The 21st century is billed as the century of true gender equality. It was all going so well. We are all ‘legally equal’. Great strides have been made with the pay gap at its lowest point. But, like all discrimination, it appears to have gone underground.
There is still a pay gap: women in the UK earn 85.5 pence for every £1 paid to a man, while in the US women make 77 cents for every $1. Campaigners in the UK estimate that it will still take 54 years to reach parity, whereas, the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates 2133 as the global date for financial equality.
Two independent studies, in the US by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) and in the UK by The Times newspaper, found that on average, products marketed at girls and women cost 7% (in the US) and 37% (in the UK) more than similar goods for men.
In the UK, Tesco charges double the price for ten pink disposable razors, Argos £5 more for a pink scooter, Levi’s 46% more for women’s 501 jeans, Staples charge £2.99 for pastel-coloured black Bic pens and only £1.98 for transparent ones, while Amazon charge £12.59 for a Playmobil Pirate ship and £14.99 for a Playmobil Fairy Queen ship. Not forgetting Boots, who charge £30 for 100ml of Chanel’s Allure spray deodorant versus £23.50 for the Homme edition.
In the US, the DCA found that items marketed at women cost more than similar items for men 42% of the time: girls’ toys cost more 55% of the time, girl’s clothing 26%, women’s clothing 40% and women’s personal care products 56%.
The retailers concerned have all tried to justify their actions, but their arguments remain unconvincing. It’s all very disappointing. For many people, there is no smoke without fire, and we’ve heard all the excuses before during other scandals like ‘Horsegate’. The least a company can do before implementing such a divisive strategy is to have all its ducks in a row to explain why when they get caught out.
And they will need to now, at least in the UK. Maria Miller, chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, has confirmed that “our committee will look at this research and see whether it is something we need to investigate further”. If they investigate then the CEOs of major retailers will be called to give evidence.
We all know that to get brand loyalty, you need a loyal customer base. And choices tend to be based on emotion rather than logic; your customers will choose brands that support similar ideals or values that they do. When you make a decision, it can hurt your brand. Ensure that your decisions don’t reflect poorly on you. Take care in what both your implicit and explicit decisions and communications may say about your brand. Whatever emotions these decisions evoke will be transferred to other parts or brands of your company.
Trust is integral to all successful brands. It underpins confidence and influences preferences and loyalty. According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer published last week, 48% of consumers refused to buy products or services from companies they distrusted, 42% criticised products of a distrusted company with friends, while 26% shared these criticisms online.
Research has demonstrated that people tend to focus on the negative, that bad emotions have more impact than good ones, that bad impressions are quicker to form and more resistant to being disproved than good ones, and that on balance you need five positive comments to negate one negative one.
When I first read about ‘Pinkgate’ my first reaction was they were having a laugh. Surely not nowadays, with the increasing customer expectation that brands are honest and transparent in their operations. Those brands that don’t meet these expectations are increasingly exposed, causing far-reaching reputational damage. It doesn’t matter how great the customer service or experience is, effective management of trust is a fundamental prerequisite of a successful brand. Scandals like ‘Pinkgate’ only add to the perception that big businesses are only looking out for themselves, and not for their customers.
What’s required is a genuine apology. One that demonstrates remorse, that they have accepted fault and learnt from the incident. I want to forgive them. But, only if they don’t make it my fault for being too sensitive! A ‘bad’ apology will make the situation worse. A ‘good’ apology on the other hand shows respect and could exonerate them. It’s what happens next that will define the winners from the losers.