How Should We Write About Women?

A very interesting article recently appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, adding a voice to the ongoing conversation about women and work. The story criticized how female scientists are portrayed when they are written about by journalists or in trade publications. The authors suggest that many stories about the professional accomplishments women make in scientific fields are framed in a way that says, “she did all this, and she’s a woman,” suggesting that being a woman is some sort of obstacle female scientists must overcome.

It is acknowledged that there is indeed a time and place to talk about gender roles and science, but it should be when the entire piece is about sexism, or the gender gap in research. When articles say things like “she has three children and she managed to keep up with her research,” it turns what should be an article about fascinating scientific achievement into an article about how it is surprising that female scientists do well.

It is also argued that these articles are boring because they happen too often. Almost everyone has seen an article about how great it is that a woman accomplished something all while still being a woman. A truly interesting story would focus on the core of what was accomplished, not that a woman accomplished it.

While this article focuses on science, I think that it could be applied to writers in so many different industries, particularly B2B. When we fall back onto a clichéd story, it’s not interesting. Sure, it may be a “nice read” or an “okay ad,” but no one wins awards (or sells products) doing nice and okay.

The Columbia Journalism Review article sites a test that writers should use to see if they are falling into the trap of framing working women as mothers and wives first. To pass the test, writing should not mention things like the fact that she’s a woman, child-care, or her husband’s job.

If you create ads about your products, and also meet with people to tell them about what you do, you presumably wouldn’t look a well-prepared woman in the face and say “I can’t believe you do this, all while being a woman and a mom!” Don’t do it in your writing either. The same goes for copywriters and those working for trade publications. It will be so much more interesting, valuable and important for a woman to hear about your product’s ability to save her company thousands of dollars a year than for you to tell her it’s so efficient she can be home in time for dinner with her kids.

Marketing to women, and the best ways to do so change constantly, just like everything else. As we move forward into a world where working women making big decisions is the norm, we will need to continually reevaluate how we speak to women in the business space. For any B2B business struggling to connect with women, take a cue from the women in science, and those writing about them. What is fascinating about successful people, about tools that help us work well, and about services you provide, are the details of those successes, tools, and services. We know that we are working women; we don’t need you to remind us too.

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