Month: January 2022

Gender bias in language. Are you guilty?

You’ve been making waves when it comes to your Diversity & Inclusion agenda. Neurodiversity, LGBTQ+, race, religion, age and gender….the list goes on. Conversations, commandments, content – these are all welcome developments, as we endeavour to create fairer workplaces, and society as a whole. 

But, is your language (perhaps inadvertently) letting you down – especially when it comes to the way you talk about women? As a women’s writer collective, lovers of lexicon and in the lead up to International Women’s Day 2022 (#BreakTheBias), we thought it the perfect time to explore this further.

Have we moved on since the 1960s?

Until the early 1960s, job listings were often published in newspapers as separate lists for men and women. Things have thankfully changed for the better since then, with gender-neutral titles becoming more prevalent. And yet, has ‘unequal’ gender language really been banished from the workplace altogether? And to what extent is gender bias in language still having an impact on things like recruitment and performance appraisals? Well, you’re about to find out….

Unconscious bias and the language trap

We’re all biased, even if it pains us to admit it.

Unconscious bias is our internal set of stereotypes and profiles. It informs – at a very deep, subconscious level – our expectation of a particular person in a specific situation.

We might have unconscious biases about how well someone with a degree from a red brick university will perform in a particular job or project. Or we might subconsciously believe that someone with a specific accent will be more or less reliable.

Even a 6-year-old…

In studies, unconscious bias is present in those who stand up for equality at a conscious level. It’s even been shown to impact children’s thinking, starting from 5-7 years old: when asked to draw a picture of a doctor, firefighter and fighter pilot, just 5 out of 61 drawings depicted women in those roles!

Firefight against this, we must!

Gender-neutral pronouns, but bias in language still prevails

In the UK, overtly gendered terms are banned from the recruitment process. This includes using the pronouns ‘he’ or ‘she’ to describe post-holders, as well as gendered terminology such as ‘fireman’ or ‘air hostess’. While these terms may still be present socially – and are a big indicator of the unconscious biases that still remain – legislation has removed them from recruitment.

But, language inherently has gendered associations, so you may still be writing job descriptions that speak to one gender more than the other without even knowing it. 

Are you weeding out women unintentionally?

Words such as ‘competitive, confident, decisive, strong, outspoken, dominant or leader’ have been shown to deter women from applying. On the other hand, words such as ‘support, understand and interpersonal’ encourage women to apply. Including gendered words in job advertisements could make the position seem less appealing to a certain gender, thereby limiting the applicant pool for those jobs.

Research also shows that men apply to jobs where they meet 60% of the qualifications while women only apply to jobs where they have 100% of the qualifications. If your job description has a lot of unnecessary or strict requirements, you are unintentionally weeding out women.

Consider whether your job descriptions speak more to one gender than another and whether the competencies you’ve outlined are truly essential to the role or not.

It’s not just about job adverts

Even if you’ve removed all the gender bias from your recruitment language, unconscious stereotyping can still be present in the language of your appraisals and reviews. 

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Meta Platforms and founder of LeanIn.org, famously talked about her experiences of the gendered use of language. She recalls being labelled ‘bossy’ as a young girl, where a boy would have been praised for being ‘assertive’ and having ‘leadership skills’. Her book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, explores the subtle and not-so-subtle gender discriminations she had to conquer on her journey to becoming COO of Facebook.

Subjective wording, despite objective success criteria

Using language to describe the same action less favourably for one gender can get in the way during formal appraisal processes, without it ever being a conscious decision. The US army led a review of their leadership performance appraisal data. They found that managers used more negative terms to describe women and more positive ones to describe men. All this despite the men and women’s performances being the same by objective measurements. 

Mending the broken rungs of women’s career ladders…

Allowing unconscious bias to creep into your performance assessments can have enormous negative impacts. It reduces the likelihood of talented women progressing through the ranks alongside their equally talented male counterparts. And reinforces the ‘broken’ rung of the career ladder – past which women find it hard to climb. 

Given the same objective performance data, would you promote an “arrogant but analytical” man or an “inept but compassionate” woman? (These are the real top results from both the positive and negative adjectives within the US Army research for each gender. Remember that, objectively, the individuals are equally capable!)

Why should I care about gender bias in my company’s language?

