The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Advertising Diversity & Inclusion International Women's Day

International Women's Day: Voices from ad land


By Natalie Mortimer, N/A

March 11, 2017 | 8 min read

The world celebrated International Women's Day (IWD) this week against the theme of 'Be Bold for Change'. The Drum caught up with people across the industry to find out what they think of the annual event, and if IWD still needs to exist.


International Women's Day: Voices from ad land

Rebecca Rhodes and Sandra Peat of new women’s marketing agency SuperHuman

"No-one is suggesting that women haven’t made progress in the new millennium - women are running countries, new media monoliths, major banks and even the ultimate bastion of machismo The Met, but when you scratch beneath the surface - or look at the average working women ‘having it all’ you have to ask at what cost?

"Many have channeled male energies, worked family un-friendly hours or have that symbol of the oh-so modern women - a stay at home husband. They have worked the system. Adapted to the existing framework. And the ones that have found the journey to the top too difficult have dropped out resulting in the eponymous ‘brain drain’ documented in Sandberg’s Lean In.

"On the upside things are changing but too slowly and in pockets. It is easy to talk about the growing trend for WFH (working from home) and flexible working from the relative female focused bubble of the media/marketing industry but what about those who work in the financial services or law or low paid manual employment?

"Women make up 47% of the UK workforce and 57% of first degree graduates are women. Getting women in the workforce isn’t the problem it is building the framework to keep them.

"In the meantime women are taking things into their own hands. If you can’t beat the system... create your own. So it isn’t surprising that self employment is highest in 40 years and much of this recent growth is equated to women. Female entrepreneurs have grown by 40% compared to just 13% in men. As Cindy Gallop famously advises 'GTFO' (Get the fuck out).

"So is there a need for IWD in this day and age? Absolutely yes. We still aren’t creating work environments where women can function never mind flourish and in the 21st Century - ‘If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen’ - really shouldn’t be relevant."

Jane Austin, founder Persuasion Communications

"You might think that ad campaigns featuring women fellating chocolate bars went the way of shoulder pads and the Sony Walkman, but women are still objectified in ad campaigns for major brands including Burger King, Marc Jacobs, American Apparel, Budweiser, Tom Ford and even Post it notes, as this defiant campaign 'We are women not objects' with its end line: 'I am your mother, daughter, sister, co-worker, manager, chief executive. Don't talk to us that way.'

"As long as the creative world keeps legitimising these dangerous depictions of people and does not challenge their inward-looking creative mentality, the problem is only going to get worse.

"It's no wonder that in 1977, the United Nations adopted a resolution declaring 8 March, International Women's Day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and to make a difference and change attitudes. The first ever IWD took place in New York in 1909 and was organised by the Socialist Party of American in recognition of a strike by the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union – it was about working women wanting change. And women still want change. It's why more than 4.5 million women on all seven continents – including Antarctica – marched in January against the misogyny of Donald Trump, the first President in history to brag on air about 'grabbing women by the pussy.'

"But despite that misogyny women, whether they are among the marchers or not, are getting on with it, making a success of their careers, dealing with multiple roles and multiple responsibilities – jobs, childcare, friends, supporting elderly relatives and all the other things in their lives – volunteering, mentoring, hobbies and interests. Every day is International Women's Day and every job is a suitable job for a woman. We shouldn't even need to talk about it anymore. Stella Creasy MP, who was targeted by Twitter trolls threatening to rape and kill her because she supported a campaign for equal representation on our banknotes, says of IWD that it 'helps remind people what we need to work on changing the other 364 days of the year.' And entrepreneur Janneke Niessen who was named as European Digital Woman of the Year, and is a co-founder of Improve Digital, which showcases female role models to inspire young girls, says: 'My hope is that one day we won't need this special day at all. In reality, we should be having conversations about women's achievements every day of the year.'

Chris Pierce, chief executive at TMW

"Is Emma Watson anti-feminist for exposing her breasts?’ the BBC asked amid the furore following the actress’s latest shoot for Vanity Fair. But in the confusion, outrage and support she has generated, subtler and more profound issues are exposed that show while much has been achieved, there’s still an important role for International Women’s Day (IWD) to play.

"Consider the huge variation that exists when it comes to defining what it means to be a feminist today. While some accused Watson of rank hypocrisy and others claimed her baring parts of her breasts marked the downfall of feminism, Gloria Steinem told TMZ “feminists can wear anything they fucking want” .

"For me, Watson’s own explanation – that feminism is about fairness, equality and having the same freedoms and choices as men – made most sense. Because all of us, regardless of gender, make good and bad choices in our lives and even when we make a bad one, shouldn’t all of us have the right to make that choice?

"As well as huge differences in opinion about what feminism is, the Watson episode also illustrates the extent to which both in media and society, feminist behaviour has become codified. “If you’re a feminist then you should act like one - and that means no revealing photo shoots,” appears to be the subtext."

Jo Coombs, chief executive, OgilvOne

"The recent election in the US is proof that the need for ‘International Women’s Day’ has never been more important. The inability of a nation to elect Hilary Clinton simply because she was a woman, and instead place their future in the hands of a candidate such as Trump, orchestrated to the world that we still have a long way to go in the race to gender equality. The rollout of Trump’s more controversial Republican policies seek to backtrack on the progress we have made for women’s rights and demonstrate the sad reality that it’s simply too easy to undo the monumental developments we have made. And that’s just the US, globally we continue to be inundated with stories of inequality where women are concerned.

"The challenge for IWD is to raise awareness and champion women without alienating men; to educate and engage people on best practice for progress and the benefits of gender equality for both sexes. Too often feminism is associated with an us VS them mentality, when actually in its most authentic and effective form it should unite genders as opposed to divide.

"Sir Martin Sorrell talks about the need for Heroines - role models that we celebrate because they are great at what they do. I believe these heroines need to come from all walks of life and need to be celebrated by all forms of mass media not just organisations like WACL or events like IWD. In the communications industry we have a responsibility to ensure that we are representing women in positive and culturally relevant ways - everything from car advertising, power tools promotions and sport, to fashion, beauty and lifestyle. We need to shape the way we design tv programming, toys, books, games, sports, clothing etc for our children to reflect modern day values that place both genders equally beside one another. It’s tangible, inclusive actions such as this that will help us halt further development of gender bias at a grass roots level.

"IWD shines a light on the global issue for one day every year – and that necessity is invaluable, but what we need beyond that is to remain aware of our behaviour so that it is consistently delivered in a gender balanced context. Everyday."

Advertising Diversity & Inclusion International Women's Day

More from Advertising

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +