International Women’s Day 2017: How to Communicate when Purpose and Politics Collide

Jennifer on the floor of the NYSE

International Women’s Day is a time when we collectively celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women around the world. It also can be a moment in time for companies to highlight women and their achievements and roles in industry.

This year, March 8 will not only be celebrated by the United Nations – with a focus on “Women in the Changing World of Work” – but it will be also be leveraged as a global “Day Without a Woman,” which calls for a one day strike of women worldwide, giving the normal day of celebration a significantly more political tone.

All this puts a decidedly different lens on communicating support for women’s issues this year. Recognizing that every brand’s situation is unique, here are five tenets for communicating on the subject to keep in mind:

1. Put personal politics aside.
When dealing with large societal issues like this it’s important to do a gut check to make sure personal politics are not influencing your actions. Review your mission, value statement and any purpose statements that may exist. Immerse yourself in your employee communications and recent external statements, then consider the challenges you face and how to address them.

2. The Say-Do Gap.
The behaviors, culture and values of an organization should match the messaging coming from the organization. When evaluating your a communications strategy, anchor yourself in the corporate value proposition or mission statement to determine if active engagement during International Women’s Day is a natural fit for the organization. It is easy to get swept up in the momentum of a trending issue like this, but if doing so highlights shortcomings, you run the risk of getting quickly called out for it and cause more harm to the corporate reputation than good.

3. Make sure you use the right voice.
International Women’s Day doesn’t automatically mean you have to have a female c-suite member speak on behalf of the company. Having a diverse group of voices supporting a cause is always more powerful, but in this instance it’s important to watch who that spokesperson is and make sure their connection to this issue is genuine.

4. Align internal and external communications.
Demonstrate leadership by showing how your company is leading change from within is a compelling and genuine way to demonstrate support for women, and of the UN’s focus for International Women’s Day this year.

5. It’s fine to stand down.
If you do not have a genuine way to connect to International Women’s Day – don’t.

In partnership with the International Women’s Day #BeBoldForChange campaign, our parent company, Omnicom Group, challenged women across the network to share what action they will take this year to help drive gender parity. View the results here.

About Jennifer Colpitts Ayers

Jennifer Colpitts Ayers is a vice president, client director in Ketchum’s Washington, D.C. Public & Corporate Affairs practice and Ketchum Purpose leadership team. She specializes in the interplay of business, consumers, policy and corporate reputation. As an award winning corporate affairs integration specialist, she has developed and executed many global, national, local and multi-market programs designed to reach and thoughtfully engage consumers, media and Washington, D.C. influencers alike.