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Across its multiple brands, Procter & Gamble (P&G) seemingly is attempting to establish a corporate reputation as an inclusive, forward-thinking company that is attentive and responsive to the preferences of all consumers, especially younger ones who tend to challenge traditional norms and ideas. The latest evidence of this effort involves its Always brand of sanitary products, for which the packaging will no longer feature the Venus symbol, which is often used to signify a female identity.

Noting the growing population of people who embrace gender fluidity in general or identify as gender nonbinary, the company has asserted that there is no need to indicate femaleness on its products, even those that traditionally have been associated solely with female consumers. Because trans and nonbinary men might still need these products, Always does not want to alienate them by signaling that the products are only for those who identify as female.

Other P&G brands also have indicated an openness to expansive gender concepts, such as a Gillette advertising campaign that featured a transgender teenager learning how to shave, as well as a long-running “Throw Like a Girl” campaign that sought to reverse the meaning of the previously derogatory phrase to mean something positive.

Proponents have embraced the move as a reflection of growing awareness and sensitivity throughout society. Critics instead dismiss the move as pandering to an overly sensitive, small group of consumers. Some other skeptics noted that the packaging for Always products rarely actually featured the Venus symbol, so the announcement of its removal might have been more a ploy to drum up free press, rather than an actual strategic change.

Regardless of the assessment though, the corporate decision reflects unmistakable consumer trends. One estimate indicates that more than half of Generation Z regard gender as a spectrum rather than a binary division, and they use or know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns, such as “they” instead of “her” or “him.” Other companies similarly acknowledge these developments; Lyft allows users to select their preferred pronouns on their profiles for example. But at P&G, the goal appears to be the leader in this movement, toward more inclusivity and more appeal for the broadest range of consumers possible.

Discussion Questions

  1. Should companies attempt to be more inclusive of different gender identities? Why or why not?
  2. Why is P&G pursuing such an inclusive strategy? What benefits might it derive from gaining a corporate reputation for inclusivity?

Source: Heather Murphy, “Always Removes Female Symbol from Sanitary Pads,” The New York Times, October 22, 2019; Peter Adams, “P&G Nixes Venus Symbol from Always in Latest Inclusivity Bid,” Marketing Dive, October 23, 2019