From before we’re even born, most of us are labeled as either a boy or girl. But this labeling assumes that anatomy determines our gender, and that’s simply not the case. Gender isn’t binary biology, but rather a socially constructed idea. Inclusive marketing acknowledges a broader and more fluid definition of gender, actively challenges gender stereotypes, and reflects the limitless diversity of its expression.

Insights & ideas

Gender identity

Gender identity is an inherent part of who we are and may or may not correspond to the sex we’re assigned at birth. Someone’s gender identity may change over time, as can the language they use to describe it. Inclusive marketing acknowledges this complexity, whether that means accurately portraying the evolution of someone’s gender or simply taking care to use the correct pronouns.

A person holding a whiteboard with “Hello, my pronouns are...” written on it in rainbow-colored ink.

Gender expression ≠ gender identity

Gender expression is the way we communicate our gender to others through things like clothing, hairstyles, language, and mannerisms. It also includes how individuals, communities, and society perceive, interact with, and try to shape ideas of gender. Some people move between gender expressions at different times or in different circumstances. Others express their gender in entirely new ways. Inclusive marketing is mindful of this, and doesn’t limit gender expression to traditional binary-based choices.

We are more than stereotypes

Marketing can be a powerful, positive tool in shaping both public perception and the culture that drives it. But to create truly inclusive marketing, we must work harder to think beyond stereotypes. Gender stereotypes reduce people to outdated conventions, exclude many of us from the conversation, and reinforce systemic gender inequality. As marketers, we can’t be afraid to challenge stereotypes, turn them on their heads, and embrace new, more inclusive gender representations in our creative.

64% of consumers think brands aren’t doing enough to eliminate traditional gender roles in advertising.(1)

Practice what you preach

As public awareness of gender inequality rose with the #MeToo movement, so too did women-focused marketing. But it’s important to remember that feminism isn’t a tagline—it’s a belief that has sustained a long and ongoing battle for social justice. While it’s great to see more empowering marketing messages, many brands have also been outed for touting feminist principles while failing to uphold these values internally. Whatever the message is you’d like to send, make sure it’s something that rings true for your brand—and if it doesn’t, take steps to remedy that first before making a claim to the world.

Gender-fluid products are the future

The rise of gender-neutral products may reflect lessons learned from high-profile missteps by big brands clinging to traditional gender stereotypes. Bic pens “For her” and “Doritos for ladies” were met with strong consumer backlash, and rightly so. Before you assign a specific gender to a product, consider that the people you might exclude could be the very customers you’re trying to win.

  1. UN Women, “Stereotypes,” UN Women Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls, Aug 12, 2020.