Women's March co-chair Bob Bland on communicating about gender equality

Women's March co-chair Bob Bland; Isabel González Whitaker, deputy editor at Billboard magazine; and Burson's Alan Sexton discussed the best way to communicate about women's issues at a panel Tuesday.

Left to right: Bob Bland, national co-chair of the Women’s March; Alan Sexton, chair of the U.S. corporate practice at Burson-Marsteller; and Isabel González Whitaker, deputy editor at Billboard Magazine.
Left to right: Bob Bland, national co-chair of the Women’s March; Alan Sexton, chair of the U.S. corporate practice at Burson-Marsteller; and Isabel González Whitaker, deputy editor at Billboard Magazine.

NEW YORK: The conversation about gender equality has become more public than ever, but the message has changed over the last decade to one of intersectionality and authenticity.

Bob Bland, national co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, noted the increasing importance of intersectional feminism when communicating about women’s issues, speaking at a Burson-Marsteller panel on gender equality Tuesday.

"Women are not a monolith," she said. "We are not a one-issue group. It is imperative that, when looking at equality for women, we look at equality for all people."

Bland noted how many different issues were represented at the Women’s March on January 21, which drew 500,000 protesters in Washington, DC, alone, from Black Lives Matter to climate change.

"You might say, ‘What does that have to do with gender equality?’ But it has everything to do with it," Bland explained. "We fight for all women; it’s not just talking about suffrage, equal pay, and reproductive rights."

Another panelist, Isabel González Whitaker, deputy editor at Billboard magazine, said women’s issues have come even more to the forefront of public consciousness, appearing even in ad campaigns like Dove’s Real Beauty campaign. The campaign, which began as a rebuttal to heavily airbrushed and digitally-altered models, celebrates women of all sizes, colors, and abilities.

"[The Dove campaign] has a recognizability and is pushing women to embrace their authenticity," said González Whitaker "That has opened a lot of doors around that conversation. Authenticity is one message that has resonated."

Burson-Marsteller and its sister polling company Penn Schoen Berland [PSB], conducted a survey on gender equality conversations in March. It found that 84% of respondents believe it is important to speak out about women’s rights issues, and 71% said equal pay in the workplace is the most important issue.

For companies looking to add to the conversation, addressing the internal gender disparity is often the first place to start, said panelist Alan Sexton, chair of the U.S. corporate practice at Burson-Marsteller.

"In this issue of gender equality, more and more businesses and business leaders recognize that fact it is a business imperative," Sexton said. "If you want to compete and want the best talent, it’s probably a bad idea to underrepresent 51% of the population."

The key takeaway was that people should continue talking about gender equality, the panelists agreed. Bland said that the current focus on women’s issues, which began with President Trump’s election and inauguration, "has been a marked upswing from any activism I’ve seen in my life" and that leaders can keep the conversation going.

"We have the opportunity in communications, and as leaders in our everyday lives, to communicate and advocate in our professions," Bland continued. "This is matter not just of justice for women, but justice for the whole world."

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