Cultivating gender equality 

SeeHer explored how to foster gender equality with leading marketers from Walmart, McDonald’s and more.

Eighty-four percent of consumers believe that media and marketing is crucial to shaping gender roles, but only 16% of women feel that media portrays them correctly, according to Christine Guilfoyle, CEO of SeeHer,

Guilfoyle made the remarks at an event at the Contagious villa in Cannes on 21 June. SeeHer, which has championed real visibility for women and girls in marketing and media since 2016, was co-hosting an event on gender equality with Google and Publicis Groupe, and Guifoyle was hosting a panel discussion with senior marketers.

She began by asking the panellists how they kept diversity at the forefront of their creative work while dealing with other pressures.

William White, CMO of Walmart, said that, as a brand that serves most of America, it is important for Walmart to show up for its customers in a way that makes everyone feel seen, heard and welcomed in stores. Elizabeth Campbell, VP of field and culture marketing at McDonald’s agreed, emphasising her brand’s function as a community restaurant.

How, then, do brands and agencies get representation right? E.T. Franklin, global chief strategy and fluency officer at Spark Foundry, spoke about the importance of baking inclusivity into all steps of the process. ‘If you don’t start from the beginning, you can’t pull it through to the end,’ she said. She also touted the benefits of large data sets that can be drawn upon to help capture what it means to people to have a certain identity.

Karen Sauder, president of global client and agency solutions at Google, emphasised the importance of creativity in interpreting the data. ‘It’s not just about representation,’ she said. ’It’s about how gender comes to life.’ To get a sense of the current state of gender equality in advertising, her team used AI to review all the adverts on YouTube last year. They found that, while women were better represented physically than in the past, the roles they performed remained stereotypical.

Guilfoyle added that SeeHer’s research showed that ads which showed men and women in counter-stereotypical roles tended to outperform their counterparts. She then asked the panel how the structure of their teams contributed to their diversity efforts.

For White, the makeup of a team is crucial. Two thirds of the Walmart marketing team are women, a ratio which holds even for senior roles. White also said that when working with agency partners, he looks for teams that are representative of Walmart’s customer base to work on their account. Walmart also started a diversity & inclusion (D&I) review board a few years ago, consisting of volunteers who vet campaigns at several different stages of the process. According to White, not only had the team improved their campaigns, it also helped sharpen the D&I acumen of the whole team.

The conversation then turned towards the importance of accountability. Campbell admitted that McDonalds had slipped out of culture a few years ago because it had lost touch with its consumer base. The brand was able to successfully build relevance again by working on its internal education, which included adding new directives to its brand guidelines to reflect how McDonalds consumers see themselves, not how McDonalds sees them. McDonald’s also signed up to the ‘Double the Line’ initiative, a pledge to involve more underrepresented communities in the production process.

Guilfoyle then invited the panel to share an example of powerful creative work. Franklin mentioned her time on the jury at the Gerety awards, an advertising award with an all-female jury. ‘The female gaze brings a level of nuance to it that sometimes is overlooked,’ she said. ‘And when it's overlooked, great work is also overlooked.’

Sauder was then asked about the data she had that could show the results of inclusive creative. She praised the ability to learn quickly through analytics what was resonating with consumers. She also encouraged creatives to be bold in telling the stories of underrepresented voices.

‘Gen Z are people of the world - they grew up with access to all kinds of stories on YouTube, so they want to see that,’ she said.

Campbell emphasised the importance of curiosity and having a channel to ask questions about representation. She said that a tactic that has allowed McDonald’s to be flexible and respond to suggestions is capturing so much content that they are able to make the necessary changes if it’s not quite right.

Campbell also said that she had been pleasantly surprised by the internal response to the brand’s diversity initiatives. She shared that employees were the first to express their gratitude that they were being better represented in advertising, and were the campaigns’ biggest champions to the consumer.

Franklin agreed, citing the reaction to Publicis’ Once and For All coalition, an industry-wide initiative to develop ethnically diverse suppliers, which has been well-received among staff and clients alike. She ended the talk with a call to work with others in achieving industry-wide gender equity: ’When we all solve for it together, we all benefit together.’

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