We are in the year of the woman. Women are on the rise. Wait. 1992 was the Year of the Woman. And, 2018 was also dubbed the Year of the Woman. Both years were similar and saw incredible gains in female elected government officials, as well as gripping testimony against male supreme court nominations.
In 2018, a record 36 new women were elected to Congress, joining 66 female incumbents who were re-elected to the House. The rise and continuation of powerful movements such as #MeToo, Equal Pay for Equal Work and #TimesUp also helped give a voice to women. Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault testimony against the Kavanaugh supreme court nomination was watched by more than 20 million viewers. Women took the streets, marching again with millions of other women who marched in the first Women’s March on January 21, 2017 the day after the new president who was plagued with alleged sexual misconduct was inaugurated. Women seized the opportunity to fight and advocate for themselves, their daughters and other women, proving that women’s issues matter.
2018 mirrored 1992’s Year of Woman, where similarly, the nation watched the testimony of Anita Hill who made claims of sexual harassment against the then supreme court nominee, Clarence Thomas. The House elected 24 new women and re-elected 23 female incumbents, some of whom are still members of the House today. President Clinton was elected while being dogged by allegations of infidelity.
Given the current climate in America, some marketers have seized the opportunity to push and change age-old brand messaging. Old brands such as Gillette with their “Toxic Masculinity” viral video attempted to ride the tides and update their 117-year old brand with new messaging asking consumers “Is this the best a man can get?” Nike took on age-old female stereotypes with their “Dream Crazier” ad to take a stand. Both brands saw boycott threats, and both did not withdraw their ads or issue apologies. Others have asked whether brands riding the tides of femininity are genuine or just trying to capitalize on women empowerment. I’d ask, does it matter?
Where does that leave us in 2019? Even with the gains in government and feminism, the reality is that men still hold the majority of elected government roles and heads of large corporations. Women only make up 5% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and just 23% serve in the Senate and 20% in the House all the while more than half of the US population is female. According to Forbes, “Women are a huge and largely untapped resource” and according to Harvard Business Review, women, when rated by their peers, bosses, direct reports and others were rated as better overall leaders than their male counterparts, outperforming men in 12 of the 16 competencies measured. Within the ad world, women have made some gains, but still only 0.1 percent of ad agencies in the US with national or international accounts are founded by women, according to AdAge.
Working at a privately-owned woman-started agency is in itself an anomaly, and a privilege I don’t take lightly. In addition, we are a small shop with zero layers– freeing us from layers and bureaucracy, allowing us to be focused and get it done with clarity and vision—far from same ‘ol same ‘ol. So while brands like Gillette and others are talking the talk and riding the “Women on the Rise” messaging tide, they should also look to agencies who walk the walk.