I am fascinated by the recent social awareness campaigns launched by Procter & Gamble brands, Always and Pantene which created dynamic videos that have gone viral on social media. Both the #LikeAGirl campaign by Always which is working to change the perception of the word "girl" from a negative connotation to a positive term and the "Shine Strong" campaign by Pantene which encourages women to be confident and not apologize are creating an active social conversation about important women's issues.
What's remarkable about the Always #LikeAGirl campaign is that it is truly a banner in the battleground of the feminist movement. The feminist movement that occurred during the 1960s, '70s, and '80s worked to shift people's mindset so that it was not just Caucasian women, but that women of "many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds" were equally represented and appreciated. Where this feminist movement fought for inclusion and equality, the current movement that Always is helping to further is focused on developing self awareness around our language. Phrases get so embedded and entrenched in our culture, often putting a particular group of people at a disadvantage.
In the past, doing things "like a girl" was often meant as an insult as being a "girl" symbolized being dependent and less advanced. As someone who grew up and went to school during this time, I would flinch if someone called me a girl. I would say "I'm not a girl, I'm a woman." As older generations fought hard to promote the "women's" movement, Generation Y (those born after 1981) is fighting to change it to a "girls" movement. They are proclaiming - rightfully so - that being a girl is not a bad thing, but rather that females should be proud and confident in being a girl.
The Always #LikeAGirl video which was posted on youtube on June 26, 2014 already has more than 32 million views. The campaign has received widespread press coverage and is being extensively shared and discussed in social media circles. Fortunately, P&G is a forward-thinking company and its leaders had a greater vision in mind surrounding their product line - they want to make a difference in the world.
Over time, we are seeing more companies create brand awareness through story telling. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is another example of a company that embraced a bold vision for their marketing campaign which focused on advocating for social change rather than aggressively promoting their product.
These social marketing campaigns are evidence of the powerful influence that corporations have on public perceptions. Interestingly, both the #LikeAGirl and Shine Strong marketing campaigns do not overtly highlight the company's products, but rather they embrace an issue - confidence in girls and women - to create meaningful change and in turn increase brand loyalty. P&G has the resources and market share to make their message stick, but I would argue that smaller companies can have an impact as well. The key component is having visionary leaders who champion a cause while maintaining a healthy bottom line.
Putting more women in leadership positions is an important way to advance women's issues, but the real key is to have more forward-thinking men and women at the helm. One would assume that a woman is running the marketing shop at P&G, but the Vice President of Global Feminine Care at Procter & Gamble - the person quoted in the P&G press release announcing the company's #LikeAGirl campaign - is a man.
P&G has instituted a corporate culture that encourages men and women to not only be creative and innovative, but to embrace a work culture and company ethic that furthers important social causes. Now, we need other small and large companies to encourage their employees (current and future, male and female) to consider how they can position their company to make a difference. If more companies put their weight behind social causes we would be better off. This holds true not just for girls and women, but people of all ages, sexes, races, ethnicities and religions.
Dr. Bernice Ledbetter is Practitioner Faculty of Organizational Theory and Management at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management. Her research and teaching interests focus on leadership and values, especially gender differences, as well as on moral developmental and non-western approaches to leadership. She is a Principal in Ledbetter Consulting Group and has worked extensively as a career management consultant and team performance coach for individuals and major organizations.