Branding for women, by women
March 8 will mark another International Women’s Day — celebrated annually around the world with the goal of bringing attention to the challenges faced by women, ranging from inequality and reproductive rights to gender-based violence. At ONWRD, which is women-founded, women-led and consists of a team of talented women, this day is especially important, as we recognize the spaces that women can and should occupy not only in the broader society, but in the corporate world too.
Every year, people across The Bahamas and the world recognize International Women’s Day, wearing purple ribbons, noting the accomplishments of women, making promises to ensure a better world for the women and girls of tomorrow. But as the weeks and months pass, the pledges and momentum die down in many circles, not to be reignited until March of next year.
This year’s theme, “Embrace Equity”, speaks to the need for a concerted and sustainable effort across society to do better for women.
Embracing equity means seeking to level the playing field and ensure that everyone has access to the same resources, opportunities, and rights. It involves recognizing systemic gender bias and actively working to counteract it with policy changes, programs, and initiatives that foster equality. It also means changing cultural norms and expectations around gender roles.
What Embracing Equity Means for your Brand
In the world of branding, women have historically been underrepresented in employment and misrepresented in marketing and communication material. For a long time, female voices have been muffled when it comes to creativity and innovation within these fields. And that needs to change – not just for the sake of progress, but also to create more powerful and effective brands.
Having equitable representation of gender in the branding process provides a variety of benefits. From better insights into consumer behavior to incisive critiques of advertising campaigns, gender diversity positively impacts a brand’s bottom line.
Women bring a unique perspective to the table, and female-led teams can improve brand engagement.
Female consumers also respond more positively to messaging that reflects their needs and desires. Brands are missing out on an opportunity to better connect with these consumers when they don’t include women in the branding process.
When it comes to creating campaigns targeted at women, it’s essential to have input from female creatives and executives. This is the only way to ensure that these campaigns speak authentically to this demographic and drive positive consumer responses.
Starting from within
In order for brands to remain competitive, they must strive for equity and inclusion in their branding process. This means not only recognizing the importance of having a gender-balanced team, but also actively recruiting women to become involved in all aspects of branding.
With an equitable representation of genders in the branding process, brands can create more effective campaigns that better connect with consumers. Helping women’s voices be heard begins with creating opportunities for them within the industry.
Equity within a brand begins at the core, in the internal beliefs and the actions that impact employees. Here are some key areas businesses can focus on to ensure that they are building a culture of equity from the inside out:
Establish Clear Policies Around Gender Equality
Put in place policies that explicitly state that all employees should be treated equally regardless of gender. This will help to keep everyone on the same page and provide clear guidance for management when it comes to making hiring decisions or addressing issues related to gender discrimination.
Promote from Within
Provide training and mentorship opportunities so that female staff can develop their skills and advance in their careers. Make sure promotions are based on merit alone and that women have equal access to senior positions.
Commit to Flexibility
Where possible, offer flexible working hours and remote work opportunities so that female employees can better manage their personal commitments without facing a penalty in terms of career progression.
Provide Paid Family Leave
Ensure that women and men are given the ability to take time off for family-related issues, such as caring for a newborn or sick relative. This will show your employees that you value their family commitments and encourage them to remain with your company in the long term.
Foster an Inclusive Culture
Create an environment where diversity is seen as a strength, where each individual employee’s unique talents are valued, and where everyone feels comfortable expressing their opinions.
Women are consumers, too. So, it’s important, not only from a moral standpoint, but also from a bottom line perspective, that brands get their messaging right when it comes to representing and engaging women.
Integrate Women into your Brand’s Messaging
When creating campaigns and messaging, ensure that women are at the forefront of your material, in both quantity and quality. Feature women of various backgrounds in a positive light to truly reflect the diversity of your customer base. But be wary of whether or not this representation is reinforcing stereotypical gender roles. Women should be included in far more than advertisements about cleaning supplies, grocery shopping and motherhood. They are active participants in all sectors of society and should be treated that way in marketing and communication material.
Listen to Your Customers
Take time to get feedback from female customers about what resonates with them and use this information when developing branding materials. Find out what their values and interests are and provide services and solutions to suit those needs. This not only paves the way for the creation of more relatable campaigns, but also for increased customer satisfaction.
Support Female-Focused Charities
Corporate social responsibility is a key part of many companies’ overall branding. Brands can show their support for women’s causes by making donations and finding other ways to support female-focused charities and events that celebrate women’s achievements and progress. This demonstrates to potential customers that a brand is invested in creating a more equitable society.
The Importance of a Holistic Approach
The focus on any efforts by brands to include and empower women should be holistic. People are paying attention, not just on International Women’s Day.
Nike is one example of a brand that has in recent years kept women’s empowerment at the forefront of its marketing material. Nike’s “Dream Further” campaign for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup was widely praised.
But just months later, the company was facing a lawsuit alleging instances of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. In the same year, top U.S. sprinter, Allyson Felix, labeled Nike “disrespectful and tone deaf” after she and two of her former teammates, Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher, publicly told of their negative experiences with Nike while pregnant. Felix said that when she was negotiating a new contract with Nike while pregnant, the company offered her a 70 percent pay cut and was not supportive of the maternity protections she was seeking.
The fallout resulted in Nike’s beautiful advertising campaign being overshadowed by its real-world practices, as the brand faced accusations of hypocrisy and “gender-washing”. And though the brand remains one of the most successful in the athletic industry, it’s still dealing with the fallout from these allegations.
And Felix eventually signed with Athleta instead, which identifies “Women for Women” as one of its core values, noting that the brand is a team of women “committed to celebrating the power of women and girls everywhere. Since signing with Athleta, Felix has helped to develop an initiative that makes it easier for professional athlete women with children to travel for competition.
If companies truly care about women’s rights and freedoms, support for that must be consistent and holistic. And while brands should care about women because it’s the right thing to do, the value benefits are also significant. Companies that demonstrate a commitment to gender equity attract customers who share similar values and ensure their success in the long-term.