Thought Leadership

IWD needs communication through demonstration

We asked industry leaders if brands need to do more to place action at the heart of their approach to International Women’s Day

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


Deeds not words. In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia set up the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Well over a century later the organization's motto remains a rallying cry as the brand bonanza of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month approaches.

The Gender Pay Gap Bot highlighted this gap between talk and action, retweeting organizations which marked International Women’s Day on social media with the reality of their gender pay gap. Talk is cheap, yet the cost of that gender pay gap is anything but.

Just as the original Suffragette movement focused on the advancement of the few, corporate feminism has historically lacked intersectionality. Industry organization Bloom recently underlined the power of an intersectional approach, with the biggest consultation into women’s work-life balance through an intersectional lens.

The research lifted the lid on the mounting crisis facing women in the creative industries. While leaders wax lyrical about the importance of ‘water cooler’ moments, women with caring responsibilities are drowning under the economic and emotional pressure of return to office mandates. 

According to the research 93% of women say a lack of work-life balance has negatively impacted their mental health. Elizabeth Anyaegbuna, President of Bloom, explained: “The data confirms many women shoulder a disproportionate burden, especially those facing intersectional challenges.”

The data underlines that the days of ‘raising awareness’ rather than creating solutions to combat everyday sexism and gender inequality in the workplace are over. Real world challenges demand more than a hashtag to solve them.

With these real world challenges in mind we asked industry leaders will International Women’s Day 2024 finally be the year brands embrace communication through demonstration?

Caroline Miller

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Managing Director

Indigo Pearl

While it appears that women's equality is progressing at a glacial pace with the World Economic Forum predicting another 130 years for the gender pay gap to close, the message is getting through to brands: people want companies to act on women's rights and equality, not just talk about it.

Taking real, meaningful steps is more important than just throwing out a hashtag every March.

Imagine a world where companies support women's causes, promote more women into leadership positions, and ensure that everyone is treated equally at their company.

If brands are simply performing rather than enacting actual change, social media can be brutal to them. It's no longer enough to talk the talk, you must walk the walk.

A company that shows a genuine commitment to making change, not just on International Women's Day, but all year round, will gain a lot of respect and loyalty from its customers. In today's world, that's gold. Let's hope 2024 is the year brands do what they say and make a difference.

Sonia Figone

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Head of Delivery & Operations

Cheil UK

In the past, many brands have utilised advertising and social media campaigns to showcase their solidarity with women during International Women's Day.

However, a notable shift towards action-oriented approaches has emerged, driven by women demanding more than mere symbolic gestures from brands.

Companies like Dove and Nike are actively supporting women in sports through their platforms, while tech giants such as Google and Microsoft are helping the next generation with mentorship initiatives and coding classes aimed at narrowing the gender gap in emerging tech sectors.

Yet, in 2024 genuine change necessitates more than just surface-level gestures. True progress requires fostering gender equality within organisations, whether it's rectifying the gender pay gap or increasing the representation of women in top-leadership roles. Initiatives like scholarship programs and mentorship opportunities for girls are crucial steps towards meaningful advancement.

Until brands prioritise such tangible actions over mere communication, the journey towards gender equality remains incomplete.

Following the leading examples of big organisations, it’s time for all brands to step up and continue forward with this commitment all year long.

Frankie Knowles

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Creative Strategist

Maverick Media

International Women’s Day is important for so many people globally. The day marks our commitment to fighting for equality, equity, inclusion, diversity, and celebrates the achievements of women and other minorities throughout history.

The day started in 1911, so my hope isn’t that brands embrace demonstration this year, my hope is that they commit long-term. We have to admit that we’ve become a little complacent in recent decades. With the advent of social media, it’s easier to join in or amplify conversation and ideas. It’s even more cost-efficient. However, IWD shouldn't be seen as something to highlight once a year. It is a fight many people are having on a day-to-day basis through their personal, organized, cultural, and political lives. It’s one that is exhausting and requires resources.

If they haven’t yet, brands should use 2024 to include IWD and other important events in their fiscal year and long-term business objectives. Action and demonstration should be a long-term commitment. So rather than answer “Will 2024 be the year?”, my hope is that in five years’ time, we’ll look back and see the progress we’ve made as a collective.

Jenny Mitton

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Managing Partner and Women's Sport Lead

M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment

Maybe it’s because we’re in the world of marketing, but International Women’s Day for me has become a moment for calling out brands for tokenistic and opportunistic marketing vs celebrating women.

God, it’s depressing writing that.

Do I think brands will embrace communication through demonstration? Some will and a lot won’t. Even with the knowledge the equal pay bot will be looking out for their tweets.

There’s more focus on calling brands out vs celebrating those who are making a difference. Although these posts are not well thought through, many are harmless, and they don’t deserve our energy.

So what does communication through demonstration look like?

A brand which has made the biggest investment in women’s football in England to date, ensuring the domestic elite game can thrive.

A brand which alongside the FA has committed to providing girls with access to football in every school in England by 2025.

A brand which recognises the life skills (confidence, teamwork, leadership) girls will be missing out on by not having access to football.

