International Women's Day is one of many days of celebration to really grow in popularity over the last few years. As well as being an opportunity to challenge gender bias and highlight the achievements of women worldwide, it has also exposed the sheer magnitude of corporate hypocrisy.
Brands are embracing social issues in a quest to fulfil their obligations to society but how sincere are they really?
Until recently, activism was optional for brands. Today, we expect brands to pro-actively support the issues that are important to us. It's almost a business imperative.
Corporate social responsibility influences our decision-making, but it also influences how much we are willing to pay. It affects our emotions, and emotions influence our behaviour. Actually, our emotions have greater weight than price or personal taste in our purchasing decisions. A company's social goodness accounts for more than 40% of its reputation. It's little wonder brands are embracing cause activism – it provides a fast-tracked way to demonstrate societal concern. Despite and because of these clear brand benefits, we have a right to be sceptical about their sincerity.
Where the hypocrisy exists, is when companies champion socially desirable values but don't practise them. The 17th-century carving of the "three wise monkeys" has been variously interpreted. For Buddhists, it means to be of good mind, speech, and action. But for the Western world, it depicts a lack of moral responsibility and ignorance – evidenced by this corporate hypocrisy.
The gender bias and power imbalances in the workplace are real. But how is it that these companies which allow this discrimination to continue, campaign publicly against this social injustice by glorifying the cause and celebrating women on this one day of the year?
Our awareness of social responsibility has surged and with it, so has the perception that cause activism is simply a strategic ploy to improve brand image. For any organisation, it's got to be more than a tick-or-flick exercise on improving the gender imbalance on boards and in management. There has to be wholesale change to a company's culture that starts from the top down.
Cause activism is effective, galvanising support and exposing the magnitude of social issues. But let's call out companies that hide behind the façade of social goodness. Let's delete those brands who fail in their basic responsibility to others. And let's recognise with our advocacy and reward with our loyalty those brands who both are good and do good.