SeeHer SheFront: Moving the Needle on How Women Show Up On and Behind the Screens

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A few weeks ago, Sheereen Russell was going through a particularly hectic day. "I was a hot mess," said the Executive Vice President, Ad Sales and Inclusive Content Monetization at Warner Bros. Discovery. When she and her team got on a call with Procter & Gamble, she immediately asked everyone to forgive her appearance; she didn't look as put-together as she would have liked. The topic of the meeting was a campaign called Unbecoming, which addresses the sense many African American women have that they always need to look polished and presentable in order to engender a sense of dignity. And it suddenly hit her: "Oh my gosh, this is like life imitating art."

That anecdote earned Russell a lot of empathetic laughter from a mostly female crowd at the annual SeeHer SheFront, which took place April 25th in New York.

"It's so incredible for our partners, and all our partners in the room here, that we create a space, especially for Black women -- not only because I am one, but because I recognize how invisible we are. At the end of the day, we hold this country up," Russell said, citing a string of examples, like the power African American women have shown at the voting booth.

The SeeHer event highlights the power of storytelling and messaging that convey accurate portrayals of women and girls -- and improving employee opportunities for females as well. SeeHer members represent 7,300 of the most famous brands around the world, noted Christine Guilfoyle, President of SeeHer, which is part of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).

Guilfoyle discussed SeeHer's Gender Equality Measurement (GEM) standard, a data-driven methodology for identifying gender bias in content and marketing messages. According to its findings, "65% of high GEM-scoring ads drive business growth. And when you place that high GEM-scoring ad in high GEM-scoring content, it's a 16% business-growth driver," she said.

Other statistics were offered by Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer of Procter & Gamble. According to data he's studied, women represent $31.5 trillion in economic power. If women participated in the economy equally to men, it would add an additional $28 trillion, or a total of $60 trillion.

He contends that stealing market share from competitors "is the dumbest way to grow. If you take market share, they'll attack you. The best way to grow is to grow the entire market, make the market bigger." That can come from marketing strategies that are more inclusive and more accurately reflect women and minorities.

AMC Networks is among the media companies that are churning out new shows that speak to SeeHer's goals. Kim Granito, the company's Head of Marketing, spoke about a four-part documentary series debuting next month called "Thick Skin."

"It's about de-stigmatizing obesity," Granito explained. "We're very comfortable talking about gender, race and religion. But we don't talk about weight. And it's something that impacts all women -- whether it's you or someone you love."

Some companies are also taking action behind the scenes to promote internal growth in ways that tap into the power of women. Among those instituting change is Paramount Global. A few years ago, "when we looked at the ad-sales-area internship and entry level positions, there was no DE&I, no diversity," said Jo Ann Ross, Chairman of Advertising at Paramount. Her group changed that situation up completely and hired a behavioral science company to help with the transformation. Interview tactics and education requirements were revamped, and Ross's unit leaned heavily into historically Black colleges and universities for recruitment.

"We hired 150 entry-level people, and our composition and complexion has changed dramatically," Ross said, adding that 70% of the 150 are BIPOC and gender diverse. "We're also changing externally. When we meet with clients, DE&I is at the top of the chart."

Paramount is more focused now on creating shows that accurately reflect the diversity of its audiences. "We're working with the creators and storytellers to make sure our content is more inclusive. And we're measuring that with a partner who has yet to be announced," Ross said. "We're doing hard work -- data, rigor and research to change what we're doing."

At A+E Networks, every employee must have an annual goal that relates to DEI, said Lisa Mallen, Senior Vice President, Advertising Sales and Multiplatform Solutions. The company also has employee resource groups and mentorships to help staff members on the first rungs of the corporate ladder progress in the best ways possible.

"One in particular is our Spark program, which was started by a few women who are alums of the Betsy Magness Leadership program," Mallen explained. "It's an annual mentorship, and when people graduate out, they recommend leaders to join in that group."

"Women represent around 28% of leadership in C-suites," said Sheelpa Patel, Senior Vice President, Business Platforms and Strategy at Fox Corp., citing S&P data. "For my own professional growth, I want to contribute to ticking that up. It's all about paying it forward."

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