From the grassroots to the elite, Barclays is the biggest supporter of women’s and girls’ football in England. Simply because they believe in equity. That’s something to celebrate.

It’s not often you’ll hear this about a bank. But on IWD, be more Barclays.

Kirsty Hathaway

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Executive Creative Director

JOAN London

In our growing digital age, brands are facing more pressure than ever to show up authentically and elicit real long-term change when it comes to societal issues and events. According to the UN Women's 2023 report, at the current rate of progress, it will take a staggering 286 years for the world to achieve gender equality. So, while International Women’s Day is a day of recognition, reflection and conversation, a one-off push of communication or even a campaign launched for a single day or month of the year won’t necessarily speed up the process of gender parity. But that’s not a reason to not celebrate and embrace, so long as brands are in it for the long run.

According to consumer research platform Quantilope, 63% of Gen X and 76% of Gen Z expect their most-loved brands to address diversity and inclusion - not just in the workplace, but at home and in culture too. And while most brands will show their support to women around the world through performative feminism, such as a ‘we appreciate you’ social media post, real change will be ignited by the few brands that are actually pushing the boat out and advocating for equity for the entire year. And creatives and advertisers play an important role in shaping the empty rhetoric of awareness raising into campaigns, narratives and action all year round.

Last year saw many brands launch fantastic campaigns, such as Häagen-Dazs, which launched the Rose Project: a $100,000 bursary to support unsung women, a global rebrand and the biggest free scoop giveaway in the brand’s history. But the true success this year will lie with those brands who continue to campaign and advocate for equality for 365 days.

Luz Erhardt

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Chief Client Officer

Saffron Brand Consultants

There won’t be one definitive year that brands embrace communication through demonstration. But that doesn't mean that I'm not groundedly optimistic. Each year we're seeing more momentum towards understanding what brands are and the roles they play in our world.

A brand is the promise of an experience delivered, not just on one day. And there are plenty that are already great at promoting and generating awareness through mass comms, such as Citrix. Already a leading software company, they empower young women in tech through partnerships with Girls Who Code, involvement in educational programs, and fundraising efforts. But the challenge companies really have is to prove their intent, create impact and make a difference for employees, customers and those they interact with.

Brands that are true to themselves are thinking about what International Women's Day means for them year-round. And how they can truthfully communicate and deliver their commitment to inclusion, progress, celebration, and more. There's a palpable sense that brands are increasingly recognising the need to go beyond surface-level commitments, and instead actively demonstrate their dedication to gender equality.

There are many positive examples across private sector industries of setting gender equality goals. For example, Carbon, a 3D printing tech company led by CEO Ellen Kullman, is actively increasing women’s representation, aiming for 50% in leadership which makes it stand out in a male-dominated field. So, while the World Economic Forum's research projects that it will take another 131 years to close the gender gap, there’s ongoing progress being made.

Holly Maguire

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Chief Growth Officer

Design Bridge and Partners, a WPP design agency

In a world of radical transparency, the decade old phrase ‘acts not ads’ has never been more relevant. We believe in the importance of creating unity between what your brand is saying and what your business is doing for every audience, from your consumer to your C-suite.

International Women’s Day presents an opportunity to consider the value of women across the entire business – top to bottom and end-to-end. And there is much to consider: in the boardroom, only 10 of the FTSE 100 have a female CEO, 79% of employers stated their median hourly pay was higher for men than women, the average childcare cost for a 2-year-old is an astonishing £14.5k per year, and almost a quarter of UK women have considered quitting due to menopause symptoms. Let’s also not forget the connections forged outside of organisations where brands must factor in suppliers, gender neutral pricing, representative data for insight and innovation and who appears in the ads.

IWD is a useful reminder to consider how far we’ve come and what still needs to be done. Brands can celebrate progress - and get the props they deserve - whilst openly committing their business to ‘acts’ that create a better future for all.

Jade Fitzgerald

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Experience Design Director


For many, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to showcase and celebrate their pursuit of true gender equality in the workplace, but we all know that words without backed-up evidence don’t resonate effectively with a modern and socially-conscious audience.

For us, making design more inclusive is a primary goal to address this challenge. We are glad to see that across the industries more brands recognise the fact that women don’t want to live in a world designed entirely by and for men. This is especially important in our digital age where AI and modern technology directly reflect the designers’ input, so not including women in the development process limits the technology’s ability to understand and process things with a female perspective.

While the tech sector is improving each year when it comes to gender diversity, there is still a long road ahead. Attracting and retaining female talent is vital, but for that the industry has to actively make it more accessible. Flexible working, the ability to work compressed hours and the support of strong parental leave policies are tangible ways for businesses to show their support.

You also have to know where you stand to improve. That’s why we set up Beyond’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council (DEIC) to identify and address potential areas of inequality on our journey towards a more inclusive workplace. This has resulted in enhanced maternity and paternity benefits, including for surrogacy and adoption, and shared parental leave - not to mention the importance of supporting those returning to work through our flexible working policies - helping us better empower the brilliant women in our teams in the next chapter of their lives.