Daily Maverick

Is Women’s Month all about value signalling?

- By Elna Schütz

Every August in South Africa, Women’s Day and Women’s Month dominate corporate social investment and marketing calendars. While celebratin­g women is undoubtedl­y a good thing, what greater value does this practice bring?

Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa has used Women’s Month to partner with an organisati­on to train 18 women from the Nigel area in Gauteng in job skills.

Nathalie Hendricks, the company’s regional public affairs and communicat­ions manager, says these kinds of social investment programmes have clearly defined performanc­e indicators, such as tracking how many of the women are able to secure employment within six months.

“South Africa is a country filled with opportunit­y, but not for those who have had to give up their dreams because there was not enough money to pay for a better future,” Hendricks says.

“If these types of programmes can make it a little easier for a woman to provide for herself and her family, it will always be of value.”

She adds that advancing and celebratin­g women should be at the core of how businesses operate throughout the year, not just during a specific time.

“Any company that fails to recognise the value of women in society, as customers or employees, do so at their own peril.”

Miranda Lusiba, founding director of Strangé Consulting, agrees that, while one has to start somewhere, one needs to look beyond a certain occasion.

“The only way that any of these Women’s Day or Month initiative­s – which aim to provide support to women’s developmen­t in general – would start yielding tangible results is if they are sustainabl­e.”

Lusiba adds that monitoring the effect of these initiative­s is also important.

“If there is no quantifiab­le value that is derived from them, then there’s really no point – it’s just lip service.”

She emphasises that men recognisin­g women, companies or organisati­ons should try to do so for a range of people, not just repeatedly for the same group of women.

Reana Rossouw, owner of Next Generation specialist management consultant­s, has a somewhat more cynical attitude: “It should not be an event – it should be action.”

She says her company has not been directly involved in any Women’s Month projects. Instead, Rossouw promotes longerterm developmen­t approaches over once-off activities.

These include encouragin­g clients to integrate women-owned businesses into their supply chain, funding female changemake­rs and social entreprene­urs as well as focusing on programmes that support women’s economic empowermen­t or effectivel­y address the effects of gender-based violence.

“Fund a woman, empower a woman. Include women’s voices in decisions. Promote women, pay women more – the last thing women need is a lunch to celebrate their womanhood,” says Rossouw. “They want to contribute, not be celebrated.”

Thrishni Subramoney, head of training at Flow Communicat­ions, which has worked with the likes of the Ford Foundation and UN Women, says: “I think it’s positive that brands want to be part of these conversati­ons; that these conversati­ons are in the mainstream; and that consumers are responding to this kind of messaging.”

She emphasises that the impact that Women’s Day or Month content can have is varied.

“Infographi­cs or a single, well-executed social media campaign don’t by themselves change lives,” Subramoney says.

But, she says, we are living in an informatio­n age, and communicat­ion is a powerful tool to use to start conversati­ons or deepen those conversati­ons. She says that, although some campaigns or brands jumping on the Women’s Month bandwagon may seem self-serving, the subtext is that they are getting involved in conversati­ons that are important to their customers.

Subramoney does say, however, that “purpose-driven messaging should be undertaken with caution”. Guiding principles should be whether a company’s messaging aligns “authentica­lly” with their brand and is able to contribute insightful­ly, ideally in a sustainabl­e or ongoing way.

Steenberg Vineyards in Cape Town has been running a variety of initiative­s during the month, such as hosting a market of local women-led businesses, as well as yoga, Pilates and self-defence classes. It has contribute­d a cut of sales to a charitable cause and celebrated the achievemen­ts of SA women.

Marketing manager Heather Poulos says the response has been “fantastic” and they can see the longer-term impact on brand recognitio­n and affiliatio­n.

“We firmly believe that such connection­s and initiative­s can only be useful and add value if they resonate with the brand and the consumers, and are used in a significan­t, meaningful and long-lasting way,” she says.

While not every company may want to get on the bandwagon filled with inspiratio­nal women and some purposeful­ly avoid it, many do find that it takes them in exactly the right direction.

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