B2B brands are playing catch-up because they have failed to acknowledge a quiet revolution – women outnumber men in high-status professions and at university – but we still aren’t hearing from them, says Claire Mason. She offers four ways marketers can help close this gender ‘say’ gap.
There’s no denying that gender equality is having a moment, from the #MeToo movement to the gender pay gap, gender is firmly on the agenda. But these critical milestones are just symptoms of a much bigger issue: The ‘gender say gap’ – the absence of women’s voices, ideas and insights in business and public life.
From complaints about all male “manels” to the BBC’s diversity campaign, the world has finally noticed that the female experts are missing. Women feature in just a quarter of the news, and in the business pages their representation drops to less than 10%. Acute talent shortages will be compounded because young women can’t see their future in STEM professions: Eight out of 10 UK high school students can’t name a famous woman working in technology. Is that because we don’t exist, or because of the gender say gap?
B2B companies are playing brand catch-up because they have failed to acknowledge a quiet revolution. For the last decade, women have outnumbered men in high-status professions and we are more than a third more likely to go to university. We are disproportionately the experts in the room, so why aren’t we hearing from female authorities and what can you do about it?
The opportunity for B2B marketers
B2B marketers have a tremendous opportunity to call out the gender say gap and ensure parity of representation to benefit their brands, their future talent pipeline and society more broadly.
In our advanced knowledge economy, B2B companies are increasingly selling expertise, and as B2B marketers you are the key to developing and mobilising these experts as the faces and voices of the future.
Today’s B2B thought leadership campaigns are tackling existential challenges from climate change to geopolitical conflict. These big questions deserve big answers — and that means we need to hear from a diversity of experts.
Critically the lack of visible female and other diverse experts in B2B corporates is reputationally damaging, as it means that campaigns don’t reflect the demographics of their leadership, their workforce or their clients.
So how can you close the gender say gap?
1. Audit your gender say gap
Assess your corporate brand, marketing and PR footprint to compare the diversity of your public profile with the diversity of your workforce, client base and country. Examine your corporate profile (including company announcements and executive profiling) separately from your expert profile — a lack of diversity on your board should not excuse a lack of diversity in your expert ambassadors. Benchmark your gender say gap and diversity ratios against competitors and aspirational peers to reinforce your opportunity to be a leader not a laggard.
2. Set bold goals
Set business and brand targets to narrow your gender say gap, and ensure your diversity agenda is sponsored at the highest level. For example, Accenture has set the goal of a gender balanced workforce by 2025 with women accounting for 25% of managing directors by the same date.
3. Create an expert development programme
In my experience, brilliant female experts are happy to give their time and insights to develop thought leadership, but more likely to shy away from public profile, fearing, with some justification, that women are judged more harshly. B2B marketers have an opportunity to create development programmes to build the confidence and capability of experts from a range of diverse groups and inspire them to step forward as brand ambassadors. These bespoke programmes can help you identify the root causes of your gender say gap and train the next generation of thinkers, by arming them with the drive and the tools to speak out. Law firm CMS’ Athena project is an exciting example of what companies can do to train high potential women in managing their public profile as a critical step in their career path.
4. Don’t forget talent in your own team
Women are over-represented in marketing even in sectors like technology to engineering where we are some way from gender parity. The talent of marketing leaders as spokespeople, brand ambassadors and panel participants can easily be overlooked. Next time you need a talented expert — consider yourself or a member of your team.
As curators of the world’s most intelligent brands, B2B marketers have the power to bring about major change in the face of business today and tomorrow. Let’s work together to make diverse experts more visible and close the gender say gap.