As Women’s Equality Day approaches, it makes me cringe to think of how the female empowerment movement will be co-opted to create Hallmark-like phrases such as “ShEO” or “girl boss.” I’m bothered by the pink postcards I’m going to get in the mail. I grimace at the #YouGoGirl trends I’ll see on Twitter, or the companies that will tell me that in honor of women’s equality, they’re going to give me 10% off a mani-pedi so I can join the #SelfCare revolution. Most of all, I will seethe at the small ways marketers will minimize and not address real world problems women face every day, and how bad PR plays into it all.
What makes this such a bitter pill to swallow is that PR and marketing are the two fields women “excel” in the first place. According to Quartz, “Depending on who you ask, women hold anywhere from 61% to 85% of all PR jobs, and 59% of all PR managers are female. And yet, according to the 2014 World PR Report, only 30% of all global PR agencies are run by women.” So, even in fields dominated by women, women are not in leadership positions.
This isn’t the case at SutherlandGold, my PR agency, where I head content strategy, and our CEO, President, and Vice President are all women. As someone who has worked in journalism and content for the last ten years, it’s also the first time I’ve ever worked in an environment that rewards women speaking their mind and promotes based on performance, not politics. I am naturally an assertive person, who wants to get to the meat of a story— without the fluff. But for years, I’ve had to couch my contributions in language that appears unintimidating. “I was wondering if…” “Do you think…” “Is it a good idea if….” These qualifiers and manifestations of internalized doubt still creep into my speech because I’ve been conditioned to expect people to look at me first, underestimate me second, and listen to me third.
Language determines reality and shapes actions. Sure, you can shrug at ShEO, because if you don’t identify with it, you don’t have to pay attention to it. But the way that the #girlboss phenomenon works against women, and contributes to how they are not recognized for their contributions, is glaringly apparent at the workplace. Women make up only 25% of senior leadership positions, 87% of young women have faced sexual harassment, and women experience 34-47% less internal promotion rates than men. Whether or not you don’t pay attention to these numbers doesn’t make them exist any less.
So for Women’s Equality Day, save the condescending slogans (for never). Instead, use your words to inspire change. I want to know your company’s plan of action to diversify your workplace and enact equal representation. I want to see you donate a percentage of your profits to helping women gain access to education, healthcare, or career advancement; I want to see you mentor women within your organization; and I want to see you advocating for women to say what they think, and shed the veneer of gloss they’ve been forced to apply to themselves in order to be heard.
But most of all, I want you to stop patronizing me.