Are You Complicit in the Corporate Takeover of International Women’s Day?

Is your company using International Women’s Day as a way to appear socially responsible, or are they truly committed to promoting gender equality? Find out how the corporate takeover of IWD may be undermining its original purpose

The history and meaning of International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an annual event held on March 8th that recognises women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements worldwide. It is also a day to call attention to the ongoing struggles and challenges faced by women and to advocate for gender equality. IWD has its roots in the early 20th century when women’s rights grassroots activists organised protests and strikes to demand equal rights and treatment.

The Role of Un Women in advancing women’s rights

In the decades that followed, IWD became an increasingly global event, with more and more countries participating each year. In 1975, the United Nations officially recognised IWD and designated it as a day to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. UN Women, a UN entity that was created in 2010, now leads the global IWD campaign and works to advance women’s rights and gender equality year-round.

IWD has been celebrated in Australia since the early 20th century, with the first IWD event held in Sydney in 1928. UN Women Australia hosts IWD events in several cities across the country, including Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, and Perth, which bring together thousands of people to celebrate global achievements, agitate for change, and raise funds to support women and girls.

But in recent years, the event has been hijacked by corporate entities seeking to profit from the IWD brand and promote their business interests.

The corporate co-opting of International Women’s Day

Today, if you Google ‘International Woman’s Day’, the top search result is not the official UN Women landing page. Instead, you’ll see, take the top spot, a site run by a privately held company named Aurora Ventures. It’s important to note that this website has no affiliation with the UN Women’s IWD.

Aurora Ventures is a marketing and advertising company that “works with stakeholders” to develop more business-friendly IWD themes. It provides consulting and marketing services that seek to improve the perception of its clients as more socially responsible employers that are great places for women to work. They work with many large corporations, including Lockheed Martin, J.P. Morgan and BP. The company also operates the website ‘Where Women Work’, a job board for women that employers can use to advertise vacancies and recruit female professionals.

Aurora Venture’s chosen theme for IWD 2023 is #EmbraceEquity. It’s vague, catchy, can easily be tied to corporate mission statements and KPIs, and is palatable for a work luncheon.

The UN Women’s theme for 2023 is ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a Gender-Equal Future’.

This theme, by contrast, is specific, inclusive, and complex, It highlights the role that bold, transformative ideas, inclusive technologies, and accessible education can play in combatting discrimination and the marginalisation of women globally.

The risk of pinkwashing and exploitation

Whilst there are no clear ‘owners’ of IWD and having more entities involved in promoting the campaign could be seen as positive, there are several reasons why the corporate takeover of International Women’s Day (IWD) could (and should) be seen as negative.

First, when corporations co-opt IWD and use it as an opportunity to promote their brand or products, it undermines the original purpose and meaning of the day. By using IWD as a marketing opportunity, companies may be seen as exploiting or commodifying the women’s rights movement for their own gain, rather than truly committing to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Second, the involvement of corporations in IWD can also raise concerns about the authenticity and sincerity of their efforts. Some corporations may use IWD as a way to improve their image and appear more socially responsible, even if their actual policies and practices do not align with their stated values and goals in relation to gender equality. This practice, known as “pinkwashing,” can be seen as a form of corporate greenwashing, where companies present a false or misleading image of their environmental sustainability efforts.

Finally, the corporate takeover of IWD may also divert attention and resources away from more meaningful and impactful efforts to promote gender equality. Instead of focusing on real and tangible changes that can help address gender-based inequalities, the emphasis may shift to superficial or symbolic gestures that do not address the root causes of these issues.

What should companies do to be meaningfully involved with International Women’s Day?

Ensure you source information and resources for building your IWD 2023 strategy from the official UN Women Australia website. 

  1. Support UN Women Australia’s IWD by attending an event, becoming a sponsor or hosting your own IWD@work event. Find out more about how your company can be involved here. 
  2. Ensure you allocate an adequate budget for speakers you invite to participate in your event and pay them fairly for their time and expertise.
  3. Use IWD as an opportunity to amplify the voices and perspectives of women: Companies can use IWD as a platform to showcase the contributions and achievements of women within the company and in the broader community. This could include featuring the stories and experiences of women in marketing materials, social media posts, or other communications.
  4. Implement policies and practices that promote gender equality within the company: Companies can review and update their policies and practices to ensure that they are inclusive and supportive of women and gender diversity. This could include implementing policies around equal pay, flexible work arrangements, and addressing harassment and discrimination.
  5. Educate employees and stakeholders about gender equality: Companies can use IWD as an opportunity to educate employees and stakeholders about gender equality and the importance of promoting women’s rights. This could include hosting workshops, webinars, or other events to raise awareness and encourage discussion around these issues.
  6. Consider the impact of marketing efforts: Companies should be mindful of how they market themselves and their products on IWD, and ensure that their efforts do not exploit or commodify the women’s rights movement. This could involve avoiding the use of pink branding or cause-related marketing, and instead focusing on tangible actions that demonstrate the company’s commitment to gender equality.
  7. And finally, while IWD is a day to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women, men have an important role to play in this effort, as they are often the beneficiaries of systems and structures that perpetuate gender inequality. By participating in IWD and supporting gender equality, men can help create a more inclusive and equitable society for all. Involving men in IWD can help to shift cultural attitudes and behaviours that contribute to gender inequality. This can include challenging toxic masculinity, identifying biases and promoting more inclusive and respectful conduct towards women. Lasting cultural change is only possible by engaging men in these discussions and encouraging them to be allies and advocates for gender equality.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day and the achievements and contributions of women around the world, it’s important to remember that the fight for gender equality is far from over. While progress has been made, women continue to face numerous challenges and inequalities, from the gender pay gap to discrimination and violence. It’s an unfortunate fact that some companies have been known to hijack IWD for their own commercial gain, using it as an opportunity to promote their brand or products without genuinely committing to gender equality and the empowerment of women. This undermines the purpose and meaning of IWD and exploits the women’s rights movement for profit.

So it’s crucial that we all play a role in advocating for change and working towards a more equal and inclusive society, and do our due diligence in ensuring we’re listening to the right voices and using our resources in the best way to affect meaningful change

And men, don’t think you’re off the hook – gender equality benefits everyone, and we need your support and allyship to make real progress. So let’s all raise our voices, stand together, and work towards a world where every person, regardless of gender, can thrive.

Learn more about IWD from the official UN Women Australia website here. 

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