March 14, 2019

Commitments to women should be every day, not just one

As a women-led firm, every day is International Women’s Day (IWD) for us. That said, March 8, when the world officially marks IWD, is a moment to collectively confront staggering gaps in gender parity, and celebrate powerful women changing the world.

Countless organizations promoted this year’s theme, #BalanceForBetter. Yet, as we counsel clients, without a significant commitment to women’s issues or a history of supporting gender parity, taking a stand on IWD seems inauthentic and fleeting.

Take McDonald’s. Last year, the brand flipped its golden arches upside-down, turning its M into a W. Clever, yes. Meaningful? Not at all. There were no gender parity commitments behind the stunt, and backlash ensued.

McDonald’s flipped its arches again this year. But this time, the company concurrently announced BETTER TOGETHER, a global gender balance and diversity strategy. The move received mostly positive feedback from the media and social impact experts, both for the company’s commitment and for its transparency in admitting the 2018 misstep.

Here are few other brands that got it right this IWD:

Brawny celebrated year four of its #StrengthHasNoGender campaign, which highlights past and present women breaking barriers. The campaign is part of a long-term partnership with Girls, Inc. (and replaces Brawny’s husky male mascot with a group of women).

Budweiser committed to create more gender-balanced advertising, starting by reimagining its “ads of the past.” was accompanied by a partnership with the organization See Her 2020, which advocates for the accurate portrayal of women in advertising. 

Dick’s Sporting Goods funded girls-related Sports Matter projects on DonorsChoose.org, a crowd-funding platform for U.S. classrooms. Sports Matter is Dick’s long-term commitment to youth sports. 

Dove Chocolate created a new African marketplace to support female entrepreneurs, part of a partnership with CARE. The marketplace will provide local women with a place to both sell their goods and organize community meetings. The goal? Help women achieve financial independence and reinvest in cocoa-growing regions. 

PepsiCo gave $18.2M to Care to help “close the crop gap” and help women meet the company’s growing supply chain needs and feed the world. It includes voting on videos to inform and engage people around the issue.

Not only are the above examples backed by meaningful commitments, they’re brand-aligned. It makes sense that Dick’s would fund sports programs and Dove would support women entrepreneurs in cocoa-growing communities. 

Less compelling are the brands that simply celebrated their female employees (Walmart, Old Navy) launched one-day donation campaigns and one-off products (looking at you, Soda Stream). They’re well-intentioned efforts, but they feel hollow and inauthentic.

Smart organizations use IWD to spotlight efforts to support and celebrate women and their rights every day of the year. The organizations that miss the mark use IWD to draw attention to themselves on a single day with a feel-good pro-female message and little substance behind it. 

It makes sense to see Action Against Hunger speaking out on women’s issues, since the NGO has a deep commitment to the cause. In contrast, London’s National Gallery explored the representation of women in its holdings, asking, “In a collection of over 2,300 paintings spanning the 13th to early 20th century, why are there so few, 21 to be precise, by women?” It’s less clear what steps it plans to take to promote #BalanceforBetter.

One-off efforts are, bluntly, a waste of money and resources. Imagine if a fraction of a brand’s IWD advertising budget went instead to support an NGO advancing women’s rights or to change the organization’s policies and practices. That’s real social impact.

IWD isn’t going away any time soon, and while it is a single day, the organizing body behind it promotes change year-round. Now, we want to see even more brands and organizations following suit. It seems obvious, but the way organizations treat women matters. From pay and benefits to creating gender-balanced products and services to the diversity of their boards and the art on the walls all should promote #BalanceforBetter. 

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