As someone with decision-making power in a business, here’s why you should care

  • It’s the right thing to do. Nobody’s life should be limited as a result of someone else’s conscious or subconscious views.
  • If you mention Diversity & Inclusion in your values, you truly need to walk the walk – for your team, your clients and your investors.
  • There’s a wealth of research showing that companies with greater gender parity generate more money, make better decisions, take more calculated risks and are more innovative. A win for morals and a win for business.
  • Gender inequality is not just a ‘women’s issue’; it’s society’s issue. Gender inequality correlates closely with a loss in human development. Put simply, without enabling everyone within society to thrive, the society itself will never reach its full potential. Now it’s a win for morals, business and society at large!

How to screen your language for gender bias

Start with you

Be mindful of your language – be more aware of what you think and how it impacts what language you use. Use the ‘test yourself’ resource from Project Implicit at Harvard to open your eyes.

Connect with diverse groups of people

Be inclusive and surround yourself with people who think and look different to you, and who have experiences outside of your own.

Understand how language can feel for different people

Don’t assume how language lands with different people. Ask! Remember that even the most committed champions of equality come with their own set of biases and will see everything through their own lens. What seems like unbiased language to you may feel very different to someone else.

Empower yourself

Use systems to ensure success – don’t ask your team to rely on their own self-awareness to filter out the language of unconscious bias. Instead, create guides and standardised methodologies to reduce the impact of individual biases.

Clear out a climate of contradiction

Don’t let (unintentional) language gender bias hold you back, and create a climate of contradiction. Ensure you’re not ditching the pronouns, but promoting gender loaded terms in job specs and appraisals. Don’t do D&I in bucket-loads, but still differentiate between a confident man and a compassionate woman. But do #BreakTheBias once and for all. Remember: businesses with greater gender parity make better decisions, are more innovative – and make more mula. Enough said.

COPYCAT: NINE THINGS CATS & COPYWRITING/ERS HAVE IN COMMON

When I first thought of this blog, my intentions were for it to act as a mood lifter in what’s arguably the dullest month of the year. And, if I’m being candid, because I am a proud cat lover (read: marginally obsessed). Yet, once I put my thinking cap on, it struck me that there is a deluge of similarities between felines and fine copywriting.  Whoever knew? I feel enlightened in this dark January. I hope you do too, after reading this.

So without further ado…Cats have nine lives, or so the saying goes. So, here are nine things cats and copywriting/ers have in common.

  1. Attention-grabbing

As I write this, my girl cat Mabel, who has a penchant for posh treats, is shredding up the pages of my notebook – trying to grab my attention in no uncertain terms, so her belly may soon be full of fishy bites. The boy, Nutty, has a more direct approach. He simply starts biting my ankles. His snack preference being a rather disgusting looking meat stick.

Now, brands and business want their messages to be put across to their audiences as clearly as this. And it’s our job to make sure that happens with the copy. We want to grab attention with content, metaphorically biting our audiences’ (clients or customers) ankles with the stories we are telling – using brilliant copywriting to make them sit up and take action.

2. Not backwards in coming forwards

On a similar note, if there’s something that’s not to my cats’ pleasing – let’s say, medicine that has to be swallowed, or flea drops on the back of their necks – think code red in terms of the reaction. Cats are certainly not backwards in coming forward. They’ll do aerials in the kitchen, writhe around like a furry worm on acid and generally make a ginormous fuss. And they often win the fight.

Of course, copywriters would never behave in such a fashion. And I hope you’ll indulge my hyperbole for the sake of fun and creative frivolity. But….we also aren’t shy about certain dislikes in the fight to create compelling copy. You may have heard us bang on about jargon, for example. We won’t do an aerial or writhe around if you mention the words ‘paradigm shift’ – but we’ll certainly state in no uncertain terms that there’s no room for it in our writing.

3. Like to get their claws into things

While my Korats (yup, had to get that in there – arguably the most beautiful breed in the world) are not vicious, despite the portrait I seem to be painting of them, they do love to get their claws into things. Our nice mustard armchair, now a shadow of its former self, with stuffing hanging out of various holes. The base of our bed with its tremendous amount of tassels that weren’t part of the original design. Or the Christmas tree that’s only just come down officially, but spent the last month being pulled over an unmanageable number of times.

But, you see, we copywriters also like to get our claws into things. We like to dig deep – there’s little point scratching the surface when it comes to crafting copy. If you ask us to write a blog, we won’t do just that (well, TPW’s writers certainly won’t). We’ll think about your audiences, your messaging, whether the tone is right, some awesome analogies that might help explain complex matters, whether there are expert voices we can add to the mix.

