Is Corporate Inc not reading the room?
Now that the buzz across the communication industry on International Women’s Day has died down and I am sure all of you are already prepping for offers on Holi, let’s suss out what the day meant for women in the industry. As people who are often tasked with finding innovative ways to communicate and push brand campaigns on IWD let’s dive into what and how women in the industry really view this day.
To prep for this article, I ran a Linkedin poll before the D-Day and conducted a fiery Twitter chat with 13 strong voices from the community along with having a heart-to-heart conversation with several women in the PR and communication industry across designations who shared their perspective with me. I also dove headfirst into all the chats, webinars, and sessions happening on the day to understand what women were asked.
Views ranged from scathing, hilarious, ironical and downright candid and I share pertinent summarizations of the points made:
Read the Room: Women’s Day is a significant day that marks our struggle towards gender equality in all fields. Brands and marketers have devalued the day by adding discounts and made it into a frivolous holiday. Most women are not interested in it. What they are interested in is getting equal pay and respect. We can buy our own spa days and lunches.
I will be amiss if I don’t acknowledge that each and every one of us (including me) in the communication industry have been a part of creating this mess. However, we also hold the power to set it straight. Over the last decade, women have consciously made an effort to voice their opinions. Be unafraid to call out their own companies and brands they work with on such activation. Personally, I advise clients to be very mindful of what they are putting out on that day and not add to the frivolity of it.
If the trend for the day from the last couple of years is anything to go by, as a woman you will be proud to see so many of us standing up, supporting, and empowering each other.
Leadership Matters: It all stems from the leadership at the top. What is your company culture? How do you define it? How do you implement it? Are the gender inclusive and equality rules applicable across all departments and levels? The leaders of the company have to champion this cause and implemented it from the top. It matters that you actually believe in it and not just use the vision statement to create a favorable reputation. Such reputations are flimsy and are always at high risk of being blown away with the first crisis. 73% of the women on my poll felt that India Inc did not understand what IWD really means and use it only to create PR for themselves on the day.
Representation Matters: Tokenism doesn’t. Have you asked that one woman in your team how she feels or cares about all the PR stories and webinars she is dragged into on this day? Does it boost her confidence or does it make her feel even more alone and singled out in the team? It matters how you choose to make her a representative of your company. Is it for other leadership and subject matter expertise or is she propped up to face the media only on women’s day.
If the woman is comfortable and confident in her position in the team, she will not need to be told to champion the place on any special day. She will do it willingly and encourage more women to join her.
Portrayal by Media Matters: It irks us…it irks us…it irks us! Immensely when media refers to us as ofhusband, ofdaughter, ofmother, ofsister or refer to us as women entrepreneur, female scientist, women doctor. I mean really? We are entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors, engineers, teachers… and more. Being a woman is not a handicap. For all the media championing the cause of women’s day and equality this sensitivity is lost when one reports on a woman. It irks us especially when these such reports are filed by a woman. It irks us when you ask how a male entrepreneur got their first million but you reserve the cooking and family balance questions solely for women. Change the narrative.
Look up how media reported on Nobel prize winners Esther Duflo And Tabitha King’s contributions. ( If you don’t know these women then look them up. I bet you knew them as OfHusband )
Look up how the election trail is covered in our country and the questions posed to candidates of both genders. It will make your blood boil.
Go Beyond IWD: It is not just about one day. What about the other 364 days with no IWD? How you interact with women in your team every single day …makes a difference. When you celebrate her for that one day and the rest of the days you make snide remarks, sexist jokes, mansplain, block her growth, undermine her authority and (my fav) tell her to lighten up…the tokenism on IWD seems even more hollow.
Larger Repercussions: Brands spend a lot of money understanding their target audience and how to create a conversation with them that will create loyalists. They spend across categories and are responsible for nurturing growth in new media. Where the money goes is where media grows. These spenders hold a lot of sway on developing minds and can be a generation’s refrain for a subject. While being the poster child for bad is appealing for some brands, they have the power to use their voice to create a positive movement. The Bad or good image route is your call. Doesn’t it stand to reason then that each brand should be more mindful of what they put out there. Are they creating a positive or toxic world for the future generations? What is the legacy you are leaving behind? Should we not be questioning them on this. I must add that I have had this conversation with many a brand and save a few most have looked at me with condescending smirk telling me to stop being so idealistic and grow up. This is apparently not the way the world works. Well, the world has changed.
And if you are not reading the room then each of these brands is setting itself for the death knell as they cling to their love for the familiar.
Learn The New Language: Most women will continue to leverage this day because it still holds a lot of power. This is earmarked for the female of our species, so why let go of the opportunity to leverage it to change the conversation and throw the spotlight on what really matters. If this is the day corporate Inc and the general audience will look for ways to celebrate us, then like a true marketing pro, leverage it to start a conversation or change one on gender equality and inclusion in all spheres. You have their attention. Leverage the day to throw the spotlight on the women in your circle and cheer them on. Start with this day and continue through the year till you can keep adding more to this list.
P.S: The reason I did not get a chance to pen down and put up this piece on IWD because I was busy updating pages, planning chats, chairing sessions that were raising the right questions and yes … using the celebration of the day to cheer on my tribe of women in the industry and throwing a spotlight on them.
– Tarunjeet Rattan