A day to tackle sexism

How some brands hope to affect lasting change on International Women's Day.


Canadian Women’s Foundation makes more empowering fashion

The Canadian Women’s Foundation has been running workshops in Toronto where 95 girls between nine and 13 years old have discussed how the media speaks to them, and how it affects the way they see themselves. Havas Worldwide Canada took the findings of the workshops and created a PSA which appears to be like any run-of-the-mill ad you’d see from a fashion retailer, showing the prices of shoes, hats and pants before showing that t-shirts with slogans like “allergic to algebra,” “future trophy wife” and “too pretty to do homework” might end up costing girls something more than money.

“Fashion ads, especially for girls, are formulaic and send the message they can be a better version of themselves by making a purchase, so we were trying to deliberately look like every other children’s fashion ad, until the misdirect comes to show how desensitized we are to the kinds of messages on shirts being sold to young girls,” says Natasha Wilson, director of marketing and communications for the Canadian Women’s Foundation. “Girls are bombarded with media messages that limit their potential, and we know they’re rooted in sexism and stereotypes that root a girl’s value in their appearance. We’ve seen shirts for boys saying things like, ‘I’m a hero’ next to girls shirts that say ‘I need a hero.’”

On the “As We Are” project website, Canadians can buy t-shirts designed by girls to have more empowering messages, as well as donate to programs aimed at improving girls’ self-esteem or download the workshop materials for free to be used in their own classroom or community group.

Microsoft shines a light on female inventors

Getting women equal opportunities in STEM fields is an ongoing issue, and one way some tech companies (including Microsoft) have been addressing it is by trying to get girls interested in science at a younger age. While initiatives like it seem to be making progress and giving girls the confidence to pursue these fields, one big problem still remains: they don’t have many role models to look up to. Or so they think.

Part of the problem is that while the achievements of male inventors have been well-publicized and taught in schools, the same can’t be said for female inventors, as seen in this video by agency M:United where young girls are able to name several male inventors, but not a single female one. Looking to change that, the video ends with a rapid-fire list of all the things women have invented through the years, as well as more in-depth looks at their stories online.

On the ground, Microsoft is encouraging girls to participate in their YouthSpark computer science training programs for kids around the world (ones in Winnipeg, Mississauga and Vancouver are coming up), having a women-focused activation at SXSW later this month to connect them with tech influencers and a program to fund patents for women coming down the road.

TBWA makes diversity in advertising everybody’s issue

Speaking of industries with diversity issues, TBWA launched the Project 20/20 initiative last June, aimed at increasing the amount of women in leadership positions across the network by 20% by the year 2020. But despite the warm reception this project (and others like it) have received, the agency found that it was seen more as a “women’s problem” and wouldn’t result in meaningful change unless men were brought into the fight as well. So for International Women’s Day, the agency launched “Take the Lead,” a campaign meant to underscore that these are issues for men working in advertising as well by taking quotes from women working across TBWA offices and attributing them to male co-workers (including some from Juniper Park\TBWA in Toronto) in a video, as well as in nearly 100 images on the campaign website. Not only does it show women in advertising that they have allies (including chairman Lee Clow and CEO Troy Ruhanen), putting these statements over the faces of males colleagues drives home how ridiculous and unfair these working conditions are.

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