priorities for most organizations and enterprises, and worse yet, it's not reported accurately. That said, are we progressing in the right direction? Yes, we are. But is it good or fast enough? I don't think so.

The trouble lies in the fact that women's representation has been politicized to a point where it is often perceived as just another social norm across many cultures. These social norms have been programmed into the majority in order to be deemed acceptable. The aim of normalizing equity, diversity, and inclusion has been watered down by the "agendas" associated with it. Even the impact of the growing focus on gender equality has been curtailed due to people crossing off their "things-to-do" diversity activities within their organizations, rather than being truly sensitized and allied to the cause.

As a result, despite modest gains in representation over the past few years, women are still dramatically underrepresented in the corporate world and especially in senior leadership- only one in four C-suite leaders is a woman. The gender disparity is not quite as sharp when looking at non-executive positions- this is because women are edging out men in the workforce, given that there are simply more college-educated women than men. But although they have moved through systemic and historic discrimination to earn their places on the workforce, equal pay is not their reality yet. Opportunities for progression are still not the same. Underrepresentation in decision-making continues.

In 2021, groups and individuals that previously didn't engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion wanted to know how they could contribute to building more equitable workplaces. Allyship towards gender diversity bloomed like never before. People began having "uncomfortable conversations," and each of them recognized their role in reinforcing systemic biases. Yet, although such advocacy was progressive, it rarely translated into tangible action, and it often ended up losing its flame. As such, it's time to transition away from viewing equity and inclusion as an "only human resources" issue into one that encompasses and involves everyone within an organization.

Related: Intersectional Impact: Dana Co-Founder And CEO Zada Haj Is Tackling The MENA's Needs For Sustainability And Gender Inclusion With Her Enterprise

Understanding the factors that lead to gender inequality

Gender discrimination gets worse as you go down the social ladder, creating an imbalanced system that leaves women vulnerable. But what causes such inequality? Here's a primer:

  • When basic needs go unmet, such as access to basic services, including as food, shelter, water, and sanitation, women and girls get affected as those responsible for work, income generation, and community management cannot participate equally in society. Additionally, girls have higher levels of school absenteeism largely due to stigmas associated with menstruation.

  • Globally, men have historically remained 10% higher in terms of literacy levels compared to women. It goes without saying that when girls are not educated on the same level as boys, and it has a huge effect on their future and the kinds of opportunities they get.

  • This disparity further feeds back into a lack of employment opportunities, especially in some patriarchal communities, which prefer to send their boys to school rather than the girls of the family. When families do not pay proper attention to the female child, they end up not getting proper education.

  • Poor medical care for women and minority groups, including children and the elderly. Women overall receive lower-quality medical care than men. This is linked to other gender inequality reasons, such as a lack of education and job opportunities, which results in more women being in poverty. They are less likely to be able to afford good healthcare.

Globally, women have fewer opportunities for economic participation than men, less access to basic and higher education, greater health and safety risks, and less political representation. We see high gender equality in countries that have stable economies and are not facing major political tension or natural disasters, such as Norway, Finland, and Iceland. But when we look at countries that have geopolitical tensions, troubled economies, and pressing climate issues, like droughts and water shortages, gender equality is close to non-existent.

According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (more commonly referred to as UN Women), more women than children die in disasters. For instance, in Somalia, violence against women increased by 80% in one year. Women even tend to eat less than men in times of crisis. They tend to build their own shelters to protect their children- in return, they suffer accidents and other bodily violations. In the agriculture sector, women are 70% of the farmers worldwide, but they have little to no access to technology or the internet, and they are also typically not paid as fairly as men. Women also contract more diseases than men and children, especially because women tend to migrate alone. We've seen this in the Syrian migration, and we are currently witnessing the same with the Ukrainian migration.

However, all things considered, it's not always fair to generalize, and because when we look at the UAE, we see a country that has exceeded all expectations when it comes to women empowerment- the literacy levels in the UAE for women is at 95.8%. The UAE has set varied legislative and programmatic reforms have been steadily implemented driving the increase of gender balance in the economy and in decision-making positions

Related: Advocating For Equality Isn't Enough; You Have To Do The Work

The role of marketers in helping close the gender gap

As a marketer myself, I believe the people in my profession have an integral role to play in closing the gender gap to make real progress. Advertising speaks to the masses, and it has the power to introduce and encourage progressive values, but also, sadly, to reinforce and perpetuate harmful narratives.

