International Women’s Day: 5 campaigns that show how brands are ‘pressing for progress’

With a focus on #pressforprogress, brands are moving beyond simply supporting women to push for real societal and business change.

International Women's Day 2018

International Women’s Day (IWD) is looking to push a #pressforprogress message this year as it looks to build on strong global momentum around gender parity. With movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp and a focus on the gender pay gap in countries including the UK where businesses will soon be forced to publish their gap,  IWD is hoping 2018 is a year when society and business can move beyond support and push for real change.

“There is a strong global momentum striving for gender parity,” says the IWD. “Now, more than ever, there’s a strong call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity.”

And brands are reflecting this in their campaigns and initiatives this year. No longer simply focused on raising awareness of the issue they are pushing for real change whether it is Diageo joining Free The Bid and demanding women are featured on the shortlist for directors of its ads to Union Coffee highlighting the changing role of women in coffee production with a specialist blend. Others including Brewdog and Boohoo are raising funds or donating money to causes that support female empowerment.

Here’s just a taste of what brands are doing this year.

Union highlights the changing role of women in coffee with specialist blend

Women performing a welcome dance as the Maraba washing station in Rwanda. Credit: Alan Schaller

Union Hand-Roasted Coffee has developed a Rwandan microlot coffee, which is made exclusively by female producers in the region.

The East London-based coffee business is helping to support female coffee producers in places like Rwanda and Guatemala, where historically the industry has been very male dominated. It is doing so by ensuring women have access to equal ownership and employment conditions, with the aim of empowering women at all levels of the supply chain.

Pascale Schuit, Union’s coffee sourcing and sustainable relationship manager, says: “International Women’s Day gives us the opportunity to reflect on the many women who make Union Hand-Roasted Coffee a reality, and on the true impact Union has had at origin.”

She says the company sees an intrinsic link between sustainable best practice and the quality of its coffee, which is ensured through its Union Direct Trade model. As part of the initiative the business guarantees payment of at least 25% above the Fairtrade minimum price and it works alongside coffee growing communities to increase quality and quantity of yield, as well as improving working conditions.

Venantia Mukakalisa, is a member of the Maraba Cooperative in Rwanda and took over the family coffee farm when her husband was killed in the Rwandan genocide.

She says: “Back when I first joined the Maraba Cooperative, there weren’t as many women and we didn’t realise the importance of producing quality coffee. With Union’s support, there are more women now and we produce better coffee, making a significant difference to our lives.”

The cooperatives Union works with in Rwanda, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Ethiopia all have women in senior leadership positions, from managers to coffee tasters. The business also visits origin countries several times a year enabling it to build better relationships with producers and ensure its strict standards are being met.

“Visiting origin countries is a real eye-opener,” adds Shuit. “There are still challenges to overcome but it is great to see so many women on the boards of cooperatives we work with. Historically this hasn’t always been the case and we are hoping this positive trend will continue.”

Brewdog tries to shine a spotlight on the issue of the gender pay gap with ‘beer for girls’

Brewdog is attempting to tackle the issue of gender pay inequality and sexist marketing with the launch of a “new beer” – Pink IPA. In an attempt at irony, Brewdog has dubbed it “beer for girls” and given it lurid pink packaging and will charge women 20% less for the beer. However, it is identical to its blue-branded Punk IPA and aims to trigger questions about why women earn less than their male counterparts.

Alongside the beer for girls, BrewDog is also donating 20% of its proceeds from sales of both Pink and Punk IPA to causes that fight against gender inequality. And it is calling for clear and consistent reporting around calculating the gender pay gap and what businesses should do to close it.

Sarah Warman, BrewDog’s global head of marketing, says: “The fact that the gender pay gap is still an issue in 2018 shows that a lot of lip service is being paid, but not enough action is being taken to tackle inequality. We want to accelerate change by empowering more women to make their voices heard and calling out industries and employees that need to do more. With Pink IPA, we are making a statement the only way we know how – with beer.”

However, the message has been somewhat lost among the general public, particularly on social media with many questioning the strategy and others not realising BrewDog is not being serious with the launch.

Marie Claire pushes for ‘genuine equality’ in the workplace


marie claire

Marie Claire is using International Women’s Day to launch a new campaign that aims to stamp out harassment, discrimination or bullying at work. Coinciding with its 30th anniversary, the women’s magazine is calling to its audience to share their experiences whether it be something like being talked over in a meeting, facing sexual harassment or being excluded because of a disability.

To launch the campaign, it has teamed up with illustrator Laura Quick on a series of pictures that “flip the finger” on harassment. And it is pushing for three key actions:

  • Legislation to place liability on an employer for acts of harassment by a third party
  • Protection of women’s workplace rights in the face of Brexting
  • Genuine equality in the workplace for women from all backgrounds.

Marie Claire has also partnered with charity the Fawcett Society, which fights for women’s rights at work, and worked with ITN to produce a short film (above).

It has also partnered with law firm Judge Sykes Frixou, which will provide Marie Claire readers that have experienced discrimination with legal advice.

Smirnoff and Spotify team up to get people listening to more female artists

Diageo’s Smirnoff and Spotify have joined forces to drive awareness of gender bias in music and increase the representation of female artists by allowing consumers to impact their own listening habits.

The Smirnoff Equalizer gives Spotify users a percentage breakdown of the number of male and female artists they have listened to over the last six months – before providing an equalised playlist where both male and female artists are represented equally.

It is the latest initiative from the drinks brand’s ‘Equalizing Music’ campaign, which hopes to double the number of female festival headliners by 2020.

Vodafone focuses on issue of gender stereotypes

Vodafone has released a new short film raising the issue of gender stereotypes and its work to improve gender diversity and women’s empowerment. The ‘Raising Voices’ film, created by Santo London, will run across the markets where Vodafone operates, including in the UK. It features child actors asking questions such as ‘Why are almost all superheroes men’ and ‘Why have there been so many male presidents, but so few women’.

It comes as the company joins the UN Women Unstereotype Alliance – a global coalition of companies including Unilever and Coca-Cola that aims to eliminate gender bias and harmful gender stereotypes in advertising. That is alongside work it is already doing on increasing female representation in its workforce and in the communities in which it operates. It is a HeforShe Impact Champion, and has a forward-looking global maternity policy that offers 16 weeks full pay and lets them come back to work for four days a week but get paid for five.