Brands Empowering Women

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By Jeremiah Agada

The month of March can best be termed ‘Women’s month, and March 8 is the International Women’s Day, IWD. As an annual focal point in the continuing global movement for women’s rights, it celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, as well as the ongoing need for gender equality. Though not attributed to any particular group, it is a day marked internationally by governments, organisations, charities, corporations and brands alike.

If you paid attention to the various media platforms across boards, you will notice that many brands seemingly highlighted the day in their marketing calendars. This year, there were notably more brands joining the International Women’s Day conversation, to varying levels of success. Google trends shows a marked increase in interest over IWD in the past five years.

This year’s theme is “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Right,” with the hashtag, #EachforEqual, which champions the idea that an equal world is an enabled world. As consistent with the practice for years, many brands, agencies and organisations in this sphere struggled to outdo each order in churning out creative messages both on digital and traditional media on this year’s theme to celebrate the day.

However, beyond the creative advertising campaigns and sloganeering, how are brands and agencies helping to forge a gender-equal world, celebrating women’s achievements, empowering them, creating a gender inclusive workplace, raising awareness against bias and taking action for equality, among other things? This is taking into consideration the fact that the International Women’s Day has existed to promote the rights of women for well over 100 years which was born out of a movement of working-class women who marched through New York in 1908 demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights, with the first National Women’s Day held the following year.

The fact is, brands have a responsibility to ensure their actions aren’t a cynical attempt to joyride the wave of the IWD, as far as March 8 is concerned. The IWD is in danger of becoming little more than a corporate Valentine’s Day, with companies jumping on the bandwagon to whitewash their brands rather than promote women’s equality.

Consequently, observers say that agencies, brands and organizations can actually do more for that day rather than use it as a promotional opportunity. One of them, Vivienne Hayes, Chief Executive of Women’s Resource Centre, said: “This use of International Women’s Day by companies is part of the co-option of feminism and women’s equality into a much more mainstream position, that has led to the ‘corporatisation’ of the advancement of women’s rights. There’s a risk that it becomes an event a bit like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day instead of giving visibility to the work that women are doing around the world,” she explained.

The fact is, there is nothing more disingenuous than a flash in the pan campaign that does some good for a short period of time and then disappears never to be heard of or referred to again. Brands, agencies and organisations can do better if they think more about how they can sustain the momentum of a campaign through six months or throughout the year, focusing on both women’s issues and other diversity issues such as inclusion, empowerment and equal opportunity.

This edition of Brand Communicator therefore, beams the spotlight on some of the leading brands and agencies in Nigeria that are taking the International Women’s Day beyond just creating messages or sloganeering to empowering women, creating awareness and giving them platform to break the glass ceiling in their professional careers.

For instance, Lafarge Africa Plc, a member of the LafargeHolcim Group, the largest building and concrete solutions company in the world has proven over time that it is committed to gender inclusion and parity by ensuring that the interests of female employees are protected at all times. The company also hopes to achieve 30% minimum of each gender at all management levels by 2030.

In furtherance of this commitment, the organisation fully embedded the UN SDG 5 into its operational philosophy. Lafarge Africa’s trailblazing success in this area includes having its first female engineer in Ashaka –Deborah Danladi, qualified geologist –Funmi Taiwo from Ewekoro plant. In the history of the organisation, it produced the first female Production Manager who rose through the ranks in a male dominated role. 

In the banking space, Access Bank, Nigeria’s largest bank and Africa’s leading bank by cusrtomer base is also a company that is at the forefront of championing women empowerment internally and externally. Through participation in a number of external partnerships, Access Bank promotes equality across the industry and wider business environment. It also engages with industry stakeholders and staffs to further its diversity agenda in several ways.

Recall, in 2019, its key highlights include internal and external advocacy about gender-based domestic and sexual violence, with relevant decision-makers pledging to challenge discriminatory behaviour. It launched ‘Pitch-a-ton’ campaign to female-owned businesses, focused on providing grants and financial management support for better business management. Furthermore, 2019 further saw the growth and promotion of its “W” Initiative, the foremost full-fledged women empowerment programme, designed to profitably and sustainably address the needs of women to be inspired, connected and empowered, among other novel initiatives.