4. Elegance & finesse

Ok, I’m biased. As well as being exquisitely beautiful, cats are the epitome of elegance and finesse. They’re daredevils that jump sky-high, but always with dignity. And land on their feet with barely a thud. They’re obsessive about their cleanliness. They sunbathe with the grace of Grace Kelly. And their purr is perfection felin-ified.

I’ll try to be less boastful about copywriters…but, there is an analogy here. It’s our job to turn lacklustre, sometimes clunky prose into something much more appealing and refined. Not flowery and overwhelming, but simple, sleek and sophisticated in equal measures.

5. Life’s observers

Every time I come home in the winter months, Mabel (girl cat) is sitting on her radiator spot looking out of the window, telling the birds who’s boss – but never mustering the energy to do anything about the hierarchy. And when my kids get back from school, both cats are often perched on a shelf or a beanbag, watching us, taking everything in (also read: waiting for their bowl of Whiskas).

The craft of copywriting calls for a similar approach. Writers look, listen and learn – before ever putting pen to paper. We spend a lot of time imbibing information, gauging the atmosphere and hearing the whys and wherefores of our clients’ campaigns and aims. Only then will we strike…

6. Flexible thinkers

Cats are among the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom. Fact. Feline behaviourist Kristyn Vitale, PhD, a cat researcher at Oregon State University’s Human-Animal Interaction Lab says: “I think the ability of cats to be very flexible in their behavior is one reason they’ve been so popular.” Yes, I really have found a feline behaviourist in the quest to make this story work.

Now, while I wouldn’t be as audacious as to claim that copywriters are inherently intelligent or smart, we do have to be very flexible in our thinking. Yes, we’ll voice our opinions – but we have to be extremely malleable in our approach to writing for brands and businesses. When it comes to preferred style, tone, wording – these belong to our clients, and if they’re non-negotiables, we need to conform (whether we agree or not).

7. Strategic stealth mode

Have you ever seen a cat pounce on a laser or even a hair tie? It’s quite mesmerising. They quietly creep up to about a metre away from the object, as if no one can see them. Their back legs start pummelling silently. And then they leap – boom – on top of the thing, hoping they’ve murdered said hair tie in one fell swoop. It’s a thought-out, highly meticulous mission.

Every copywriting mission also calls for this targeted approach. A stealthy M.O.. In other words: a carefully laid out plan of attack. The attention-grabbing comes later once the copy is distributed. Behind the scenes, copy performs at its best when there’s a considered coherent thought out process behind it. Themes, series, different content, piggybacking the news – you name it. Preparation and forethought pays. Content strategy, in other words.

8. Lovers of meaty stuff

Fishy bites, meat stick, Whiskas, mice, birds, bits of offal – the meatier the better when it comes to feline foodie fancies. I’ve tried the mush that includes bits of carrot and peas to their teatime bowls. And it’s an outright nope. Nine. Non. Not on their nelly will they eat that stuff.


Copywriters are less particular when it comes to their projects. We like variety. We also love the meaty stuff. Sure, blogs are great. But we enjoy a deeper dive, that allows us to flex out literary muscles – like data-driven pieces that give way to ebooks, research reports, articles, videos, podcasts. You name it. The meatier the better

9. Hatred of fluff

And now, the pièce de resistance. The zenith of this copycat comparison….

If you’ve ever witnessed a cat under the influence of a fur ball, you’ll get what I’m on about. Tonnes of tiny hairs get into their oesophagus or even stomachs sometimes – following months of cleaning themselves with their tongues and swallowing the fur. A cat will then vomit up a wad of fur – and when doing so, make an extraordinary coughing sound.

Copywriters don’t like fluff either. You may say this blog is pure fluff. But I’d argue there are some valuable lessons here for all who engage. The kind of fluff we hate is innocuous content for content’s sake. Back of the knitting information that’s of no relevance or interest to anyone, and merely serves as a tick box exercise so social media targets can be met. We won’t cough up fur, but it does make us feel icky inside.

So, there you have it. Nine reasons why cats and copywriting/ers are more similar than you ever imagined in your wildest dreams. If this doesn’t get me a guest writer appearance in Your Cat – allegedly Britain’s best-selling cat magazine – I don’t know what will…

Timely tips for creating a smashing 2022 content plan

Our clients tell us that they’ve been up against it throughout December – and now into January. A combination of pre-Christmas deadlines plus the expectations and aspirations a new year brings, can lead to important tasks being put on the backburner. Like your 2022 content strategy. 

