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Focus on Women in Communication, STEM, Finance ‘the Biggest Bang for the Buck’

Microsoft's "Make What's Next" ad aims to inspire young girls by highlighting the many female inventors who've made history. | Image credit: Microsoft

Building on the inspiration and energy from day one, day two of the International Women’s Day Forum kicked off with a panel on The Power of Communication and Perception. Beth Colleton, SVP of CSR at NBC Universal, posed the question: “We reach 97 percent of all people in any given month. But how do we get people to care?” 

She referenced the enormous success of the Always brand’s “Like a Girl” Super Bowl ad, “which made people think. 114 million people watched it at Super Bowl, then 61 million watched it again and finally another 42 million followed up. Messages must be authentic to the brand, a right fit for partnerships. It’s not what you are selling, it’s what ‘they’ are buying.”

“It’s important to understand the brand value proposition which must be organic to reach your audience,” Colleton said. “Work on biases you don’t know you have. Can’t we include a woman in this? A more diverse character? Women want to see images that look like me. And the message must connect to the product you are selling.”

Also on the panel was Lori Harnick, COO of Microsoft Philanthropies, who referenced an inspiring video created for International Women’s Day 2016 celebrating women inventors, titled ‘What are you going to make?’

“Women inventors are not top of mind,” Harnick said. “But it’s critical for girls to dispel the notion that computer science and STEM are not creative and we can do that through storytelling. Showing diverse images as part of the story. Bringing female leaders forward. Patterns show there’s a richness for girls in STEM.”

As one constituent astutely pointed out: “We’ll have achieved gender parity when my unborn child turns and asks me, ‘what was that whole issue of gender parity all about?’"

A session on The Future of Inclusive Finance and Women-Centered Design addressed the $300 billion gender gap in access to finance. Shannon Trilli, Director of Corporate Responsibility Strategy at McGraw Hill Financial, confirmed “parity and inclusion of women is one of the biggest issues. Looking at the data re loans, we need to look at patterns. Where does she fail asking for credit? Women largely lack collateral to access money.”

Fellow panelist Colleen Briggs, Executive Director of Global Financial Capability and Consumer Initiatives at JPMorgan Chase, said “there are new initiatives to trade data and work with other banks on sharing data. Focusing on women has the highest impact for money. Helping women helps the entire household, which helps the community. The biggest bang for the buck is to focus on women.”

“Custom-centric design is key. Technology is not a silver bullet. Financial care plus health services must meet women where they are in their busy lives. Trust and self-esteem are key. Financial literacy is client-led, actionable and relevant to women’s lives. It must be ongoing, not a one-off, and collaborative to determine what works.”

As Citi Foundation Program Officer Dorothy Stuehmke pointed out, “grant-making takes time. But give women mobile financial capabilities and they become more comfortable transacting, which is a prelude to other in-depth financial tools. Scale and replicability lead to sustainable tools.”

“Women are not one group,” she cautioned. “Communications and marketing need to reach out to women better. Women start a business but can only grow it so much without regulatory policy to support it.”

The final panel of the conference, Sector Initiatives and Uncommon Alliances That Empower, featured Nicole Robinson — Senior Director of Community Involvement at Mondelez International and President of the Mondelez International Foundation. Robinson explained how the #1 purchaser of cocoa worldwide established Cocoa Life, a ten-year initiative across supply chains in six countries. Launched in 2012, Cocoa Life will invest $400 million by 2022 to empower 200,000 cocoa farmers and reach one million community members in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Indonesia, India, the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

“Women’s empowerment is the connective thread,” Robinson said. “Men control the business of cocoa while women do all the work. 90 percent of the land in Ghana is owned by men. But Cocoa Life is bringing transparency and measurement to the supply chain, as well as third-party assessors and local governments. Ten years ago there never would have been this kind of collaboration.

“To transform people to join the journey, we send people to work on cocoa plantations. This has helped create new business and they come back as champions of women’s empowerment. The data leads to connection,” Robinson asserted.

Panelist Elizabeth Lipscomb, Discovery Education’s VP of Education Partnerships & Social Responsibility, added, "A lot of organizations have exclusivity or sector carve-outs with regards to who they'll partner with. It’s counter to Discovery Education’s mission, though, and we’re uncommon in that we partner with organizations who are competitive with each other in the business realm. For instance, in the Ag sector we have four partnerships, and three of the organizations we’re partnered with technically compete with one another. But we’re able to help them differentiate their social impact work in education and play well together, because impacting education should trump exclusivity.”

With technology, financial literacy tools and data for creating unique metrics, gender parity is finally center-stage.

As Peter Drucker once said, “What’s measured improves.” Categorically, inclusion counts.


Sheila Shayon, President of Third Eye Media, is a senior media executive with twenty five plus years in television and new media including expertise in programming, production, broadband, start-up models, creative and branding strategies, digital content and social networking. 

[Read more about Sheila Shayon]


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