Business of Fashion – New Study Shows Female British Consumers are not as ‘Woke’ as Their US Counterparts

October 8, 2019
Responses to offensive product launches are gender- and market-specific, with more women than men expecting immediate action in both the US and UK, according to a recent survey from First Insight.
By Rachel Deeley

LONDON, United Kingdom — When it comes to diversity and inclusion, consumers are holding brands to account with increasing scrutiny — the past 12 months alone are a testament to this. However, new data reveals that there are gender- and market-based nuances underlying this progressive consumer sentiment.

According to a study by merchandising firm First Insight, only 39 percent of women in the UK view female and minority representation in brand leadership positions important compared to 43 percent of men, while 48 percent of women see the benefit of retailers hiring chief diversity officers, compared to 55 percent of men.

Men and women in the United States, conversely, are largely aligned on the importance of diversity and inclusion in brands. Roughly half of both men and women in the US consider it important to have women and minorities in positions of leadership. The same proportion also feels that retailers and brands would stand to benefit from hiring chief diversity officers.

Women in the UK also place less importance on diversity in a cultural and marketing context, compared to their male and American counterparts; only 35 percent said that influencers representing diverse points of view were important, compared with 44 percent of UK men and both genders in the US. Similarly, when asked about the importance of cultural inclusivity by brands (such as the provision of modest styles and hijabs), 36 percent of UK women ranked it as important, a notably lower proportion than UK-based men (44 percent) and men and women in the US (48 and 45 percent respectively).

However, women across both markets are more likely than men to make changes to their shopping behaviours when brands misstep. Fifty-five percent of women in the US and 58 percent of women in the UK said they would stop shopping at a retailer or brand temporarily if it released an offensive product, compared to 42 percent and 47 percent of men in the US and UK respectively.

The women surveyed also called for more accountability from brands, with 83 percent in the US and 86 percent in the UK saying that they considered an immediate apology important when a brand makes some form of a misstep.

It is notable that of the 1,038 respondents to the survey in the US and 547 in the UK, the Silent Generation (those born 1928-1945) were overrepresented, while Generation-Z — particularly in the US data set — was underrepresented, relative to 2018 population data from the US Census Bureau and UK Office of National Statistics.

Gen-Z has become a driving force behind changing consumer values, with a spending power of roughly $150 billion in the US alone, according to BoF and McKinsey and Co.’s 2019 State of Fashion report, which also forecast “getting woke” as one of the top ten fashion industry trends of the year.

The importance of brands failing to respect inclusive values has also been seen to have a quantifiable impact. Gucci’s “blackface” balaclava was released by the brand in February, which is Black History Month in the US. The resulting backlash saw the luxury house dial down its marketing in the US. This, in turn, led to a 2 percent drop in second-quarter sales, compared to a year earlier.

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