President and Co-Founder of OBERLAND, a purpose-driven agency and certified B-Corp. Drew creates brands that drive social progress.
As co-founder and president of a purpose-driven advertising agency, I have always made a conscious effort to make OBERLAND a diverse, welcoming and equitable place of work. But at the end of the day, I am still a White man who runs an agency with another White man. So, talking about gender equality has always come with a grain of salt.
This month is Women’s History Month, and it’s time to get past any discomfort of being a man talking about supporting women. Here are a few tips for other male leaders, employees of male-owned brands, and any brand for that matter, to ensure we are advocating for women and gender equity this month and beyond.
1. Recognize the value of women in business.
First and foremost, it’s vital to recognize the immense value that female employees and leaders can bring to your business. McKinsey found that profits and share performance of companies with women in leadership positions can be nearly 50% higher than those without. A 2018 study even found that women, on average, complete 10% more work than men.
We’ve seen this evidence come to fruition in our own agency. We have more female than male employees as a whole, an expanded leadership team that includes diverse, female leaders, and we have representation from many different communities and perspectives. As a result, our business is grower faster than ever before.
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Despite all this evidence, global powerhouse brands are falling short when it comes to appointing female leaders. The latest list of CEOs at Fortune Global 500 companies includes only 13 women — and all of them are Caucasian. Fortune 500 brands: please, appoint female leaders, especially BIPOC female leaders. Your actions set the trends and norms for brands big and small across the globe. And your profits will thank you.
2. Focus on your brand’s internal practices to further gender equity.
New research by our agency found that American consumers want brands to prioritize improving internal practices to further gender equity. This can come in many forms — from appointing women to more leadership positions, providing equal growth opportunities for those of all genders, to ensuring comfortable maternity leave policies.
One example of how we’ve done this in our own agency is by updating our Employee Handbook with a new lactation policy to better support working mothers. We also conducted a thorough Respect in the Workplace training for all employees. Remember, it’s not all about your external campaigns, actions and messaging. You need loyal employees to thrive.
3. Listen to women; they bring a fresh perspective to the table.
This tip doesn’t need scientific evidence. Anyone who has a mother, sister, wife or girlfriend knows that women tend to be analytical and thoughtful, and simply put, they think differently than men. As a business leader, it’s important to consult leaders and employees of all genders, as well as ethnicities and backgrounds, for their opinions and recommendations. From creative ideas to business deals, this exercise can provide a holistic and balanced approach to all matters, ensuring your brand is always acting thoughtfully and respectfully.
4. Recognize gender stereotypes and denounce them in content and advertising.
Our research revealed that more than three-quarters of Americans believe advertising perpetuates traditional stereotypes about women. Needless to say, it’s time to change this perception — and it’s up to advertisers and brands to do so.
Nike is a great example of a brand that has defied stereotypes about women time and time again. For example, in 2015, the brand launched its #betterforit campaign, which highlighted unwavering support for female athletes across decades. The brand has continued to produce campaigns with top female athletes, such as Serena Williams, to defy stereotypes surrounding women in sports and to inspire the next generation of young female athletes.
Let’s think about representing women in the roles they fulfill on a day-to-day basis but that are still viewed as “male-oriented:” leading a company meeting, playing catch with a child, owning a business, changing a lightbulb, shoveling the driveway — the list goes on.
5. Reduce the pay gap.
In 2020, women, on average, made only $0.81 for every dollar a man made. The contrast is even starker for minority and BIPOC women: As of September 2020, Black women are typically paid just $.63, Native American women, $0.60, and LatinX women, $0.55 for every dollar paid to White men.
To push forward meaningful and tangible gender equity, brands must close the gender pay gap. In 2018, we conducted a wage gap analysis to ensure there were no disparities in pay based on gender, race, ethnicity, age and/or sexual orientation. Our audit did not uncover a systemic wage gap or structural bias but did highlight some issues we felt we needed to address, including a consistent policy for raises and promotions. This work is ongoing at the agency; our handbook is audited every two years, and we will conduct a wage gap assessment on a similar schedule. I recommend any and all companies and brands to undergo this exercise.
No matter your gender, professional title or industry, one thing is clear: it is up to each and every one of us to push forward gender equity. Not only during March but year-round with tangible words and actions that inspire others to do the same.
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Author: Drew Train, Forbes Councils Member