Gender Inequality Talk Takes Center Stage At Cannes

CANNES, FRANCE -- In a world where 67% of consumers believe brands have more power to create change than the government, it seems reasonable to expect brands to use their creative voices both for good and growth. 

A group of well-known industry thought leaders discussed that potential at Cannes today at a session that included Procter & Gamble's Marc Pritchard; former Vanity Fair chief Tina Brown; Badgers & Winters' Madonna Badgers and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg. They focused on gender inequality and potential solutions during the session. 

"We know that men still run the world," says Sandberg. "I am not sure it is going all that well." 

The advertising industry has the power to effect change, the panelists agreed. Data shows brands that use their voices responsibly with regard to gender equality are rewarded with greater consumer respect, loyalty and purchase intent. Microsoft improved some brand metrics after it released an ad featuring gender equality among children, says Sandberg.  

P&G worked with agency Leo Burnett for its Always #LikeAGirl campaign to challenge stereotypes, such as throwing like a girl. This campaign, now entering its fourth iteration, received more than 550 million views, ranking as the most viewed P&G campaign of all time. 

"The good news here is that you don't feel a trade-off about doing the right thing at hand and the right thing for business," says Sandberg. "That makes it a no brainier. This is the right thing to do for your brand." 

Still, too many advertisers continue to act upon unconscious bias.

Fashion magazines still rely heavily on traditionally sexist images. Women wearing little clothes, women serving as props, women air-brushed to unrealistic standards, women lounging as play toys for men. "Objectification still exists," says Badger. "It is easy and quick." 

According to the panelists, men have to be part of the conversation.  

"We made the case for men that it is good for the world, but it is also good for them," says Sandberg. She cites research that married straight couples have stronger relationships when men help with household chores. "Don't buy flowers, do laundry," she jokes. She adds research finds 14-year-old girls will have broader career aspirations if they see their fathers doing housework. “This is something we can do to help the next generation.” 

Each panelist offered advice on one action everyone can take to further promote gender equality. Badger suggested mentorship to either find or be an advisor. It doesn't matter what the gender is, she says, but it helps you understand diverse viewpoints.  

Brown wants advertisers to co-opt the "men space." This could mean advertising during traditional male-oriented programs or developing ads for a male-specific brand with a more feminine angle, like beer or alcohol.  

Sandberg says to "change the culture" and Prichard recommends brands and advertisers "collaborate for good." Join industry alliances, he says. Gender equality is not something you can stand apart on your own. Instead, he suggests advertisers and brands join organizations with large-scale expertise such as UN Women, Geena Davis Institute, or the 3% Conference. 

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