Gender roles, a deeply-rooted social construct in our society, can affect the way we perceive our identity and the way we communicate both as people and as businesses. At the same time, we know that Covid-19 has changed everything we know about social life. This made us wonder, has Covid-19 impacted notions of gender roles in society and if so, how?

The context: gender as socially constructed

Firstly, we must acknowledge that gender is socially constructed and that this is actively reflected in society. There are countless arguments, research studies, books and indeed whole university departments dedicated to maintaining the argument that male dominance (be that covert or overt) is based on the socially constructed, idealist notions of stereotypes and gender roles, which perpetuates the sub-ordination of women. An example can be understood through the gender pay gap, which generally sees males in more senior positions across the nation. 

Furthermore, based upon the development of historical gender roles, social norms and values, as well as the indoctrination from biased sources throughout history such as the church, the media and governments, there continues to exist an expectation of females to undertake the care-giving roles both within the home and work spheres. Think about the nurses, the teachers, the social workers and the associated imagery, whilst doctors, pilots and armed police conjure up a rather different set of expectations around gender. Supporting this argument Unicef proclaim that women make up 70 per cent of health and social sector workers globally. Geo-spatial contexts are important and something to be mindful of when considering equality.

Why is it important to be aware?

When thinking about the gender roles through a business lens, particularly when considering product or service marketing, these norms can often help define a target audience. We can place people into groups based on their sex, age, location, job, title, likes, dislikes…the list is endless but quite often these presumed interests are based on stereotypes. For example, pink is for girls, blue is for boys. However, in 2019 a shift in regulation saw two adverts banned in the UK, both for promoting harmful imagery around gender stereotypes. It appears that it is no longer assumed that dinosaurs and space are for boys whilst glitter and dolls are only for girls.

The advertising changes above reminded people that within every society or community there are individuals who can have autonomy over their own lives and that capitalism can be damaging to gender equality overall if not managed effectively. However, more positively, if marketing is expanded to cover a larger number of persons than theoretically your product or service can be understood to be an attractive proposition for more people. More sales, more profit!

Has Covid-19 reverted society back to the traditional male and female roles?

Gender roles do not exist in a vacuum, they are interconnected with the construction and functioning of a community, it simultaneously effects and affects society. With the disruption of the way our society has been functioning, particularly socially, over the last few weeks we were eager to know whether the progress made by feminist and equality activists over the last century had been maintained during the Covid-19 pandemic or if as a society we had reverted back to traditionalist notions to get us through this time.

Analysing a small amount of evidence on social media platforms and business adverts, we witnessed both adherence and rejection to the norms:

  • On social media, businesses are more likely to portray women as the educators of children and men as the suited workers
  • Tweets involving men as educators were more likely to be associated with a lot of humour
  • Yet, both genders appeared a little lost as to how to educate their children effectively

What we really want to know is how are the gender roles in your home and/or business being impacted? It is only by highlighting subtle nuances and significant differences that we can really begin to understand how pandemics can impede on societal advancement in the future. Therefore, for future generations to understand and learn from our mistakes, to negate any possible reversion back to a less equal time, we need to be honest, open and transparent about what we have experienced.

We would love to hear your thoughts