Marian Salzman, CEO, Havas PR provides an interesting and must read about gender in life, the workplace, socially and the key trends, which could well be driving Europeans to believe in ‘gender-neutrality’
Why bother about gender?
The European Union has always been keen for member states to deal with gender inequality. After all its founding document, the Treaty of Rome, mandated equal pay for equal work all way back in 1957.
Sixty years later the EU is still on the case, combatting gender-based violence, tracking womens participation in the labour market, promoting equal pay and pensions and advocating for equality in decision making. Still for all the progress that has been achieved there is plenty more to be done.
Bearing this in mind it may come as a surprise that we’re seeing a trend toward gender becoming a side issue or even a non-issue, both within and outside the EU. Even as people continue to grapple over gender bias and inequities we are moving toward a non-gendered future—we’re calling it an “agendered agenda”—in which males and females retain their sexes on an individual level, but socially merge into a blended gender: “FeMale,” if you will. This conclusion is based on our own experiences, backed up by findings from Havas’ recent global survey of more than 12,000 people in 32 countries, including 4,700 respondents in 12 of the larger EU countries.
To the untrained eye things in Europe may seem far from “agendered” at the moment.
The concept of machismo originated in the Latin cultures of southern Europe, and local versions of it are found all the way round Europe, from the wild Atlantic coastlands in the west up to the Arctic Circle in the north. And despite high-profile gender equality initiatives by the EU, national governments and various organisations serious problems remain from pay gaps and harassment to rape culture and sex trafficking. Progress on such issues is predictably uneven, given that the EU’s broad range of cultures and communities run the gamut from socially adventurous to ultra-conservative.
Nevertheless, on balance most of Europe appears to be moving toward greater equity. This is in part driven by principles and in part by the rapid changes that are bringing males and females together more often in education, in the workplace, and in social life. The further social norms develop away from sexism the more sensitive and reactive people become to it. It’s like smoking. Back in the days when people lit up everywhere the smell of cigarette smoke was barely noticeable. Now that far fewer smoke and smoking is banned from many places, people are sensitive to the faintest whiff of a cigarette. Similarly many parts of EU societies have become highly sensitive to any whiff of sexism.
In many urban and academic centres discussions of identity and sexuality have come to the fore of the gender debate, but for most Europeans, age-old issues such as sexism and outdated gender norms continue to dominate the conversation. And most of the progress we’ve seen has come in the form of broader opportunities for women. All over the EU women now have political and legal rights that are more or less on a par with men. The fact that this sounds so normal shows how much has changed in just a few decades. In France women received the right to vote in 1944, while in Italy it was 1945, 1952 in Greece and 1976 in Portugal. In the UK women under 30 were not allowed to vote or stand for elected office until 1928—three years after Margaret Thatcher was born. When the “Iron Lady” became Prime Minister of Britain in 1979 she was the first woman to hold that office. Today, female leaders are by no means plentiful in the EU, but neither are they unusual. In fact the most powerful and arguably most respected politician in Europe right now is German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
It’s not just in politics and the law that things have changed for European women. Women are increasingly present in most areas of public life, from the media to public transport, from healthcare to business, from the military and law enforcement to banking and finance. On one hand in each of these domains and many others, women are still less present than men. On the other hand, you would be hard-pressed to find people who believe women should be excluded from these sectors.
On the male side of the balance there have been far fewer shifts. Aside from the inevitable changes in clothing and personal presentation the biggest change in men is probably a greater willingness to get involved in domestic work and childcare. Men have felt more able and/or encouraged and/or required to do more caring and sharing. In English-speaking countries, this shift was dubbed ‘New Man.’
New Man behaviour is commendable and certainly contributes to gender fairness, but—whatever marketers have tried to tell us—it’s not sexy. For the men concerned, it has arguably been more a matter of domestication than emancipation. In fact a German variant of the considerate male (Sitzpinkler = man who sits to pee) is still used to mean a wimp.
Within this context it’s not surprising that when we at Havas (then Euro RSCG) unleashed the ‘metrosexual’ trend in 2003, something the media and its audiences were galvanized by it. Like the New Man it had to do with men expressing their softer side, but with an important difference: Metrosexuality was about men embracing new behaviors that made them happy; it had nothing to do with pleasing or making life more equitable for women.
As is usual with trendspotting that hits the mark, metrosexual had a dual effect. It gave a name and a description to a trend that we were seeing in survey and observational data. And by ‘making the latent blatant’—by recognising and naming the trend—more people became aware of it, thereby spreading it. This is not to say that all men suddenly became metrosexuals. Rather, metrosexuality gave the average man more options in how he could think and behave. We mention this now because we’re seeing another emerging phenomenon in our survey data and on the street.
Numbers adding up to an agendered agenda
Most countries in Europe aspire to be modern or at least not seem to lag too far behind their most socially advanced neighbours. Cultures and histories differ, but thanks to the free movement of people that comes with EU membership, many citizens across the union have experienced how people in other countries live. Ideas of gender equality have spread and taken root.
Our global survey found that the great majority of men and women in the EU support equal pay for equal work. The statement that ‘Women and men who do the same job should be paid the same’ found agreement from 87% of men and 95% of women. Some were neutral on the issue, while just 3% of men and 1% of women disagreed.
As well as widespread agreement on equal pay, Europeans also showed very high levels of agreement about points of similarity between men and women. For each of 25 important qualities and attributes listed in the survey respondents were asked to choose whether it applies more to men, more to women, or to both sexes equally. Among the results:
- 82% of both men and women surveyed believe the two sexes are equally valuable to society
- 78% of both men and women believe the sexes are equally smart
- 71% of men and 74% of women believe the sexes are equally intellectual
- 70% of men and 68% of women believe the sexes are equally trustworthy
- 70% of men and 67% of women believe the sexes are equally hard working
- 66% of men and 70% of women believe the sexes make equally good bosses and managers
- 64% of men and 67% of women believe the sexes are equally good leaders
- 61% of men and 59% of women believe the sexes are equally creative and innovative
Another striking findings was that only 47% of men and 45% of women in the EU believe that parenting comes more naturally to women than to men. And a mere 19% of men and 13% of women say male-female relationships work better when the man is the dominant partner. On the basis of this data, men and women do look well on the way to ‘agendered’ equality.
The different states and cultures that make up the EU offer a whole lot of takes on how societies are shifting toward greater gender equity. Far from having a homogenised version of gender equality Europe has many versions. Each nation is working in its own way through the gender dynamics that it has inherited from history and circumstance. At the same time all are dealing with similar factors driving toward gender equality: long-term trends in demographics, technology, economics, and business.
Our notion of an ‘agendered agenda’ isn’t saying that people are on a path to becoming androgynous or sexless—although our study did find that half of men and 69% of women in the EU believe children should be raised in as gender-neutral a way as possible. Rather, it is saying that as the interests and skills of men and women become increasingly aligned, gender is losing its importance as a distinction between individuals. We foresee a time when—beyond reproductive functions—a person’s sex is no more a point of demarcation than his or her eye color or height. This shift will have far-reaching implications for society and marketers alike.