Feminism hit mainstream culture in a big way this year. Although some people are sick of hearing about it, most of us want to make it louder and more powerful than ever—and, you know, actually see some change.
Businesses have a responsibility not only to help their bottom line, but also to positively impact society. And guess what? Consumers take notice—switching to and even paying more for brands that support causes they care about. As a company that prioritizes women's leadership as part of its mission, AOL believes brands can do a lot to help progress gender equality. Here's how:
Align with content that empowers women
Women's content isn't just about perfecting the smoky eye look or making the fluffiest pancakes for brunch. Brands can change the paradigm by aligning with content that highlights groundbreaking women and confronts existing inequality. For example, this year the video storytelling platform MAKERS premiered a new series, Women Who Make America, focused on trailblazing women in such male-dominated industries as comedy, defense and politics. Similarly, Cosmopolitan magazine proved that women can be both feminine and feminists. And the blog Jezebel put the spotlight on women's everyday struggles to demand change. By aligning with empowering content such as this, brands can inspire women instead of perpetuating stereotypes.
Change the conversation
In addition to content, it's important for brand marketers to be conscious of their advertising and messaging in market. We've all witnessed how imagery, tone or positioning in the creative and content of an ad campaign can either reinforce stereotypes or convey messages of gender equality. In the past year we saw brands address stereotypes head on with impressive results. That's what Always did earlier this year when they boldly declared that doing something "like a girl" is actually awesome; the resulting video gained 8.5 million views in its first week. Likewise, Verizon inspired young girls to pursue their interests in STEM. And Pantene ProV clocked over 15 million YouTube views by reminding women that they don't have to apologize. And, love it or hate it, Chanel did this.
Create change from within
From the boardroom to the cubicle, one of the most important statements a company can make is that female employees are in every way equal to their male counterparts, and to take actions in support of this position. For example, when it comes to hiring and promoting, enforcing clear policies and mandatory training to evaluate men and women for their actual performance, experience and skillset can effectively reduce bias. Likewise, a diverse boardroom that includes qualified women who can progress business goals sets a standard of equality from the top down, as well as inspires future female leaders. When employees receive recognition such as awards or speaking opportunities, gender parity sends a strong message. At AOL, we stand behind our words with actions through prominent female leaders, training sessions for interviewing and managing within the law and provide equal opportunity for all positions.
Invest in the community
Investing in companies that encourage women's leadership in a way that is authentic to your company proves that you stand not just for words, but for actions. Here at AOL, we invest in women-led technology startups through a newly created venture operation called the BBG Fund. Another option is to partner with an organization that's already making a positive impact, like Girls Who Code, a nonprofit dedicated to educating girls in technology to balance the gender ratio in the industry. In fact, Girls Who Code built one of AOL's sites, Cambio, and relaunched it as a site for girls, built by girls. By making an investment that progresses the women's movement, brands can align their values with their larger mission and take action.
With the resources, public awareness and mass communication we have available today, brands have the opportunity to make a significant impact on gender equality. It's not about jumping on the feminism bandwagon because it's the hot topic right now. It's just the right thing to do.
Michele Morelli, Vice President, Marketing and Sales Communications at AOL wrote this article.