Perhaps you’ve been procrastinating on your content plan for 2022 and pushing it to the bottom of your to-do list? Or maybe you think you don’t have time? You might also think you’ve left it too late, as the month flies by…

The good news is:

  • While December may seem like the ideal time to plan for 2022, it’s a totally unrealistic time of year to squeeze this in.
  • Content planning doesn’t have to take long or be overly complicated.
  • A strong strategy doesn’t need to involve new ideas or content every single day of the year; far from it.

Follow our five top tips for creating a content plan that will see you through 2022 and make this your year for brilliant content!

Take time to save time

Every single client we’ve spoken to is snowed in under with work. And the year has only just kicked-off. There’s the festive backlog to deal with, alongside regular workload and new ambitions, targets – and pressure.

Prioritising time for your 2022 content plan against this backdrop may sound like a pain in the proverbial. But, hear us out: if you take the time now to plan and map out your content strategy for the next year, it will save you so much time as the year progresses.

Often it’s easy to think about content-planning time as ‘wasted’ or non-revenue-generating. And yet, a public-facing platform like LinkedIn is your most powerful (and free!) marketing tool. It offers you an enormous return on investment for each and every piece of content you share with your audience. As long as said content is stellar, of course. Maximising this resource by planning content in advance is a no-brainer for your business. 

More often than not, the greater the legwork up front, the simpler it is to create great content when the time comes – that really resonates. And let’s face it, you’re more likely to do it, if there’s a plan to stick to.

Repackage existing content

None of your content should be a one-hit wonder. Every article you write, video you post, infographic you design can be repurposed and re-formatted to make the most of what you’ve created. This way you get the best value for your time or money.

For articles such as listicles, you can re-use each point of your piece as separate social media posts, or expand on them to create a new article series. 

And you needn’t confine your content to one medium. Think creatively about how you can transform your written words and elevate them further. Infographics, podcasts, videos, articles, social media, e-books, blogs, editorial, Q&As, 60 seconds with – the mix can be as colourful as you like. And it sure does pack a punch to be varied and keep your audiences on their toes.

If you’ve released a report, why not create a short video of your CEO or expert thought leader, discussing the main findings ‘in person’ – and importantly, how those findings might affect your clients or customers. This is a fantastic way to get more collateral from your content. For longer reports, you could invite various contributors to dissect different themes on-camera, as a series. Or even packaged up as a podcast.

If we look at some of the statistics on podcasts and videos, it’s clear that they represent huge opportunities:

  • Podcasts are becoming more popular – 61.2% of people spend more time listening to podcasts than they do consuming TV shows; 59% of people spend more time listening to podcasts than on social media
  • COVID has made video more important – 68% of consumers say the pandemic has impacted the amount of video content they’ve watched online, with the overwhelming majority (96%) saying this has increased
  • Video marketing works – 78% of video marketers report that video marketing has improved their company’s bottom line

Be bold. Introduce a blend of media into your content plan to maximise the benefits of content marketing. 

Piggyback other events

Use the events within your company, region, industry or in the news to inform your content plan – and ride that wave.

Events like International Women’s Day are an opportunity for you to talk about the progress you’ve made with getting more women onto your Board or the steps you’ve taken to remove unconscious bias from your recruitment processes. Or how you tackle ageism in your workplace.

Perhaps someone is joining your team – that’s also an opportunity. Do a Q&A video with them (recorded on zoom or an iPhone is totally fine these days) or ask them to write a blog piece on their area of expertise. Again – the key here being about how their expertise will enhance your client or customer’s lives.

Is your business or team up for an award? Use that as a chance to shout about how much you value your people and celebrate their successes. And also, as validation that your clients or customers are in safe hands.

The important thing about any event you choose to incorporate into your content calendar is that it must be relevant to your business, industry and audience. Planning ahead should allow you to line up the most relevant contributors from across your business, rather than forcing you to react on the morning of International Women’s Day with that obligatory photo of the two or three women who were working in person in the office that morning.

Seriously, just don’t do this!

Tap into your inner quirky

The more colourful and quirky your ideas are, the better. The way people consume content has changed dramatically over the course of the pandemic. We know, yawn. But – it has changed things somewhat.

During the pandemic, Britons spent more time online than on anything else in their day, filling the void left by the removal of socialising face-to-face. There’s been a continued uplift in time spent on video streaming, listening to podcasts and scrolling social media.

