Brand sincerity and International Women’s Day

If communications is 90% timing, International Women’s Day is one date in the calendar that few brands are prepared to pass up.  This year was no different. 

At both local and international level, whole swaths of brands, lobby groups, representative bodies and not-for-profits sought to harness the day as a precious platform to celebrate women’s achievements, highlight their struggles and help forge a more inclusive, gender-equal society.

Some approached it with authenticity, using it to shine a light on their own great work and long-term commitments to gender parity

Others were more opportunistic in their intentions.  While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, an organisation must be confident that its IWD declarations are consistent with its own brand, company culture and general employee and client experience.  

Equally, IWD should not be interpreted as an open-ended celebration of femininity, but rather as a call to action for accelerating gender parity.  Therefore anything that appears too shameless, superficial or sales driven will be quickly (and justifiably) called out by the media and commentators alike.

So who got it right?

At an Irish level, the Central Bank published a report detailing the gender breakdown of senior appointments across Irish financial services since 2012.  The findings were hardly surprising, with the vast majority of senior appointments dominated by men. 

In publishing the report, the Central Bank knew its own gender balance would come in for scrutiny, but to its credit, a third of its senior management team are female and three of its ten-person commission are also female.  This was something that was positively commented on by a number of media outlets, including The Irish Times and RTE.      

Liberty Insurance hosted its third annual #SupportHerSport Conference in Croke Park.  The conference, chaired by RTE’s Joanne Cantwell, featured contributors drawn from the highest echelons of Irish sport, business, media and politics.  Together, they identified and discussed new approaches to changing attitudes and driving participation in female sport.  This authenticity made sure it was brilliantly received by media, athletes and attendees.

Again Liberty has credit in the bank.  The insurer is a long-time advocate of women’s sport.  It was the first sponsor of the Camogie Association and is the title sponsor of the Liberty Insurance Camogie Championship and Liberty Insurance Camogie All Stars.  More importantly, its brand values mirror its company culture, whereby 40 percent of its senior management team are female. 

Looking beyond Ireland, pedestrians in New York were treated to a new addition on the Manhattan sidewalk. The sculpture, titled “The Fearless Girl,” was commissioned by State Street Global Advisors as part of its campaign to emphasise that companies with greater gender balance in senior positions perform better financially. 

State Street is another that practises what it preaches.  It is currently lobbying some 3,500 companies, all of whom State Street has invested in, to take steps to increase the number of women on their corporate boards.  In short, the organisation has recognised an issue and harnessed the day to highlight its solution.

State Street’s deputy global chief investment officer, Lori Heinel also pre-emptively utilised this novel tactic to talk about the bank’s own need to do better in this area, thus negating any potential criticism of its underwhelming gender ratios at senior management level.

To summarise, these organisations understand the value of greater gender balance in the workplace and are taking clear, tangible steps to progress this, both internally and externally. Others approach the date in a more opportunistic fashion, and generally are exposed and slapped down just as quickly. 

In other words, there are no short-cuts to building a benign or responsible brand and equally there is no substitute for sincerity.