If You Want to Drive Market Share, Put it in Neutral

Posted on: November 23, 2021

Time flies whether you’re having fun or not, and looking back at these past few years, it seems like we moved ahead at rocket speed. In the midst of a pandemic – one oddly enough that slowed days but shot through months – a number of concerns that had been bubbling along, came to a full boil. Climate change was one of those, something we wrote about a few weeks back. While today’s topic may surprise or even offend you, it’s something every business needs to think about.

We’re talking about gender neutrality. If you’re target market is older teens and young adults, you definitely need to take a hard look at how your brand, website, and marketing demonstrate inclusivity around gender. And, if you’re one of many businesses looking for new employees, your job ads and personnel policies need review too.

There are about one million people in Canada who are LGBTQ2+. That’s 4% of the total population aged 15 and older (as of 2018), but youth aged 15 to 24 comprised 30% of that million. You may be thinking that that’s still not very many people, and you’re right, but there are other considerations.

Even those who do not identify as other than their sex at birth, may still not want to be subjected to or confined by gender norms, nor do they want others to be. Inclusivity is a value held by many. Men are wearing skirts now, and not just in Scotland. Guys wear pink shirts and matching socks. Women love “boy” jeans, and big cozy sweaters that are often in the men’s section. There are parents who do not want their children to feel “weird” wanting to play with toys that are not marketed to them. Why can’t a boy play with a doll? Why can’t a girl play with a construction set?

Lego got tuned in by a research study. The largest toy maker in the world has now said that it will remove gender stereotypes from its products. That will make it easier for outlets in California to comply with new state laws that require large department stores to have a gender-neutral section that includes toys and children’s items. They are the first state to pass such a law, and it only applies to certain stores and products. Don’t be surprised though, if other’s follow.

Canada has already taken steps regarding things like the use of washrooms based on gender identity rather than sex at birth. On October 1st, Statistics Canada approved a departmental standard defining gender as different from sex. “Gender refers to an individual’s personal and social identity as a man, woman or non-binary person (a person who is not exclusively a man or a woman).” “A person’s gender may differ from their sex at birth, and from what is indicated on their current identification or legal documents such as their birth certificate, passport or driver’s licence.” “A person’s gender may change over time.”

Big brands are all over the gender-neutral market. Prada, Gucci and hundreds more are selling clothing at Printemps, a luxury Parisian department store that will display gender-neutral clothing on a man and a woman, side by side. Dolce & Gabbana, Tom Ford, and Calvin Klein now offer gender-neutral perfumes in an industry that has traditionally clearly divided men’s from women’s scents.

Ok, so you’re not a big brand, and your customers certainly don’t have that kind of European mindset. No, you’re not off the hook. Your next applicant for the plumbing apprenticeship might not be a “typical” guy. How will your staff react when a transgender woman comes in to buy a dress? Does your e-commerce site recommend stereotypical gifts for mom?

It’s not just about catering to a small group of people. It’s about being open to allowing people to be who they are and to feel that you welcome their business or their skills regardless of how they choose to express themselves. At the very least, be on the lookout for things that are gendered for no good reason. Talk to your staff about inclusivity and respect. Check your ads and job postings for tell-tale language and images. Review your website, or ask us for an objective analysis.

“They” might just be the best customer or employee you ever have.