One third (32%) of online adults now spend more time viewing video-sharing services than broadcast television.

People are spending more of their waking hours online than ever before. That may seem like obvious news. But, they’re perpetually saturated with content and marketing, so the competition is huge. 

To stop the scroll, it pays to plan and think cleverly and colourfully about your content marketing ideas. 

Be reactive AND proactive

All our tips up to now have been focused on planning, planning, planning. But remember not to let creativity be stifled by too much rigidity. Yes, we are in fact saying: have a plan, but also don’t….let us explain..

If there’s something to shout about, make sure you have the flexibility to do just that. Your strategy shouldn’t mean that you can’t celebrate when you launch a new product or service, something major happens in the world or or your industry you need to comment on or you send some of your team to space. (Ok, the last bit is unlikely, but we are emphasising the point).

Being proactive creates as yet unknown opportunities; being reactive allows you to be part of topical discussions that naturally occur and positions you as a thought leader. A great content plan will allow for a mix of the two. 

And that’s surely, where your business or brand wants to be?

Make January your time to plan for a great year of content

Perhaps December would have been the ideal time to create your 2022 content plan. But, with all the best intentions in the world, it’ll never happen. We know, because the same happens to TPW. Here we are writing a blog about content planning in January, when it should, of course, have been done in December 2021.

Right now is still the best time. Setting aside some hours before the month is up will allow you to create great content for the rest of the year.

So, stop reading this and strike while the iron is hot….

New year, with plenty of the old you?

It’s the same at this time of the year, every year: all the adverts crying out ‘New Year: New You’.

But at TPW, we don’t think you should throw out all your you-ness just because the calendar has flipped over a year. Sure, a few new goals, some updated dreams, a finessed focus, a resolution or two. We’re totally on board with using the New Year as a springboard for great things. But is it realistic – or even necessary – to totally reinvent?

This applies to your brand, too. Sometimes it can be tempting to change tack quickly to promote an updated version of your business, when actually this can risk alienating your followers (aka your existing clients) who buy into the attributes that have made you brilliant before.

So, when it comes to your content, how can you update your ideas and language to freshen up without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Where have you been?

Your company has a past, whether that’s a linear story or a squiggly whirl of trial and error. Everyone loves an origin story and that’s as true of your company as it is of Wolverine. Proudly communicating where you’ve been will allow you to craft the story of what makes your company unique. 

TPW tip: Unless there are solid reasons why you want to disassociate, try not to ditch your heritage in one fell swoop. Better to cherry pick the best bits of your past, and inject them with some fresh ideas and thinking.

Who are you now?

What kind of company are you right now? Looking back, is there anything different about how your business is run now than in the past? Any changes you’ve made that you’re particularly proud of? Any works-in-progress that are going to be hard-won successes when you deliver on them? All of these things make your company’s present more tangible and real to your customers. And for your employees, they make it clear why they come to work every day and where they fit in.

Communicating values fits here too, so that everyone who does business with you can understand what you stand for. Values are behind why we all do what we do, so make sure yours are communicated boldly and clearly. 

TPW tip: But beware: don’t just say you value things like integrity; let your content illustrate how you’re walking the walk. Bring integrity to life with everyday stories about….people (not products or services).

Where are you going?

It’s likely that your company has a strong set of goals and a strategic vision, not just for the next year but for the longer term. But are you communicating these goals to your staff and customers?

Perhaps you’re aiming to be carbon-neutral by a certain date. Or you have a new Diversity and Inclusion strategy that will be your focus for the foreseeable. Communication here is key. 

TPW tip: With so many businesses talking about such hot topics right now, your content needs to be colourful, candid and creative. And there should never be any room for mere lip service on these issues. 

The why, not the what…

Every piece of communication to your employees and customers should reflect the story, values and goals your business has. Your website, newsletters, blogs, social media posts, annual report, adverts, podcasts, emails, verbal updates, award acceptance speeches and internal employee updates – every time you communicate there’s an opportunity to tell your audience who you are, what you stand for and what you hope to achieve in the future. And most importantly, the subtext of this is: what this means for your clients.

Author and self-proclaimed optimist Simon Sinek famously said “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” There will be plenty of other companies out there doing something similar to you, but nobody with your story.

As we hurtle into 2022, your business doesn’t need to subscribe to the ‘New Year: New You’ school of thought. Instead, embrace your heritage and what you’re proud of from your past – and liven things up a little with some fresh ideas and imaginative storytelling. Ta dah!

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