Wanted: One Fearless Girl. That’s how I felt gathering ideas for this year's International Women's Day, collecting a small pile of remarkably lame ways companies chose to celebrate the day this year.
They put pictures of women employees on trucks. They bragged about handing out tiny dollar awards to female college athletes and even tinier amounts to promote STEM education for girls -- during a year of record corporate sales.
Sure, there were some good campaigns. One colleague wrote about a Ford video narrated by Bryan Cranston, highlighting a "men's only" car that comes without windshield wipers, brake lights and GPS, all invented by women. Miller Lite composted a bunch of old sexist ads, then gave money to women hops farmers. Mattel stuck by its commitment to science, introducing a new class of STEM Barbie dolls. And we especially love the historical signs in the "Protest Pack" from StillPresent, a digital campaign aimed at pushing IWD back to its advocacy roots and fighting for change.
But marketers mostly played it safe and small.
Thankfully, this year’s event, themed #EmbraceEquity, drew plenty of high-quality input from people tracking progress. But the results are still discouraging, indicating that the widespread efforts at boosting diversity, equity and inclusion of the last few years are losing steam.
And we're not even talking about the stuff that can be quantified by hard numbers. For example, the percentage of women joining boards is falling again, now below 2019 levels. Or fair pay -- Pew reports that the gender pay gap has scarcely moved in 20 years.
We're talking about representation, which is well within the control of mid-level managers.
CreativeX, which analyzed more than 10,000 global ads representing $100 million in spending, reports that while women appear in many more ads in the last year, they're more often in family or domestic settings. Those images doubled, increasing to 66% in 2022, compared to just 32% in 2021. But the percentage of women shown in professional settings decreased to only 7%, down from 16% in the prior year, supported by just 4.7% of total ad spend.
Racial bias also increased. Women with darker skin tones appeared 80% less often in ads than women with the lightest skin tones. And women over 60 continue to evaporate, with just 0.06% of ads showing women in this age group.
"This is a historic time for women: we have our first U.S. female VP, 27 countries with a female leader, and a record of female CEOs among the Fortune 500," says Anastasia Leng, CreativeX's founder and chief executive officer. "Yet, we still struggle to create representative advertising."
Women don't like what they see. New research from the Collage Group reports that only 56% of the women in its latest survey say they're satisfied with how they are portrayed in advertising.
The United Nations Secretary-General said gender equality is "vanishing before our very eyes" and is likely 300 years away.