Gen Z’s gender equality challenge and how brands can respond

New research from IPSOS and Effie UK’s underlines that brands are still missing out on the business firepower of equality

Lori Meakin

Founder and Author The Others & Me and 'No More Menemies'


Gender equality makes ads better. So say the results of countless studies. Yet according to the latest, A Woman’s Worth from IPSOS and Effie UK, brands are currently under-capitalising on this significant opportunity. In fact, there now seems to be an anti-feminist backlash. And this backlash is strongest among Gen Z.

A Woman’s Worth powerfully demonstrates how better portrayal of women is good for business.

When tested using IPSOS’s Gender Equality Measure®, ads scoring higher – meaning they included more non-traditional gender portrayals of women that better reflected today’s reality – are 24% more likely to drive short term sales and 28% more likely to drive brand equity

A host of Effie case studies bear this out.

When Ancestry UK focused on celebrating women’s full lives in history, for example, new customer sign-up revenue rose 20.4% and ROI 10%. In the US, deodorant brand Secret grew its value by 8.8% after collaborating with female Olympians. And when Nissan in Saudi Arabia focused not on permission to drive but on female accomplishment, it achieved record-breaking sales.

Yet despite this, the majority – 58% – of the ads tested in the Ipsos database still feature women in traditional roles.

Growing numbers of men are now seeing gender equality as the enemy. And this anti-feminist backlash is strongest amongst Gen Z.

Lori Meakin, Founder, The Others & Me and author of No More Menemies

This begs two obvious and important questions: why are more brands not capitalising more on this huge opportunity to make their ads perform better? And, even more importantly: how can brands overcome what’s holding them back?

Lack of awareness of the commercial benefits of representing women more realistically is likely one obstacle. But dig deeper and it’s clear there’s something else going on.

For a start, despite mountains of evidence showing that more gender-equal societies are better not only for women but also for men, too, growing numbers of men are now seeing gender equality as the enemy. And this anti-feminist backlash is strongest amongst Gen Z.

The IPSOS/Effie report reveals growing numbers of people, especially amongst 16-24s, agreeing that the main role for women in society is to be good wives and mothers.

Similarly, other studies show that Gen Z hold less progressive views about women in leadership than their predecessors; are less likely to advocate for women's rights compared to older generations; and younger men are also most likely to label a man who stays home to care for his children as "not a real man".

If we’re stuck in this growing ‘menemies’ mindset, is it any wonder we’re not reaping the commercial benefit of more authentic gender portrayals in our ads?

So how can we free ourselves from the false but compelling belief that gender equality means men having to self-sacrifice? There are, I believe, a number of things we all can – and should – do.

The first is to bust some dominant myths – like the idea that ‘women are everywhere now’.

We are so used to male voices, bodies and interests dominating our physical and cultural spaces that when that diminishes a little, it can genuinely feel like ‘women are taking over.’ But that’s not the case. Take Frozen, Disney’s radically female-centred story centring on sisterly love. The majority – 59% – of the lines in this movie were spoken not by women but men.

Despite the success of Taylor Swift, Lizzo and Billie Eilish, female artists accounted for just 30% of artists in the 2022 Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart. And that same year, women – either solo artists or all-female bands – accounted for just 13% of the UK’s 50 biggest music festivals’ headline acts.

In certain genres such as dance music, where female acts are largely ignored by radio, the figures are even more skewed. And it’s the same story in books, news and real life. Which perhaps explains why men still tend to speak much more than women in ads.

It’s why we still see The Smurfette Principle – when a cast is made up of a group of males and just one female, and or where while men represent different character types the woman is often there simply to represent womanhood – still in action in ads, too.

Adland would do well to apply a version of the movie industry’s Bechdel Test – to pass, we’d see women talking to each other about something other than caring, cleaning or looking good.

Challenging dominant myths and biases isn’t enough, however.

We also need to ensure the narrative of change doesn’t sound like we’re shoving men aside because ‘the future is female’ – not just to avoid the sense of personal injustice this might trigger but because we can’t create work that represents a more gender-equal world by just addressing one half of the picture.

We’d have so much more creative scope if we showed men experiencing not just emotions historically coded as ‘masculine’ but the full range of human emotions in our work.

Lori Meakin, Founder, The Others & Me and author of No More Menemies

Yes, women should be better represented in traditionally male arenas. But we also need to recognise that by not encouraging enough men to lean into interests, ideas and content created by and for women – something studies show they often enjoy at least as much as things by, for and about men – men are missing out, too.

Further, we’d have so much more creative scope if we showed men experiencing not just emotions historically coded as ‘masculine’ but the full range of human emotions in our work.

If we modelled competent parenting by people other than just mums, for example. If we depicted men showing tenderness, love and vulnerability to each other outside of war stories and penalty shoot-outs. And if we showed people who live their lives beyond the cis-het binary in ways that were joyously ‘ordinary’, as the magnificent writer and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon suggests.

As IPSOS and Effies’ work underlines unequivocally, gender equality is a tool to make ads better. So let’s embrace it. Have some fun with it. Make it aspirational. Sexy. Cute. Emotional. Let’s use it to find our confidence again.

Just imagine how much there is to gain for whoever works out how to sell gender equality as well as Tate and his crew market misogyny.

Who’s ready to rise to that challenge?


After many years of working with women and others who are marginalised because of their gender or sexual orientation, Lori increasingly found herself wondering why more men aren’t getting involved in creating the change that’s proven to benefit all of us. So she set about working to answer that question, using the research, understanding and behaviour-change expertise she’s developed over decades in branding, advertising and the media. The Others & Me is founded on this deep and objective, evidence-led understanding of the real issues around gender, as well as the insights and methodology Lori refined by talking to all kinds of men from undergrads to grandads about how it feels to be a man in a world where people are increasingly talking about gender equality.