How Social Media Supports Gender Equality
And why that should matter to brands
It was exactly one year ago today, on International Women’s Day 2017, that I published my first post about inclusion on this blog. As I reflect on this topic one year later, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go to achieve equality for women. And yet, a lot happened this year to fill me with hope that gender equality is not an elusive or unrealistic ideal. I’m also filled with pride for the ways that social media has helped keep gender equality at the forefront of today’s cultural zeitgeist. It’s helped expose harsh realities, it’s shown support for victims, and shifted our cultural tolerance for gender-based inequity and how we treat the predators who prey on it.
So much happened in 2017 to fill me with hope that gender equality is not an elusive or unrealistic ideal. @sedmoore
This chapter in our story starts with Tarana Burke—the brave woman who started Just Be in 2006, a non-profit that helps victims of sexual assault. She named her movement MeToo and worked to educate and support victims with grassroots workshops and community programs. And she did it at at a time when Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr didn’t exist.
Eleven years later, on October 15, 2017, actress and activist Alyssa Milano invited followers to respond to a tweet with the hashtag #metoo. Her post went viral on Twitter and the movement quickly spread to Facebook and other networks, where victims took the time and space to share their stories. Seven months and a staggering 11.2 million posts later, the conversation continues in social media. Its overall volume has surpassed planned cultural moments like the Superbowl or the Oscars.
I believe that #metoo has surpassed these big cultural moments in overall size because it has more relevance and endurance than the world’s biggest football game or awards show. This endurance has been helped by related and complementary conversations like #ibelieveher and #believewomen that lent support, and #timesup, which called for change.
At the core of this movement’s endurance is the fact that harassment is not just a women’s issue. It happens in every community and affects people from all walks of life. A quick analysis of the #metoo and #timesup conversations on Twitter shows a surprising balance between men and women talking. We also see that all generations participate, although younger people drive most of the conversation.
The #metoo movement has endured because harassment is not just a women’s issue.
Sexual harassment stories have been picked up by media outlets and dominated news cycles for decades. Women like Tarana Burke have worked in communities to build awareness and and support for victims for at least as long. But social media has shifted the balance of power away from institutional discrimination and given it to real people tell their own stories, authentically and powerfully. This time, it showed the world the breadth and depth of a pervasive problem, and instigated a call for change. As a result, we’ve begun to see a shift in cultural tolerance for predatory behavior this year.
Social media has shifted the balance of power away from institutional discrimination and given it to real people. — @sedmoore
What businesses can learn from #metoo
The #metoo movement illustrates how social media is different than any of our traditional mediums. Social provides people—as marketers, we often call them an audience, but they are people, not pixels—the chance to speak, earnestly and at people who they might otherwise never have access to. As more and more marginalized groups find their voice on social, it is the responsibility and the best interest of brands to find meaningful ways to support these voices, both internally and externally. Internally, in order to have a truly diverse and inclusive workplace, where women and non-binary identifying employees feel equally valued and safe. Research continues to prove that diverse and inclusive businesses make more money and build more shareholder value, it’s clear that there’s plenty to be gained. And when brands find ways to express these values externally, they reap even bigger rewards through stronger customer relationships and brand love.
There are three more lessons that businesses can learn from this particular cultural moment: 1) There is no replacement for honest, authentic storytelling. 2) Don’t try to fake it or buy your way in to a story that isn’t your own. You have to earn your place in the story with action. 3) The audience advocating for safer, more equal workplaces is massive and diverse.
On International Women's Day, it’s good to be reminded that harassment is not a women’s issue or a man’s issue. Its pervasiveness weakens teams and businesses, and it damages communities in every corner of the globe. Tarana Burke started the MeToo movement 11 years ago, Alyssa Milano’s influence triggered a global conversation last October, and millions of people have since joined the conversation to show us the magnitude of the problem. Increased awareness led to more acknowledgement. Broader acknowledgement started to shift our cultural tolerance for predatory behavior, while also teaching us lessons for building stronger, more valuable brands and businesses. It’s not easy to see where this movement will take us next, but I believe it’s taking us to a better place. It’s helped me believe that gender equality is a goal worthy of our attention and our investments, and one that’s within reach.