Equality is good for business

Marc Pritchard, Sheryl Sandberg, Madonna Badger and Tina Brown

Marc Pritchard, Sheryl Sandberg, Madonna Badger and Tina Brown

Brands that speak the language of gender equality score 8% to 10% more in terms of positive sentiment than those that don’t, said Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg P&G's seminar, which examined the actions that brands can take to level the gender playing field.

“Ads that market into gender equality and not into gender stereotypes are not only good for the world but good for business,” Sandberg said. “There’s no trade off. It’s an easy decision.”

Observing wryly that “men still run the world — and I’m not sure it’s going that well”, Sandberg said that a major barrier preventing women for achieving C-suite status was the global stereotype “that men should lead and women should be communal”. She then conducted a short experiment, asking the men in the auditorium to raise a hand if they’d been called bossy as a child. Not one hand went up. The same question directed at the women saw barely an arm kept down.

“But little girls aren’t bossy — they’re showing executive leadership skills,” she said. “We have to acknowledge deeply engrained stereotypes exist and challenge them.”

Madonna Badger, chief creative officer of Badger & Winters, who launched #WomenNotObjects campaign last year, said it was ironic that racism in advertising is completely unacceptable and yet sexism is still tolerated. “Women are used as props, parts and plastic without even a thought,” she added. “And it causes immense harm.”

For those in doubt as to whether a piece of work is objectifying women, Badger recommended looking at it through a personal lens: “Ask yourself, would I be OK with this if that woman was my mother, my sister, my daughter or even me? If the answer is ‘no’, you’ll know.”

Award-winning journalist Tina Brown, whose remarkable career included the decision to put the heavily pregnant actress Demi Moore on the front cover of Vanity Fair in 1991, said the news business is also battling sexism. She pointed to the Daily Mail’s coverage of a meeting between UK politicians Teresa May and Nicola Sturgeon, which sported the headline: “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs’it! Accused of being offensive and sexist, the Mail told its critics to “get a life”.

“The trouble is, when you make a noise about it, you’re called humourless,” Brown said. “But I think we have to be willing to sound humourless and say this is not funny.”

So what’s do be done, asked session moderate Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer. “Make it uncool to treat women this way,” Brown suggested. “Change the culture,” Sandberg said. “Be a mentor and find a mentor,” Badger added.

Harriet Palmer