This year’s International Women’s Day was celebrated around the world with most countries standing for equality on the 8th of March. The theme for this year was ‘each for equal’ calling upon each gender to advocate and uphold the rights and opportunities of the other and building an “enabled world”. Surrounding this theme, The United Nations launched missions aimed at raising awareness and calling out inequality, encouraging positive action and celebrating achievements of equality and women.
The World Economic Forum estimates that whilst developing economies have made gains in health and survival for women, the situation has deteriorated in terms of economic participation and opportunity. As the emerging Asian economies rapidly pace forward, achieving gender equality becomes the question of the hour. In this struggle for equality and an enabled world, brands have the responsibility, influence, and scalability to bring about change. Worldwide, more and more consumers are calling for and supporting those brands that are standing for what’s right and working towards it.
IWD MISSION HIGHLIGHTS
To showcase the achievements, The Untied Nations partnered with brands that stood for their goals. The missions had been split into six categories; women in technology, women in sport, women at work, women entrepreneurs, women’s health, and women creative.
The UN partnered with HCL Technologies Ltd., Indian multinational IT service and consultancy, to highlight women in technology and women in sports missions. At the HCL Pavilion in Davos this year, the company held the WaveMaker Awards 2020 to recognize champions of technology, diversity, and inclusion amongst other noble causes. Amongst the winners were many women who have been working towards an enabled world.
In the sphere of technology, were two leading female changemakers. Lauren Woodman, CEO, NetHope, has been running a consortium of nearly 60 global nonprofits and partnered with technology corporations to solve developmental, humanitarian, and conservation challenges around the world. Njideka U. Harry, President & CEO, Youth for Technology Foundation, has been on a mission to provide developmental programs, linkages that accelerate business opportunities, ICT solutions, and entrepreneurship training for youth and women in the developing world. In the arena of sport, was Louis Auta, Founder, and CEO of Cedar Seed Foundation – a nonprofit organization dedicated to enabling equal opportunities for the disabled. She is also a strong advocate for disabled and women sporting events.
To celebrate women in the workplace mission, the UN partnered with Amazon to focus on initiatives and results of gender equality in the workplace. The company highlighted female employees and leaders who are helping the company lead in multiple domains, from recruitment, worldwide operations, quality control, as well as leading service divisions like Alexa, Prime, and Kindle. Amazon Web Services, the market leader in IaaS public cloud services retains its position thanks to continual innovation and in this domain, women around the world are also working hard to develop new tools, processes, services and more. In India, Amazon launched Saheli, a marketplace for female entrepreneurs – a marketplace that has enabled 80,000 women entrepreneurs with the help of 13 NGOs.
For women’s health mission, UN partnered with Medtronic to bring to light some significant but less known facets of women’s health around the world. Research by the British Heart Foundation showed that coronary heart disease kills more women than men despite being highly treatable and suggests that women are often not given the same standards of treatment as heart disease is considered a man’s disease. Furthermore, Women’s Health Survey 2019 found that 1 in 6 women face discrimination in accessing healthcare worldwide and this is due to prevalent inequality, socio-cultural and economic factors. The world needs more awareness regarding such issues as well as promoting more women in the medical sector to lead change in this regard. To that end, Medtronic has taken a global initiative to close the gender gap in the health sector, particularly promoting women leadership in R&D and STEM sectors. The organization was awarded the Catalyst Award 2020 for this initiative.
To celebrate women’s creative mission, the UN partnered with Friends of IWD to promote #EachforEqual street art, typography competition. The mission also highlighted the contributions of women authors to provide more perspective and challenging worldviews in literature and women in the music industry redefining music. Literary works such as “The Moment of Lift” by Melinda Gates, “Becoming” by Michelle Obama, and “Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado Perez provide eye-opening world views and inspiration for men and women alike towards an inclusive world and the challenges to overcome.
For women entrepreneurs mission, UN and Avon to advocate women empowerment and entrepreneurship. Avon’s stand4her framework provides a promise of a better world for women to all the women working for, with, within the supply chain, and its customers. Under this framework, the Avon Foundation generated funds to reach 84 million women with vital education and resources to transform their lives. The company also empowers women by setting up their businesses with Avon, an initiative that has helped countless women entrepreneurs gain independence and sometimes even security from poverty and domestic violence.
