This International Women’s Day, my thoughts are with everyone affected by the terrible conflict in Ukraine. This year’s Break the Bias theme feels particularly pertinent, as consciously or not, gender bias unfortunately still exists.
Throughout my career, I have seen significant change - both in the marketing industry and in the world of whisky. But that doesn’t mean our job is done.
I believe that the path to gender equality starts from within. Building teams - who, in turn, will build our brands - that fully understand the importance of speaking to a broader audience, and know what it takes to be inclusive, to truly represent.
Over my many years at Diageo, I have worked in numerous countries around the world and am proud to have played a role in driving our diversity and inclusion agenda to the teams I’ve led.
At Johnnie Walker, and indeed, Diageo, we’re proud of the progress we’ve made so far but we know there is more to do, and we have a clear plan in place to strive towards.
In my current role as Johnnie Walker Global Brand Director, I lead a team of over 25 marketers - almost two thirds of whom are women - as we embark on the next chapter of our iconic Keep Walking campaign, building plans which are progressive and inclusive both in talent and our audiences.
Our team contributes to Diageo’s ambitions to increase representation of women in leadership roles to 50% and 45% from ethnically diverse backgrounds by 2030.
We have also just appointed Dr Emma Walker (no relation!) our first female Master Blender in 200 years of Johnnie Walker, who leads our team of 12 expert blenders – five of them women.
We launched our Progressive Portrayal framework a few years ago and have since trained over 2,000 employees across our marketing community and our partner agencies in our four-part framework covering representation, perspective, characterisation, and agency in advertising. I rolled this out to the growing marketing team in India when I was in my previous role as Chief Marketing Officer there and saw a huge change in our storytelling to drive equality and shape the culture we were building.
In building Johnnie Walker globally, as a culture-first brand, we have reviewed our strategy and approach to all creative work, rightfully challenging each campaign, asking ourselves how we can strive for equality and inclusivity, both in front of and behind the camera.
This framework has - and continues to - hold us accountable to representing women in our campaigns, but for me, this wasn’t about simply having a female promoting our brands, it is about partnering with women who could help break the bias that surrounds the whisky category. Those who stand for change in their own field. Joining forces felt like the right move.
Take Keep Walking for example. We’ve just launched the next chapter of the campaign, which has been built on the progressive stories of people striving for progress. But it’s not just about personal progress anymore. It’s about collective progress. For the greater good. For all of us. As equals.
We’ve partnered with cultural change-makers across the globe - many of them women - to help revive culture and drive social regeneration in key cities to get people socialising again. It’s been a challenging time to inspire optimism, in a moment when we didn’t know what ‘progress’ could look like. But that’s why we work with people who have empowering stories to tell.
In South Korea, we worked with K-pop icon CL to launch a series of events in the iconic venues that made the local social scene the vibrant, progressive hub that it is famed for.
In India, we worked with singer Lisa Mishra who partnered with Ritviz, to create a new soundtrack for Johnnie Walker to enhance the after-hours vibe in night time hot spots.
And most recently, we launched a 50-minute documentary, The Ones Who Keep Walking, directed by Forbes 30-under-30 director Amarachi Nwosu, who shone a light on more than 20 defiantly optimistic voices from across Africa - each hand-selected as someone who actively embodied the spirit of ‘Keep Walking’.
We all have a role to play - both men and women - in how we Break the Bias. Building teams with gender balance. Giving people a voice. Proactively promoting our brands with an even balance of men and women. Creating campaigns that appeal to broader audiences.
International Women’s Day is an important date in the diary. But to strive towards gender balance, we need to think year-round about our work, our attitudes, our tone, our approach. Making changes. Continually improving. Striving for collective progress. To Break the Bias.