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The challenge of gender bias

For every ad featuring strong women and girls, there’s the inexplicable product marketed specifically to women—even though it doesn’t have to be. From household cleaners to snacks, some brands are creating unnecessarily gendered versions of products and often charging women more for it. The spotlight on this practice, which is referred to as the “pink tax,” is growing hotter. And it’s leaving the door wide open for new brands to make waves by openly calling attention to pink-taxed items, challenging sexist stereotypes, empowering underprivileged women and creating products that put the comfort and desires of women—rather than society’s expectations—first.

For brands to succeed today, they need to find ways to address the challenges women face. Comprising half of our population, women are key influencers in Canada. The reality is that women still shoulder most of the household responsibilities. On average, 72% of women in North America say they have shared or primary responsibility for daily shopping, household chores and food prep. As a result, they’re also the primary purchaser for everyday household items. But taking on this second, sometimes third job means women have additional demands each week and less time to meet them. This makes women one of the largest opportunities for convenience-led technologies and services.

But convenience is not the only chance for brands to make a significant difference in the lives of women. More than half (61%) of women in North America believe that they are worse off or about the same financially, compared with where they were five years ago. While “about the same” might appear positive, a flat income does not help offset rising costs of things such as food, childcare and other costs of living.

When shopping online, women are more likely to want risk-free guarantees and convenience. For example, free delivery for online shopping from Tuesday through Thursday particularly appeals to women in North America. Women are also more likely to be interested in receiving notifications when an item ordered is out-of-stock, as well as when products come with money-back guarantees.

Despite financial, work and time pressures, women are laser-focused on living healthier, better lives. They aren’t willing to compromise on their health. How do women interpret what’s healthy? They are more likely to scrutinize the items on the shelf than men, looking for transparent labels and for companies that are open about where their products come from and how they are produced. The gender gap is especially large in North America, where 67% of women are reading labels to determine if a product is healthy, compared to 48% of men.

So what does this all mean for manufacturers and retailers? It means shifting gender norms are swiftly moving from minority to mainstream, especially in markets dominated by working-age millennial consumers.

That said, gender bias remains commonplace in modern-day advertising, and both men and women are noticing. Stereotypes that might have been acceptable just a few years ago now elicit a cringe. While cultural norms vary, it is critical that brands communicate the important role men play in women’s empowerment and equality journey— from encouraging and defending inclusivity in the workplace to sharing the load at home.

Patronage is increasingly contingent on a true understanding of a woman’s needs and reflecting her reality on screen, on the shelf and in the store. And brands that are getting it right—be it through social responsibility, sustainability, health or convenience—will continue to win wallets. Those that don’t change fast enough won’t.

In short, brands and retailers that focus more on how they can lessen the load off women’s shoulders and less on the colour of their packaging will earn more of this consumer’s dollars.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’November issue.

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