The Male Feminist & The Token Woman. Both are good.

Way back, shrouded in the mists of time, when I got admission into Engineering even the village barber approved that it was Computer Science and not the ‘hard’ disciplines. Girls were doing engineering then, it just wasn’t mainstream as it was perceived to harsher and dirtier than, say, being a doctor. There were just five of us back then in a class of 43. And while NIT Trichy (then RECT) was not particularly misogynist, hostel curfews, mandatory smithy classes (knowing how to make an S-hook out of iron is a life skill!) and casual harassment in public transport meant that we needed supportive male classmates to be comfortable. And our classmates did support us.

For gender parity to be a reality, men have to support the idea. Not because it makes good business sense, but because it is the right thing to do. Benedict Cumberbatch says he is a male feminist and will refuse any project where women don’t get equal pay. Hollywood women get considerably (like 70%) less than their co-stars and by raising his powerful voice against it he does make a difference. If more men took this stance, particularly those in a position to implement the change in their businesses parity need not take a 100 years. I’m looking at you Ranveer Singh.

The English Cricket Board is launching a new format, The Hundred (for 100 balls) and the prize money of GBP 600,000 will be split equally between the men’s and women’s team. The individual player contracts are wildly different, but it’s a step forward for parity in sports. By putting this out there hopefully they will inspire other Boards like the eye-wateringly rich BCCI to do something similar. Or a Virat Kohli to do a Cumberbatch? One can hope.

Unilever this week announced that half of its management layer of 14000 are women. That is a huge achievement and they have moved beyond the “the reality of the talent pool’ excuse that so many of us have heard over the years.

The mandatory “woman independent director” is a change that is making a difference. It provides an opportunity that is generally not offered to those outside the old boy networks, and helps to change the perception that women can’t be leaders. Sure, one woman can’t make as much impact as three, but it’s a start.

A survey in the US showed that Americans now believe that women can be equally competent. But the study measured change on 3 dimensions – competence, agency (ie decisiveness, assertiveness) and social skills and while women were considered equally competent they did not achieve parity on the agency dimension. We are considered competent but soft. When people – men and women – see women in authority and in charge of their own destiny this will change. Hence the token woman should not be considered as a stooge but as a pioneer, making a path for parity for future generations.

In order to showcase amazingly talented marketers who happen to be women, I’m doing a series of interviews this month with marketers I admire. This week, we have Lipsa Satpathy, Head – Digital Marketing & Transformation at Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail and Meenu Bagla, who leads the global charter of Brand, Content, Field, and Digital Marketing for Tech Mahindra.

We may not all be in a position to do a Unilever. But as marketers, we are experts in managing the optics. And ‘optics’ are a key driver of change. If we can avoid stereotypes in communication and push for gender parity in our own teams it would be fantastic. But here’s something even smaller that each of us can do. Every time there is a panel of only male experts it reinforces the stereotype that experts are male. Let’s change this one manel at a time. Men – decline to be on a panel that has only men. Sponsors – please insist that there be at least one woman on every panel you sponsor. And conference participants – when you attend one that has only manels voice your unhappiness on social media. And since there’s going to be a bunch of women’s programs next week, ladies, please insist on a man on each panel too!

In other news we’ve launched a new section “Shiny New Tools” where we spotlight promising martech tools. This week we have an interview with Biswajit Das, Founder & CEO of Brandintelle.

Happy International Women’s Day everyone!


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