It is thus imperative for us to take a step forward from gender equality to inclusivity, and further take an inclusive approach to advertising. By moving away from gender-based marketing, we include a larger group of consumers that shows our modern understanding of the spectrum. Today, people have diverse gender identities, and more and more people are choosing to identify themselves outside of the male-female identity. As such, I expect to see a shift towards gender-inclusive marketing.

Advertising also speaks to the youth and marketers as agents of change. Egypt, for instance, has a youthful population with just more than 60% of its people under the age of 30. Ignoring this population is not just a miss from an awareness perspective, but it can also negatively impact a brand's sales. At the same time, brands are evolving, and fashion is definitely on the leading edge when it comes to fluidity. We can see more brands becoming gender-inclusive and gender-neutral. There are several that come to mind like Sephora, Nike, and more. Disney has done a phenomenal job by declaring its "Belonging" philosophy, and it has also announced its diversity and inclusion approach in all its upcoming work.

The marketing fraternity has the power to drive social change. Brands can offer equal employment opportunities, give back to the community, and embrace sustainability. it is not only low emissions, net zero, green packaging, and recycling; it takes to its core diversity and inclusion. If you can add "planet" to your 4Ps (product, price, place, and promotion) -and change your product mix- you will help in achieving gender parity.

Many businesses have started pushing for an equal playing field, but they must ensure their policies and practices reflect the importance of diversity and inclusion, and that it's not just in rhetoric. So, what can businesses do towards contributing to the narrative of equality and diversity? For starters, they should aim to have gender-sensitive key performance indicators (KPIs), and to foster a culture of inclusivity. After all, there is no doubt that narrowing the gender gap will require the commitment of all sectors and a strong collaborative approach, but we must be ready to boldly hold conversations regarding gender equality and gender balance. In essence, we need to normalize having the discussion of gender.

Related: When Women Win: How The Middle East Is Showcasing Female Success Across Entrepreneurship And Tech

Marwa Kaabour

Head of Marketing and Communication, Al Masaood Group

Marwa Kaabour was appointed Head of Marketing and Communication at the Al Masaood Group in 2018. She was selected as the Best Leader in the Group in 2019.

Marwa is a marketing and communications expert whose expertise lies in establishing and leading marketing and communication functions. Marwa’s 20 years of experience span many specializations such as strategic management, personal branding, media relations, creative messaging, brand management, and growth marketing.

Marwa’s rich marketing experience spans several industries, including Airlines, Banking, FMCGs, F&B, Automotive, manufacturing, construction and power generation. Her contributions are evident in delivering services to a broad spectrum of global and regional brands such as Volvo Penta, MTU, Nissan, Al Hilal Bank, Nestle, Kraft, Emirates Airline, Pizza Hut, entities that fall under the Government of Abu Dhabi.

The early days of her career were with the best and most awarded advertising agencies such as Leo Burnett and Impact BBDO. Marwa then moved to the Client side and worked in the capacity of marketing and communication.  

Marwa holds an MBA from the American University of Sharjah and Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems (with honours) from the same university. Marwa is a Certified Sustainability Marketer, with an accreditation from the Center for Sustainability Excellence and a Certified Digital Marketer from the Institute of Digital Marketing in Ireland.  Marwa is a frequent lecturer at Abu Dhabi University on the topics of communications and CSR.

Marwa, an advocate of health and financial literacy, Marwa often blogs about the topics of CSR and brand’s higher purpose. She is a member of the Marketing Society, UAE Chapter, frequently published articles. 

Marwa was named as one of LinkedIn’s Most Engaged Marketers in 2014 and was selected as the UAE’s ‘Highly Commended Female Marketing Leader’ by the Women in Marketing Institution in London in 2018. Marwa was named the winner of Al Masaood’s ‘Best Leader Award’ and ‘ Best New Department Award’ in 2018.

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