BRANDS STEPPING UP
A look at advertisements from more than half a century ago reflects the upsetting stage the world was in back then and just how far things have come since then – not just in terms of gender inequality, but also racial stereotyping, and gross disregard for general wellbeing. The world has transformed discourse, views, and revolutions. Brands and businesses have largely been absent in the effort to bring change, rather taking a backseat and only changing when it is necessary to do so. That scenario has changed today as many brands are taking proactive steps to address inequality and unfairness, particularly in gender inclusion and equity.
Ad Council – She can STEM
Women’s participation in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is particularly low. To challenge this status quo, Ad Council, in partnership with McCann NY, created a campaign called ‘She can STEM’ which aims to inspire more women to join these fields through bringing focus to female role models in leading roles in STEM. Since the campaign, awareness for STEM in the United States rose significantly amongst women and many girls participated in work outside academic curricula in STEM fields.
Equal Vehicles for All – Volvo
Subtle inequality exists in places people may never even consider. Volvo’s E.V.A. campaign uncovered just that by bringing to attention that women face higher risks of getting hurt in car accidents than men. This stems from the fact that car ergonomics and safety are designed predominantly by men and this can act as a source of unconscious bias. Volvo, a company that already has greater gender representation in its product development processes, has also come up with vehicle designs that address the issues surrounding women’s safety and have since then shared their research and design findings with the rest of the car industry in hopes of bringing about change. The campaign brought Volvo the 2019 Cannes Grand Prix in Creative Strategy.
Gazeta.pl – The Last Ever Issue
Gazeta.pl, a Polish newspaper company, partnered with Mastercard, BNP Paribas, VMLY&R to buy Poland’s oldest porn magazine, Twój Weekend. The publication heavily marginalized and objectified women and so, soon after buying the magazine, Gazeta.pl launched Twój’s last ever issue. However, unlike previous issues, the contents of the last issue were completely changed to a “women’s issue” highlighting pressing issues like gender portrayal, sexism, equal rights, etc. The company effectively used the platform to send a strong message and spark conversation. The campaign landed Gazeta a Cannes Grand Prix: Lion for Change in 2019.
MARS’ THREE-POINT TURNAROUND STRATEGY
Last year, Mars commissioned research into its advertising and communications and was surprised to find that they had inadvertently been promoting more male characters as leaders, and twice as many men as working than women. As a result, they brought out a 3-point strategy to reflect their stance on their vision of society for the future and what it is today. In the 3-point strategy, the company is starting with transparency and honesty, through the publication of the research to the public, followed by training and instilling the same vision with their partners in content and communication agency, and finally measuring and tracking change.
THE BANGLADESHI PERSPECTIVE
When it comes to development, Bangladesh is still lagging with the developed world. But that is not to say that the country isn’t making strides towards equality and proper female representation. In this continually changing context, society is beginning to challenge and question the stereotypes. Among the proponents of change are various brands – both national and multinational – whose credibility, mass reach, and responsibility to the people have prompted them to no longer stay out of the conversation. This positive trend, which can be reasonably assumed to continue, will allow more and more brands to take note of and align their purpose with equality and an enabled world.
To that end, there are multiple ways that brands in Bangladesh are making an impact; by enabling women within their organizations, shaping female-friendly narratives in their communication, campaigns and products, and finally reaching out to women in need. The aim is to take an inside out approach, by ensuring that support for and belief inequality comes from within the brand’s principles and propagated to the world outside.
Speaking Out. Many brands in Bangladesh have started to acknowledge the many instances where women are objectified, harassed, and held back. This has led to campaigns like ATOM Gum’s ‘Narir Proti Bhalo Bhasha’ which calls out against the many derogatory words used to objectify and ridicule women or Apex – Nino Rossi’s ‘Thambe Na Nari’ that asks society to stop bringing down women and barring them. Senora’s ‘Kichu Kotha Pin/Chhuri/Tir er Motoi Bidhe’ is also a creative campaign highlighting phrases that prove to be more harmful than what people perceive. This sort of stance is perhaps the most prevalent form of advocacy for change seen in Bangladesh today.
Empowering Women. Unilever’s Wheel started another campaign in partnership with United Purpose titled ‘Joyjatra’ which will connect with rural men and women to encourage greater participation of women in earning livelihood through meetings, training, trade fairs and prize incentives for successful entrepreneurial women. Bashundhara LPG announced this year that – every 3 months – they will be providing sustainable employment to 10 hard-working women who are struggling to sustain their livelihood through small initiatives.