In the creative advertising space in Nigeria, there are very few agencies that understand the importance of gender inclusion and its place in their general productivity. X3m Ideas is one of them. For Nigeria’s most creative agency according to the Lagos Advertising and Ideas Festival, LAIF, gender inclusion is paramount to its operations. This is evident from the make-up of workers in its employ.

The agency prides itself as an equal opportunity employer that does not discriminate against any employee or job applicant because of gender, race, colour, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability or age. Steve Babaeko, Chief Creative Officer and Chief Executive Officer of the agency puts it this way, “As an employer, we are pro-family and are thoughtful in regards to the needs of all our employees. We provide support (e.g maternity/paternity leave, casual leave for family commitments, grants for staff etc.) as required irrespective of gender.”

Yet another giant in the banking space championing the empowerment of women in Nigeria is Stanbic IBTC. Asides what it does for women externally, the bank does a lot to champion inclusion in its workplace. It does this through the Blue Women Network (BWN). BWN is a dedicated platform unique to the Stanbic IBTC Group where female employees can connect, be informed and develop to achieve their professional and personal goals.  The mission of this platform is to provide the Group’s female workforce with opportunities to gain new insights, enhance their professional skills and ultimately, add value to themselves, Stanbic IBTC and the communities to which they belong. Focus is given to improve women development and empowerment to establish high level corporate leadership for better gender equality. This women empowerment programme has been running successfully for the past five years.

Back to the agency divide, there is Oracle Experience, an agency that has always championed the cause of women empowerment in urban and rural communities across Africa with a high concentration in Nigeria. The company does this through its foundation, The Felix King Foundation, FKF.

Over the years, the Foundation has come up with several initiatives and programmes worth millions of dollars to empower vulnerable women to overcome poverty through skill-based training, job creation, access to micro-finance, legal aid, medicare, scholarships for their children’s education among others.

Female centric brand, Darling Hair is an over 30years old business that has been tending to the hairstyle needs of African women for decades. The company acknowledges and celebrates the role of women in all areas of their lives, from office to home and to the society, it is a brand that supports the woman all the way. Internally, it is an organization that believes in the ability of every employee. On the job, the organization does not see women or men, what it sees are people.

Darling believe that every individual gender not withstanding should feel deserved and supported in expressing their right to be their whole selves and limited by nothing regardless of ethnicity, gender ability, religion or any other identities or labels.  The organisation believes that the society just as their workplace should be a safe space that allows for growth, innovation, self-expression and beauty of all individuals especially women. With Staff welfare programs like the 6months maternity leave and provision of Creche for nursing mothers, the business has been able to support career women to be excellent both at work and at home.

Acting as a bridge between women and opportunities, Sunlight detergent from the stables of Unilever Nigeria has been at the Vanguard of empowering and encouraging women to be the best they can be at every stage of their life. Last year for instance, Sunlight was active in this regard through its “Shakti” programme; a business-inclined women empowerment program where Unilever products are provided for these women to start petty trading. These products serve as start-up capital which these women use to increase or start their trade and provide for their families. Impressively, over 3000 women in 12 states of Nigeria have benefitted from the Shakti Program, with an earnings growth of more than 400% and these women extending the support to other women in their network. Sunlight’s purpose and fight to empower women are practical and direct.

Lastly but not the least, we have Hayat Kimya, a company that has been serially recognised globally as one of the brands that have been empowering women as it made the prestigious “Female-Executive-Friendly Top 100 Companies” list by Capital Magazine, occupying the 37th position globally. This is reflected in its local market here in Nigeria where it has the resourceful Roselyn Abaraonye, Marketing Director of Hayat Kimya and the award winning Chioma Mgbaramuko, the Brand Manager of its flagship brand, Molfix among other ladies, in its ranks.

As a company that relates a lot with women through its many brands, one of them being chiefly through its flagship Molfix brand, the ‘Happy Today, Happy Tomorrow’ has come to be synonymous with the brand as it has engaged women at various stages of their life.

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