International Women’s Day: A Mixed Bag for Brands and PR

It's #InternationalWomen'sDay 2019, or IWD. And it's in the midst of Women's History Month. As you can imagine, brands are doing their best to show they're supportive of women. Kelly, home of the eponymous Kelly Girl temporary office staffers, debuted a campaign today that offers a variation on employee advocates. Instead of featuring employees, Kelly's campaign touts children of its staffers from around the world expressing their career goals.

In addition, Kelly is sharing statistics about its workforce and gender diversity across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It's also trying to expand its Kelly Girl narrative. For example, Kelly tells us that in 2017 it placed a female engineering professional once every fifty minutes and a female scientific professional every 23 minutes. More than that, it places 205,000+ women in jobs annually. More than 50 percent of its senior leadership are women.

From Kelly to Dick's

It seems appropriate for Kelly to be making news today. A brand that might seem less a fit for #InternationalWomen'sDay is Dick's, the sporting good outlet. Sure, Dick's carries sports equipment for women in its stores, but the traditional assumption is that a sporting goods brand, and one with a male name, shouts testosterone. That's not the case. Similar to many aspects of IWD, there are reasons to be optimistic and reasons to be shake your head in sad disbelief.

One of the pleasant surprises is that Dick's president is Lauren Hobart. And the brand today said it's made a significant investment in women's and girl's sports. Hobart said, "This year, we are celebrating International Women’s Day by funding more than 2,600 female youth athletes through our Foundation’s partnership with" The effort has the Dick's Foundation funding all girls Sports Matter projects on DonorsChoose.  The Sports Matter program addresses underfunded youth athletics nationwide through equipment, uniform and monetary donations.

Make a Natural Connection or None at All 

Of course, not everyone's happy about IWD. One journalist blasted the concept because some brands co-opt the day to boost products that have little or no connection to women or women's equality. "International Women’s Day," writes Josie Cox in the Guardian, "is an opportunity to raise awareness of the barriers we’re still facing in our pursuit of gender parity. It’s an occasion to honor role models and trailblazers...but it shouldn’t be an excuse to try to link your own product or service to the cause in the most creative and tenuous way possible."

Obvious PR takeaway: avoid linking your brand to an event if there's no natural tie-in.

She also notes special IWD deals on personal training and cosmetic dentistry, which she blasts as blatant examples of femvertising. The above PR takeaway applies here too.

Her last criticism is of brands that talk the talk of IWD and fail to walk the walk. She cites an advertisement for Audi that ran during the Super Bowl in 2017 showing a father bonding with his daughter. The dad's concerned about the challenges his daughter will face when she becomes a woman. Problem is Audi's board at the time was exclusively a men's club, Cox writes.

PR Takeaway: For heaven's sake, be authentic. Someone, probably in the media, will call you on it if you're not.

FleishmanHillard's Fourpeat 

Closer to home, PR is observing the day too. We note with pride the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) picking FleishmanHillard as one of its top 70 companies for female executives, for the 10th time. It's also the fourth consecutive year the firm's been in the top 10.

Much of the rest of the news for women and PR, as you likely know, is less upbeat. Despite women holding 60-70 percent of all PR jobs, they're poorly represented in leadership positions, at about 20 percent. In addition, there's still a significant wage gap between the sexes, our soon-to-be-released PR News Salary Survey shows.

And a study last month from the Institute of PR and KPMG found sexism persists in PR. The survey interviewed 10 groups of women and men. Almost no male respondents said they'd experienced discrimination in the workplace, while nearly all women said they had.

24-7 Job

One concern in the IPR-KPMG study that touched both women and men was that PR pros felt the stress of being "on" 24/7. The need to answer emails and field phone calls doesn't end after 5 pm. Several mid-level women told the IPR they eschewed top PR jobs because of the lack of work-life balance. Some also admitted they'd opted to forego having children or an additional child due to work-life pressures.

Indeed, a survey this week from CareerCast listed PR executive in the top 10 of most stressful jobs, trailing news reporter and others, such as airline pilot, police officer, firefighter, broadcaster and the biggest stressful job, enlisted military personnel.

There are things PR can do right now to redress these imbalances. It's interesting, though, when we interviewed PR News' Top Women in PR, many told us equality in pay and promotions are issues women also must address themselves. Perhaps that's the message for PR on IWD, expect help industrywide, but take the first step must be your own.

 Seth Arenstein is Editor of PR News. Follow him at: @skarenstein