Last Sunday, March 8th was International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day gives us pause to reflect on and to celebrate the contributions that women make to the world. It is also a yearly worldwide call to action for gender equality. This year’s theme is #EachforEqual, built on the idea of collective individualism — that our ‘individual actions, conversations, behaviours, and mindsets can have an impact on larger society.’ The number of brands participating in International Women’s Day has dramatically accelerated in recent years, as brands navigate what their individual contributions to feminism should be. This has been rocky territory, as each year, many brands struggle to strike the right chord.
There are a couple guiding principles that separate showing authentic solidarity from co-opting an important socio-political movement for profit. Firstly, before weighing in on the conversation, brands must do a gender equality audit of their own business practices. Take the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue erected on Wallstreet the eve of International Women’s Day 2017. An original outpouring of praise, and a number of Cannes Lions Awards, turned to outrage when it was discovered that the firm who commissioned the stature was, in fact, in the midst of settling a gender pay discrimination lawsuit with 308 of its top female employees. Brazen hypocrisy is not a good look.
As more and more brands understand today’s value-driven consumer, they realise that being seen to support feminist causes is good for business. However, if a brand is using the platform of International Women’s Day to engender consumer support and boost sales, they should also be donating a substantial part of their profits to an organisation doing the work that directly benefits women. To be frank, they need to put their money where their mouth is. Net-a-Porter, invited 20 prominent brands and female designers to design 20 limited edition T-Shirts for International Women’s Day. The T-shirts range in retail price from $52 to $295. Most importantly, 100% of their profits go directly to Women for Women International.
It is also important that a brand’s good intentions extend beyond just one day. In 2018, McDonalds flipped its famous gold arches into a ‘W’ for ‘women.’ Shell Oil attempted a similar strategy this year by changing their logo to ‘She’ll’, a move that quickly faced mockery and criticism online. This is because empty gestures such as these come across as a quick grab for publicity. Compare that to the actions of KIND, a snack bar brand with a growing market share in the US. They have thrown their support behind the Equal Rights Amendment, an amendment to the US Constitution that would protect Americans from gender discrimination, which was first proposed in 1972, but has yet to be ratified. They have created ‘EqualityBot’ which allows people to easily text message their government representatives to ‘Pass the ERA.’ Bumble, the revolutionary dating app based on empowering women to ‘make the first move’, has seized International Women’s Day to promote Bumble Bizz, the networking component of their app. Research has confirmed how critical networking is to the success of women in business. This is a natural fit for Bumble, as gender equality is their mission 365 days a year.
Brands should value the perspectives of their female employees and consumers beyond March. Gender equality is serious and urgent, and brands should reflect this by making genuine and credible commitments. If they can’t do these things then, clear and simple, International Women’s Day is not theirs to celebrate.