On Twitter this week I saw (shared by @CF_Farrow) posters by Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust to promote emergency contraception from their sexual health clinic. I appreciate it’s not the jazziest of topics to communicate but this was their attempt:

I’m not here to shame them but the gist of the campaign for me is: women, having a child will mean you will never look beautiful again, which is all you’re bothered about really. Men, having a child will mean you don’t get to play on your technology with your mates, which is all you’re bothered about really.

My gripes with this campaign are, personally, endless, but it has got me thinking. As I say, sexual health is a hard topic to make appealing (I should know, I’ve tried!) so what if the metrics from this campaign show it worked? What if using these stereotypes did actually hit the target audience right on the head? After all, why do we still insist on using stereotypes? Is it because as communicators we’re lazy or is it because they still work?

@LetToysBeToys is a Twitter account which highlights the ridiculous to the sublime of gender stereotyping across children’s clothing and toys. The most common example is when the same product is repackaged pink and sold with a girl on the box, such as this prime example on a Nickelodeon slime kit:

[Photo credit: @liz_m_bee]
That action takes effort. Effort that wouldn’t be made if it didn’t reap benefits. If the stereotypes prevail because they work, is it our role to fight the tide or go with it?

Stereotypes lose their power when the world is found to be more complex than the stereotype would suggest. When we learn that individuals do not fit the group stereotype, then it begins to fall apart.
Ed Koch

As communicators, or even as human beings, do we not have a duty to challenge the stereotypes and the norms, highlighting that we can’t be neatly boxed up? And that that’s a good thing?

The CIPR’s Construction and Property SIG (CAPSIG) published a report last week looking at women in construction and property PR. The research, carried out by Jo Field, had some interesting findings including the fact that women in PR in the construction industry love being there! Of the report, Jo said: “The women who took part were especially proud to be involved in an industry that shapes the world around us.”

However, despite the enthusiasm, it remains an industry that has challenges in attracting women to the sector.  Paul Wilkinson, former CAPSIG Chair, wrote a blog on the report and commented “‘Conscious’ bias was also reported, where women were subjected to jokes about ‘making the coffee’ or ‘making the sandwiches’”.

The women that do make it in to the sector are primarily found in office-based roles, such as HR or admin support. There are a lot of organisations, companies and education providers who are campaigning to tackle diversity in the sector, but there are also a lot of examples that, for me, miss the mark.

There are campaigns that promote the industry to women by saying ‘it’s not all dirty and messy’ or ‘it’s not just hard hats and bricks’. So what the communication is actually doing is not appealing to women in the same way as the men. Instead, it’s catering the aspects of the industry that we think appeal to a woman’s sensibilities (e.g. the stereotype that women don’t want to get their hands dirty) rather than telling them that it’s ok to want to get a manual job and we’re here to welcome them. It’s because of these campaigns that I think it’s no wonder that we’re still struggling to see women on site! Claire Thirwall (@ThirwallAssoc) picked up on this exact point in response to Paul’s blog on Twitter: “I’d add that we need to stop assuming women and girls are deterred by the idea of muddy sites. I think lack of role models, poor image, macho culture and cultural norms rate far higher as deterrent.”

I think we can sometimes believe that we’re challenging the stereotypes but look back and realise that all we did was repackage it into the pink and blue boxes. I believe that we need to show diversity, complete diversity, in all aspects of our communications. We need to show that individuals don’t fit in the boxes, and that’s ok. We need to see a woman in a hard hat with dirty hands as much as we need to see a man making the coffee!

We may not reap the rewards straight away by challenging the stereotypes, but there are long term benefits. If we can start now to show children that there is a place for them, whether that’s in a game, a lesson or a career, then we will start to see them take those opportunities knowing that they’re all welcome. We won’t get there in a day, but I for one am already smashing the stereotypes: I have a child and still have time for heels, and computer games! Take that Walsall!


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