Brand Purpose Marketing Diversity & Inclusion

Has International Women’s Day become a ‘performative’ marketing ploy?


By Hannah Bowler, Senior Reporter

March 8, 2023 | 7 min read

Global marketers debate the relevance of IWD in 2023.

Hershey's 2023 International Women's Day campaign

Hershey's 2023 International Women's Day campaign

Today is International Women’s Day. As a flurry of brands boast about their allyship campaigns and industry leaders take to LinkedIn to tout their company’s commitment to equity, we ask marketers around the world whether the day still holds its original meaning.


Emma Harris, chief executive officer, Glow London: “Brands continue to blur the message behind IWD through their performative feminism; taking staff photographs to show off how many female workers they have, without delving deeper and unpicking underlying issues, is just papering over the cracks.

“Brands need to take accountability and stop creating environments where empty promises around gender equality, pay gaps and female diversity can manifest.

“At its core, IWD could be an inspiring day where women can come together and raise each other up, but we need the support of brands to steer the conversation, produce actual actions and create real channels for women to be heard, seen and celebrated. Otherwise, IWD will just turn into another one of those days for brands to churn out money with surface-level intentions.”

Emma Downey, marketing consultant and founder, Women Who Do: “Brands using IWD to bolster their reputation has become akin to lying on your CV that you can speak a second language; in principle it sounds impressive, but when you’re facing a room full of people asking you to speak Italian you may find yourself in a bit of a pickle.

“For some reason, brands think that the pinnacle of equality – what we, as women, really want to see – is a group of other women smiling down the camera on one specific day of the year accompanied by the hashtags #equality and #IWD, a tick box exercise cementing them as progressive brands that value the work women contribute to their business with photographic evidence to prove it.

“Like we’re not going to question it or ask how many women are on their board of directors, because…hello, they posted a picture of Susan from accounting eating the cupcake they bought her to say thanks?! Or we won’t research their gender pay gap, their flexible working policies, or how much maternity support they offer. Or whether they have policies in place to protect women returning to work after they’ve taken maternity leave. Oh no, the photo and the hashtag is enough for us.

“For IWD, I’d like to see statistics and policies they’ve put in place. I’d like to see glowing reviews from their staff. I’d like to see a year of reflection and action; joining campaigns for better maternity leave and childcare support. I’d like to see anything but dragging Susan away from her already busy workload to smile for the camera.”

The US

Jordan Cuddy, chief creative officer, Jam3: “Women, mostly, work extra in March to put together panels, talks and thought leadership on the subject matter of what it is like to be a woman. In the world, in the workforce, in the office, in leadership and then they present their content to a mostly woman audience. Bummer.

“That’s really not the point. Ideally, more men would show up to support the women sharing their experiences. Get comfy with being a little uncomfy. And think about how they can be more aware and more supportive. True allyship is demonstrated by taking action to support minorities, even when that action might affect one’s status, wallet, time or access.”

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Priyanka Kar, experience designer, VMLY&R: “With IWD, as gender equality and women’s issues gain more prominence, it is crucial for brands to be mindful of these issues and avoid tokenism. Brands should focus on supporting, facilitating and empowering women in their entirety, rather than use the movement for marketing purposes.

“This involves meaningful and long-term commitments to creating a more equitable society for women, such as addressing the gender pay gap, promoting diversity and inclusion, and supporting women in leadership roles. By doing so, brands can contribute to a more positive and lasting impact on society, rather than just using IWD as a marketing opportunity.

“Some initiatives that brands or organizations can include could be: diverse hiring practices, employee resource groups, mentorship and leadership programs, partnering with organizations, and ensuring equal pay and benefits.”


Sunita Gloster, non-executive director and advisor, Gloster Advisory: “The UN has warned that ‘global progress on women’s rights is vanishing before our eyes’. The achievement of gender equality, SDG #5 by 2030, is off track. With seven years to the deadline, the timeline has blown out to 300 years.

“Brands and media play a vital role not just in addressing harmful stereotypes that shape social norms but to use every dollar and action to keep up the fight, to ensure all parts of society stare into the problem and commit to bold purposeful actions with time-bound accountability.

“So maybe let’s look beyond how the corporate cringe fest makes us feel. Let’s use our privilege, market power and creativity to mobilize IWD, the most powerful advocacy tool that cuts across borders, cultures and time-zones. What an extraordinary opportunity IWD is to the world’s brands, creative, media and technology industry.”

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