RIBA Insight Monthly Briefing

Is your marketing imagery sexist?

There's an growing recognition that the construction industry has an image problem. It's affecting not only how we sell our products and services, but also how we attract and maintain our workforce. We're having to seriously consider what the world thinks of our sector as a place to in which to invest and work.

Improving that image is just one area where construction marketers can play a valuable role. The imagery that we use to represent our organisations and projects, across print, digital and social media, can make a real difference.

Construction isn't only about the things we design, build and fit-out, but also the people behind the scenes. As marketers, we can make sure that the imagery we use, to illustrate what we do, tells the whole story and represents the diversity involved. Admittedly, problems with the industry's image go beyond gender, but this is one issue that we can help to improve.

To industry outsiders, the typical image of construction is 'male and middle-aged' and, if you're looking at board level, you can add 'white' to that. Those are still the most common images used by many organisations to represent their business, but how relevant are they to the modern construction company? From the building site to the board room there's a diverse range of people providing their skills and expertise. Today there are more women working at all levels in the built environment than there were even a few years ago. The problem is that, by using that typical imagery, we're perpetuating the perception of construction as a stagnant industry that's out of step with the rest of the world. Who would want to recommend that?

Why does it matter?

When making decisions, whether about a purchase or a career, people want to see imagery that positively reflects them and their peers. The construction industry needs to attract people from the whole talent pool – not just half of it. That means showing – without the aid of a shoehorn – the diverse range of people that are working and progressing in the industry.

To be fair, things are better than they were and many organisations are getting the message that the pictures they use reflect not only their values, but also those of the wider industry. If you want to get more of the right talent it helps to show examples of what's possible, across the board.

It's not just about the talent pool

Even if you're not planning to recruit any time soon, the imagery in your marketing still says a lot – to potential customers and investors – about the type of organisation you are to do business with. It might, for example, suggest that you think the decision-makers in your market are only white, middle-aged men ...and that could affect your bottom line.

When you're next looking for that image to complement a piece of content, just remember that there are more women on building sites, working in the trades, specifying products and leading projects of all sizes. They should be represented if you mean business.

Let's celebrate our diverse industry

Calling for a more considerate use of imagery is not about shaming the industry, but about taking pride in its diversity, and encouraging new talent into what is essentially a great sector. We can show that construction is a forward-thinking industry where everyone, with the right skills and qualifications, can have a role and be represented. The easiest way to show that is with the imagery we use in our content, and construction marketers are in a great position to lead the way.

Author Deborah Rowe is principal consultant and technical writer for Sheba Marketing, a fellow of the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing, a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a member of the organising committee for the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group (CIMCIG).


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