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Are you ready to more effectively handle gender inclusion in marketing?

By Evyn Batie | youth advisor

August 19, 2022 | 6 min read

Many marketers want to know exactly how to reach gender-diverse populations, searching for ways they can use language to intentionally include these groups. However, as Evyn Batie writes, to have a truly inclusive, effective marketing strategy, marketers must start by reflecting on their work and finding their reason why.

Gender neutral

Marketers should ask why gender is relevant to the product they're working on, says Evyn Batie

I’ve heard it said that if you asked each of the 7.753 billion (and counting) people on this planet to truly explain their gender – to break down its presentation and bodily sensations and emotional perceptions – you’d find that there aren't just two or three genders but ~7.753bn.

A 2020 article by Harvard Business Review noted of generation Z: “In the US, 56% of people know someone who uses a gender-neutral pronoun.” It added: “Globally, 25% of generation Zers expect to change their gender identity at least once during their lifetime.”

As we learn about all these different gender orientations and identities, it’s easy for marketers to feel confused and overwhelmed as they try to satisfy this entire complex market. This conversation is becoming increasingly nuanced. We are starting to discover that though some people seem to fall into (supposedly) ’easy’ categories like ’man’ or ’woman’, no one can truly define the essence of everything it means to be either or neither.

That said, the man who works a 9-to-5 corporate job that provides enough for his wife to be a stay-at-home-mother to his two children is likely to have a completely different experience of masculinity from the single man who makes his living performing as a dancing diva drag queen.

As a queer person who works in marketing and in advocacy, I’m often asked how to reach gender-diverse populations or ways we can use language to intentionally include these groups. I am so glad these questions are being asked. However, I believe there is a step that must come before the how. I believe that to have a truly inclusive, effective marketing strategy, you must start with reflecting on your work and finding your whys.

Why do you want to be a more inclusive company?

In our society, there is a huge focus on the bottom line. If your honest answer to this question is simply that you want to make more money, my advice is that there are easier ways. The conversation about gender requires nuance, research, discussion and editing. That may not be worth it if money is your only motivation.

But if it’s not, then what is? Do you hope to be inclusive because you believe that inclusion is the way forward? Do you want to create a safer world for your employees, clients and consumers? Do you just think it’s simply time to update your policies and work? There are no wrong answers to these questions, but knowing your reason can help you identify what you need to do moving forward.

Why do I need to know and is it appropriate?

When asking questions about gender, especially to a nonbinary or gender nonconforming person, it is absolutely crucial to understand your own reasons for asking the question. Why do you need to know? How is it relevant to what you’re advertising? Trans and nonbinary people are regularly asked: ’What’s in your pants?’ But unless you’re selling a genital-focused product, why would this matter to you?

Many people are open to answering questions about their gender experiences; many are not. If you have questions that go deeper than a definition you could have just Googled, more people will likely be open to discussing their personal experiences. Just make sure you’re not asking deeply personal questions without care or need.

Why is gender necessary to the product/project at hand?

The final, biggest question you should ask yourself is why gender is even necessary to the product or project you’re working on. Men’s razors and women’s razors are essentially the same product. Baby clothes are essentially the same product (or they would be if you removed the aggressively gendered messages).

So often in our work, we gender products for a profit, to simplify targeting, or because we’ve always done it this way. However, the world is changing. We have to be open to more conversations about the purpose at the heart of our work and the true gains of advertising toward gender. Consider my earlier example of the drag queen and the corporate employee. If you were to make an ad targeted at men, how would you ensure it appealed to both of their senses of masculinity? It’s a difficult question to answer but one that is worth exploring if you intend to continue advertising by gender.

The world is becoming more open and free of the stereotypes of gender placed upon us. As you look for ways to embrace gender diversity, I encourage you to remember that this conversation is not just for nonbinary people but for all people – all people who don’t fit neatly in the boxes we are told we have to. If products and services can reach those people too, we’ve done our jobs.

Evyn Batie is the youth advisor for SE2, a communications firm focused on helping organizations create meaningful change.

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