International Women’s Day: A pinnacle of false advertising

Talking about gender equality once a year is, quite evidently, not enough writes Executive Marketing Consultant Nina Etienne.

Nina Etienne

Executive Marketing Consultant Nina Etienne


It’s that hallowed time of the year once more. International Women’s Day. 

A day when brands come together to celebrate women. They showcase their commitments to diversity and inclusion agendas, create beautiful black and white mood films of iconic female leaders throughout history. Think Nike’s “Dream Crazier,” P&G’s “#weseeequal,” Amazon’s “incredible women” stunt.

They get their only female C-level leader up on stage to poster child their company’s progress. They talk the talk. 

But do they really walk the walk?

The short answer is no.

Case in point. Last week Australia, for the first time, released data reflecting the gender pay gap at close to 5,000 of the country’s largest companies (every private company with 100 employees or more.) The result? A depressing, yet unsurprising if we’re honest, gap of 30-40% (Workplace Gender Equality Agency)

And are those brands the same ones celebrating women on 8 March? You bet they are. These are the companies reliant on the buying power of women, on the goodwill and support of women. They’re brands who even sell their jewellery, swimwear or activewear to women with messages of female empowerment. 

The irony grates. 

Well, given International Women’s Day is today (8 March) let's open up that Pandora’s box (spot the jewellery brand with a 47% gender pay gap in that sentence) and look at the reality of gender equality through 10 shocking stats that continue to persist despite all those vocal commitments:

  1. You’re still more likely to have a CEO named David or John than a female CEO. The New York Times originally cited this stat (in relation to the name David) in 2018. Some progress has been made as we can now add the name John too.  (Google it)
  2. $407,760 is the salary a 20 year old woman will lose over the course of her career compared to her male counterpart. Even at an entry level in the US, women can already expect to earn 18.4% less on average. (Forbes, 2024)
  3. The only job role in the US where men and women earn equal pay is teaching assistants (Forbes, 2024)
  4. Only 50% of women work vs. 80% of men. Lack of flexibility, discrimination and societal pressure all play their part. (World Bank gender data portal)
  5. Men get 97% of venture capital funding. That’s a shocking barrier to entry for female entrepreneurs. On top only 15% of all VC 'cheque-writers' are women (World Economic Forum, 2024)
  6. Women’s earnings drop by 60% compared to fathers in the 10 years after their first child. That motherhood penalty is alive and kicking. (Columbia University research, 2023)
  7. Women are more likely to get laid off than men. Those tech layoff rounds we see every week are disproportionately affecting women (Axios, 2023)
  8. Women are endemically under-represented in corporate leadership. They represent only 28% of c–level jobs in tech and 37.5% in advertising. (Women Business Collaborative, McKinsey)
  9. Only 26.5% of parliamentarians in single or lower houses across the globe are women (Jan 2023). Women remain underrepresented at all levels of political decision-making worldwide. (UN Women)
  10. 10% of women are forced out of the workforce due to menopause symptoms. Bias, lack of flexibility and job discrimination is rife amongst women who are just at the brink of making it to leadership positions. Talk about timing.  (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2023) 

If you got through that shopping list I hope we can agree that a whole lot more needs to be done to create a truly equal world for women beyond a few emotional adverts and lip-service “commitments”. Here the old adage actions speak louder than words is never more accurate. 

And if we look at the actions of our industry, we don’t fare well. The fact that the gender pay gap rose in the Marketing sector between 2022 to 2023, is revealing.

We’ve had enough international women’s days by now to know that societal norms are replicated in the workplace leading to institutional sexism and bias. But what makes it worse is that our industry is actually reinforcing societal prejudices.. 

Remember those women’s day mood videos I mentioned? Well, they just happen to be the only time that women are represented appropriately in our adverts. Last year, Creative X reviewed 10,000 ads to see how women were represented. And no surprise here readers, 66% of women in those ads were portrayed in traditional domestic or family settings. The percentage of women portrayed in professional settings was only 7%. And women with darker skin tones featured 80% less than women with the lightest skin tones.

Because we should never forget that, as Kimberlé Crenshaw - the lawyer, civil rights activist and intersectional feminist - put it : “all inequality is not created equal.” Women at an intersectional identity suffer even more discrimination at every turn. 

So whilst we’re all talking the good talk about “inspiring inclusion” (this year’s theme for IWD), or “embracing equity” (last year’s theme) or making “commitments” to driving a “gender diversity agenda”, we’re not actually acting on it. We prefer to operate for the majority of the year in a state ranging from blissful ignorance to, worse,  active reinforcement of gender bias.

I’d much rather see those companies cancel their marketing spin and put their money where their mouth is. Let’s beat bias by actually paying women fairly, giving them equal opportunities to be successful (no matter their life stage), transforming our offices into safe spaces for women and fighting societal norms in our advertising creative. Everyday. 

Because talking about gender equality once a year is - quite evidently - not enough. 

[As a brief postscript, there’s an interesting phenomenon afflicting feminist discourse and that is the over-emphasis on data and statistics to back up and prove the narrative. As if what is experienced every day across our androcentric world requires deep factual business cases to make it more “true.”]

Guest Author

Nina Etienne

Executive Marketing Consultant Nina Etienne


Nina is an Executive Marketing Consultant helping companies to spark a step-change in their growth. With close to 20 years experience leading and transforming marketing organisations in both the startup and public arena, Nina uses her deep experience to help companies improve their approach. Most recently she was leading marketing at SumUp, as their Global VP and before that heading up European Marketing for the unicorn fintech, N26. Nina is committed to helping companies be more mindful of, and intentional about, their diversity and inclusion commitments and hopes that we can help build a fairer world for her children to inherit. Nina also writes about marketing, diversity and inclusion topics in her content series “Nina’s Nuggets” and has just launched a podcast on gender in the workplace, called “Same Sh*t, Different Toilet.”