The end of a “boy, girl, boy, girl” world is fast approaching. Here’s what it means to your brands and your business.
Most of us are used to a binary view of the world when it comes to gender. You either shop for women’s clothes or men’s clothes. Her shampoo or his. You’re marketed to as a caring mom or as an exhausted working dude who could use a good stiff drink.
While all of those products and images continue to be cranked out by the Fortune 500 and their advertising agencies, a revolution is quietly being waged.
The Fluidity Factor
The era of his-n-hers is dying, thanks to the rising generation. A Harris survey conducted for GLAAD found that 12 percent of Millennials identify as transgender or gender non-conforming, meaning they do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth or their gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity — doubling the number of transgender and gender non-conforming people reported by Generation X (6 percent). A couple of years ago, Facebook surprised the world by offering 71 options for UK users to describe their gender, but how GenZennials perceive the subject truly is that complex.
Worth noting: One’s sense of gender has nothing to do with a person’s sexual identity – who they are attracted to romantically – but has everything to do with their perception of self and how they feel in their own skin. In conversations Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve has had with those who are gender-fluid, some have said that their identification may change by the day, hour or minute. One 25-year-old shared:
“Sometimes I feel really masculine and want to wear a button-down shirt, jeans, and not shave. Maybe that night, I’ll wear dangly earrings, nail polish, lipstick. Why should I have to stick with just one persona?”
This explains why more and more emails will arrive in your inbox with, next to the signature, a note that says, “Preferred pronouns” followed by either she/her/hers, he/him/his, or they/them/theirs. We will all have to request and respect how individuals want to be addressed. It’s your guideline for whether a person wants to identify as either gender – or not.
Watch the Marketplace Morph
So, if your consumer no longer embraces a fixed set of traditional gender cues – then what? Rob Smith, founder of downtown NYC’s Phluid Project, a gender-neutral store, hopes to provide a marketplace model. He says, “We’re part retail, part community space and completely gender-free” and notes that Gen Z gets it – they don’t want to be constrained to shop in aisles for men versus women.
Brands that embrace this outlook are rising in the culture. Beyond the Phluid Project, there’s Jecca cosmetics, which uses the motto, makeup has no gender. The unisex line, devoted to creating the illusion of flawless skin, was founded by LGBTQ advocate and beauty entrepreneur Jessica Blackler, whose company launched by offering makeovers to transgender women in Wales and helping them conceal “beard shadow” to feel more confident. Jecca is now networking with L’Oreal’s Open Innovation program as it grows. Another brand to watch: Mr. Smith, an Australian-born unisex haircare collection that doesn’t distinguish between the hair that grows on a head deemed male or female. And the fashion industry is bursting at the seams with agender brands, like Offical Rebrand by gender-fluid designer MI Leggett, One Dna which stocks gender-free basics, and South Korea’s Blindness collection.
In the years ahead, we won’t have boys’ departments vs. girls’ for clothing; men’s deodorant won’t be stocked in a different section than women’s – in fact, there won’t be any delineation between the two. Deodorant will just be the deodorant, and the consumer will choose what they want. It’s already happening. A 2016 study found the following: for the first time in known history, more young people are buying across the opposite gender line than are not. In the years ahead, as this escalates, traditional binary goods – and the language and imagery used to sell them – won’t work. At all.
Instead, you’ll need to show inclusive imagery and innovate for a new kind of fluid customer. If you are selling baby products, you may or may not be talking to a prospective customer who identifies as female. If you are selling a pickup truck, don’t assume it’s a macho guy who’s shopping for it. You need new sensitivities, flexibility – and the ability to share information and let your customer make decisions, without being told how they should feel.
Working Without Gender
The workplace will change dramatically, too. Yes, you need bathrooms that are unisex; that goes without saying. But what about your hiring practices and how you nurture and retain talent? Do job applications still ask people to check off the M or F box? Do you still have programs where older men mentor younger females? These are over. Ban them.
You will need to train your whole organization to be sensitive to gender fluidity. Establish practices that recognize and support this concept. Ensure that non-conforming employees are given acceptance and respect. If you don’t know where or how to start, check out Fluidity.Love which offers content and training to begin your immersion.
Soon the 61 million members of Gen Z will sweep into the workplace. They won’t accept the ground rules of generations past and present. You need to be ready. Now.
One afterthought: Maybe this is one way we’re getting ready to be replaced with robots who are by nature (if you can call it that) gender-free.
Curious how the advent of multiple gender identities will affect the way your company must start doing business as the world moves ever-closer to a genderless future? To understand the specific impact of gender fluidity on your products, services, brand, and even your corporate structure, we can help.