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International Women’s Day has been and gone for another year. 

That single day where brands of all kinds champion women in every form and social media is awash with empowering hashtags. It’s a smorgasbord of sisterhood, that for one day brings the conversation to the forefront and produces an outpouring of feminist feel-goods.

The everyday reality of diversity - not just in terms of gender, but race, sexuality, disability, religion - needs to be normalised if we are to move forward.

However well-intentioned or positive International Women’s Day can be, it is, sadly, just that… one day. How much can realistically be achieved over the course of 24 hours? International Women’s Day should be the stand-out in a constant stream of gender diversity and advocacy efforts throughout the year, rather than a smokescreen that allows brands and those in our industry to rest on their laurels while masking persisting issues. 

As International Women’s Day gets bigger every year, it’s no surprise that we’re starting to see the kindling of a backlash against it (in its current guide at least), and marketing is firmly in the crosshairs – for good reason. 

RAF – RAF: No Room For Clichés

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That’s not to say that great strides haven’t been made recently, both within our industry and what we produce. There have been some great examples of work lately that are truly doing something new in their portrayals of women, which have made me stop in my tracks and take notice. The RAF’s No Room for Cliches, for example, or Nike’s Dream Crazy, are making a real impact – not just among industry circles, but in wider cultures as well. 

While they deserve plaudits for flipping stereotypes and presenting a strong, fully-realised image of women that has been missing in advertising up to now, it can’t just be exceptional women that are championed in our work. Instead, the everyday reality of diversity - not just in terms of gender, but race, sexuality, disability, religion - needs to be normalised if we are to move forward. 

Diversity doesn’t need to be spectacular; disabled people don’t need to be superheroes; not all women need to be Serena Williams.

This is why I love AMV BBDO’s campaign for Maltesers so much. It is incredibly refreshing to see such a down-to-earth portrayal of disability, even if – at the same time - it’s saddening to think it has taken this long. How blindingly obvious, yet how effective, to depict disabled people in an everyday scenario, talking about their love life and having a laugh with their friends! It’s that simple. 

Diversity doesn’t need to be spectacular; disabled people don’t need to be superheroes; not all women need to be Serena Williams. Advertising just needs to reflect the genuine lived experiences of those hitherto marginalised by the industry. 

Mars – New Boyfriend

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One aspect that I think is holding this back is the idea in advertising that, if you create an inspirational IWD, Black History Month, or Pride campaign, then that’s your job done – you’re now seen as brave and progressive. But that isn’t the case. 

Those ‘brave’ campaigns that empower women, for example, need to be the rule, rather than the exception. This Girl Can shouldn’t be shocking; we shouldn’t view ourselves as trailblazers for simply doing what is right. And it is up to us, now, to convince our clients that this is the type of work we should be doing every single day, to push the dial forward at every opportunity. There are some incredibly talented people in advertising who can make a real difference through the use of the platform.

Sport England – This Girl Can

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Of course, it is often said that the only way to create diverse work is to have a diverse group of people making it. And, unsurprisingly, the advertising industry (on an international level) hasn’t been so great with that either. 

At Hogarth, we’ve set up a global diversity and inclusion group, which has been a real eye-opener in terms of what our colleagues across the world still have to deal with. There is a persistent stigma attached to being LGBTQ in countries such as India and South America, for instance, and elements we take for granted in London such as disability access simply are not thought about in multiple countries. I’m proud that Hogarth – actively supported by our CEO Richard Glasson - has initiated this group and are carefully listening to its staff all over the world to make our workplace an environment which will grow into a genuinely inclusive place for all members of society.

Fundamentally, diversity shouldn’t be treated like Christmas. 

Another core thing that we do offer is mentoring to young women in the industry (one-five years experience) through Bloom UK. This is a voluntary organisation set up to help provide guidance and support for younger women coming into the industry and to provide networking opportunities for its members. Each person who applies and is successful can attend one of our speed dating style events where they will be paired up with a mentor (who will be one of our members) who will then offer the individual mentoring for the next year.

Things can be done, and initiatives like the ones mentioned above help us gain a better understanding of what the true obstacles are, and what is needed to break through those barriers.

What we need, then, is not a day, a month, or even a year, where we pay special attention to diversity. To instigate real progress, we need to be doing a lot more on a daily basis. If we encourage diversity at even the smallest level, in each and every aspect of our industry, then the cogs will slowly, but surely, start to turn. 

Ultimately, I want my daughter’s generation to be shocked [by] the things we had to deal with.

Again, this isn’t a case of simply promoting women into senior roles into advertising (though, of course, that would help) – but older people, or those with a disability, for example. Fundamentally, diversity shouldn’t be treated like Christmas. We can’t put all our efforts into making the big day special, only to forget about it once the hangover has worn off and all the leftovers have been eaten.

Ultimately, I want my daughter’s generation to be shocked that the things we had to deal with – the clichés, the stereotyping, the professional obstacles put in front of us - even existed. And we can change – by not being complacent, by not believing that one day a year is enough, and by pushing things forward in our everyday actions.

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