Sew What? Struggling with Gender Bias in Marketing

This morning’s coffee conversation with Linda was, not surprisingly, work related.  After all we are not only life partners, but business partners.

Linda is taking a foundation course in digital media marketing at the University of Toronto and was preparing an assignment, a digital brief for a marketing campaign.  As part of the process she was mapping a persona, and over the course of an hour the “client” had morphed into a 30/45-year-old male.

What she submitted was not that persona, but a gender neutral one.  She said “I don’t want to bias my efforts in a sexist way” or something like that.  I’m paraphrasing because her actual conversation is more vernacular, steered in part by my caffeine deprived grunts and urgency to be somewhere else.  But that’s the gist of it.

She concluded by saying “we both try to avoid sexism:  after all, you raised two daughters alone as a single parent.”

That left me remembering sewing sequins on a little pair of ballet briefs.  This is 1991; there were no YouTube videos to help me out or sequin sewing hacks (yes there are videos and hacks today).

You can’t imagine my horror after being handed two pieces of fabric, patterns and two little kits of ribbon and sequin for Cara and Shannon’s outfits.  To say that I was way out of my comfort zone is an understatement.  And changing my look from pleading to plaintive didn’t elicit any sympathy because I’m sure the women in the room were just as overwhelmed as I was.

After borrowing a sewing machine and practicing on scrap fabric I did a respectable job of putting together two little pairs of ballet shorts and two jumpers.  Stringing the gold and silver ribbon and tacking it on was a little more frustrating and I’m sure I left both the outfits overengineered and nothing short of a hurricane was going to lift the ribbon off.

But sequins …

I’m 6’2” and my hands are, um, largish.  It stands to reason that my fingers are just as proportionally large.  In fact, I could fit four sequins side by side along the width of my index finger.  I learned a few things along the way:

  1. Alcohol does not improve your disposition. After all scotch may having a calming effect it does little to improve fine motor skills;
  2. Sewing needles hurt. If you stab your forefinger and thumb enough it stops bleeding but just gets more and more sore and swollen;
  3. Taking an industrial approach to sewing with a long lead of thread lest I keep rethreading the blasted needle only means I will tangle everything up in it, or better yet, sew myself into the work. There is nothing more ignominious than standing up to discover four sequins ago your T-shirt became part of the project;
  4. Throwing the sequins across the room in a fit of temper only means that I must get on my hands and knees and pick each one up individually. Have you ever tried to pick up sequins with a swollen index finger and thumb devoid of any feeling?

I was justifiably proud of my effort and was beaming when I appeared at the girl’s recital.  I was looking for praise but ended up grousing when I didn’t get it.

A woman looked at me and mocked “oh poor baby.  I don’t know what your problem is.  When you go out to work in the morning, you put on a shirt and tie and don’t deal with half the shit we do.”

It took me a long time to get over my anger and come to terms with what she said.  She was right; whatever disadvantages I had being a man raising two daughters, they disappeared in other roles in my life.

I’m alert to sexism and double standards in the media.  I suppose because of that I can get more than a little self-righteously indignant when ads aimed at women pandering to a view that men are somehow more immature, childish and worthy of being mocked.  But then I stop myself.  It’s just wrong.  Any other comment I may make comes from the perspective of being a middle-aged white man of privilege.

I don’t know whether it is appropriate to segment a market according to any dimension that is inherently prejudicial – sexist or racist.  On the other hand, when contemplating a media spend it is obvious that in business you want to maximize the results with a dollar spent.

I find taking a business stand not to promulgate or reinforce a gender bias confusing.  I don’t think there is a rule book or set of standards that can help me hack the right way to be.  Out of respect for Linda’s decision, however, gender isn’t going to be part of our market segmentation.

I know that I am going to offend people from time to time.  But I continue to listen and adapt and do my best to be fair, egalitarian and open.  The rest is just sequins – just got to suck it up and get over myself.

#marketing #lifestyle #gender #equality #parenthood

David Chellew and Linda Odnokon have been life partners and in business together for almost 19 years.  During that time, they have mellowed into their respective roles and enjoy working with individual investment clients. Dave is a Portfolio Manager and Linda is an Investment Advisor with iAS and work out of the co-work space Brightlane on King West in downtown Toronto.

Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (IAS) is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF) and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC). iA Securities is a trademark and business name under which Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. operates.

This information has been prepared by David Chellew, Portfolio Manager for Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (IAS) and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of IAS. The opinions expressed are based on an analysis and interpretation dating from the type of publication and are subject to change. Furthermore, they do not constitute an offer or solicitation to buy or sell any the securities mentioned. For more information about IAS, please consult the official website at David Chellew can open accounts only in the provinces where he is registered.