Inspiring Women. Brooke Bond Taaza, another Unilever brand, launched a series of commercials showing women taking a bold stance against prevalent corruption attitudes, communicating a message of emboldened women to the Bangladeshi masses. Another inspirational campaign was run by Olympic Industries Ltd. that highlighted the story of Marjina, a female rickshaw-puller who worked tirelessly to support herself and her daughter.
Gender Ratio in the Workplace. Gender representation Grameenphone announced that they hope to increase their ratio of male-to-female in the workplace from 88:12 to 75:25 by 2020, as they continue on their journey towards equality in the workplace. The company strives to not only double the female workforce but also ensure a female-friendly culture, policy, and capability development initiatives to further support women taking leadership roles. ACI Limited is also a well-lauded organization for their efforts to bring equality, proper representation, and participation at all levels.
CHALLENGES TO OVERCOME
The world has come a long way from 1908 where 15,000 women workers marched through the streets of New York to demand voting rights and better working standards and pay. Despite facing incredible obstacles, progress had been made by women all around the world both towards gender inequality, women empowerment, and personal goals. But the wheel of progress must keep turning if the world is to head towards the ultimate goal.
The statistics around the world are concerning. More than half of respondents in a survey by Fawcett Society, a UK women’s rights organization, felt that gender stereotyping constrained their career choices. Only 30% of the world’s researchers are women, and women working in STEM fields often receive less pay. A third of all businesses around the world have no women in senior management roles according to research by the business advisory, Grant Thornton which also posits that if listed companies in the S&P 500 and FTSE 350 moved to a mixed board of directors, it could boost the GDP of the US and UK by 3%. If brands are to stand for change, they must address these inequalities and more – both within themselves, the industry in which they operate, and to society at large.
Policy. Most businesses around the world suffer from policies that are not progressive, nor representative of gender on issues such as recruitment, equal pay, childcare support and absence of paternal leaves amongst others. Companies need to “de-gender” job advertisements and job descriptions, provide transparency in their pay policies and promote equal pay for both genders undertaking similar jobs, and finally recognize the need for longer paternal leaves during childbirth.
Culture. Companies that support a diverse culture and recognition will see more women excelling at the workplace and more. Women are often put off or face difficulty in operating in a culture that only recognizes, encourages, and celebrates the abilities of men whilst simultaneously downplaying the same things in women. To tackle this, companies can adopt diversity training, increased collaboration, adopt programs that challenge stereotypes and address toxic masculinity. Finally, devise a system that recognizes, enables, and celebrates the success of employees regardless of gender.
Stakeholders. 87% of respondents believe that stakeholders and not shareholders are important to long term success, according to Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer. The industry where brands must sternly focus on is the advertising industry, which is marred by sexism, underrepresentation, and even sexual violence – a problem that has become more highlighted after the #metoo movement. Not only is the influence of women in advertising creativity essential but it also makes way for more representative communication campaigns. Other than the advertising industry, brands must ensure that they are aligned with partners who share their same values and principles and must insist on adherence to those same values. Brands can also provide expertise, training, and other support to the partners in their value chain, as exemplified by the case of the RMG sector in Bangladesh where brands in association with other organizations provided training and better working conditions for women.
Stereotypes. Brands wield great influence in bringing about cultural and societal change. Popular stereotypes such as sexual objectification and harassment have been positively addressed by many brands, which is a step in the right direction. Brands need to continue their march towards breaking down other stereotypes. Women are still seen as lacking leadership capabilities, not dedicated to their work, are only expected to be kind and caring, and demotivated for wanting to be themselves. Such negative biases need to be addressed through extensive campaigning and leading by example.
PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH
A brand is a reflection of its components and its values. Therefore, to be a proponent for change, it must bring about a holistic approach that hits all the internal and external checklists. It’s a long march towards equality, but one that pays off many folds, including solidarity and admiration from those who matter. The positive equity from caring for all its stakeholders, regardless of gender, race, or background, provides an integral pillar of sustainability that brands around the world are coming to appreciate. In this dynamic environment, to be a change leader, brands must ensure they have it within themselves to bring about the change. In other words, brands must walk the walk, if they talk the talk.