Can Brands Help Close The Wage Gap?

On April 14, Equal Pay Day, you might have seen social media light up with photos of open hands holding three quarters and three pennies. 78 cents: what the average American woman earns to the average man’s dollar. April 14: how far into the year the average woman must work to earn what the average man earned in the previous year.

There is an even greater discrepancy in what working moms earn. According to, the wage gap between mothers and non-mothers is actually greater than the gap between women and men. Non-moms earn 10% less than men, while moms earn 27% less than men. Let that sink in for a second. Add this to the increasing number of working moms and we have a gap that makes zero sense.

I’d like to think that as marketers we’re incented to innovate and communicate on behalf of brands in a way that also benefits moms. We’ve celebrated moms’ many sacrifices in raising their kids via Olympic sponsorships. We’ve shared timesaving recipes that get everyone to the family dinner table more often. We’ve made strides in redefining beauty, and we’ve tried to curtail the mommy wars.



It’s easy to see how a brand can play a role in driving positive social change. So when I look at the opportunity for brands to champion wage equality, I see little downside.

In the simplest view, helping to grow the spending power of a primary audience makes a lot of sense. Moreover, a brand championing a cause of this importance can shift consumer perception of its values. Millward Brown has shown that brands that are seen by consumers as meaningful, different, and salient are the most primed for success, as the brands that score well on all three characteristics derive three times more of their value from the strength of the brand versus things like promotions.

In saying this, I’ll be the first to concede that taking on the cause of wage equality is a giant effort. It’s not something that can just be thrown in an ad; the brand has to live it. The entire organization has to practice wage equality, and it has to be transparent enough to prove it. That’s a tall order for most, but far from impossible. 

In 2014, L’Oréal USA became the first company in the U.S. to be certified with the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) global standard for workplace gender equality. L’Oréal cleared EDGE’s rigorous certification process, which includes a comprehensive review of the company’s gender policies and practices and a deep analysis of gender data across the entire U.S. workforce of 10,000 employees. As part of the evaluation, L’Oréal surveyed more than 3,000 employees on gender equality as it pertains to recruitment and promotion, leadership training and mentorship, flexible work, company culture, and equal pay for equivalent work.

While L’Oréal has been reserved in promoting its unique status, CVS Health stands as a recent example of an organization making a major policy adjustment for the public good. In 2014, CVS eliminated tobacco sales from its stores and the $2 billion revenue that came with it. The move aligned with the unveiling of a corporate name change from CVS Caremark to CVS Health, which impacted its social, content, and experiential marketing efforts — even product innovation — all helping CVS affirm a greater commitment to shoppers’ health. Since the change, CVS Health’s stock has increased 28%.

We should be inspired by these companies. They’ve shown marketers it can be done, and the benefits are immense. But if you’re reading this and balking at the prospect of such a huge step, consider the smaller, more obvious steps we can all take in addressing the broader social issues surrounding wage and gender inequality.

For instance, are we always doing the right thing when we define moms? When we depict moms in our ads as busy and stressed, are we communicating a new truth or perpetuating an old one? The research tells us moms are stressed, so we reflexively push that button in an effort to be relevant. Then again, maybe the stressor is the ads.

These may seem like easy questions to shake off. Broad swipes that don’t account for business realities, specific brand situations, or quant study results. But consider this example: in the U.S., Amazon Mom is a membership program that gives discounts on things like diapers, baby clothes, and nursery furniture. In every other country, the service is called Amazon Family. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Bottom line, we have an opportunity to make rather than follow trends. Social activism and policy reform could eventually close the wage gap (maybe by 2058), but marketers have a chance right now to champion that change. Sure, bring on the anthemic wage equality campaigns. But first, let’s bring on equal pay within our organizations.

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