MIAMI BEACH — Kelly Parisi, the head of communications and marketing at the, advocated for gender equality and for brands to send empowering messages about women at day two of the Global PR Summit. 

“Images are so powerful — our brain processes images faster than words,” Parisi noted, pointing out that googling the term “boss” almost exclusively depicts images of men. She then acknowledged brand campaigns that won Glass Lions for shattering gender stereotypes: Whisper’s “Touch the Pickle”; Always’ #LikeAGirl; and Sport England’s “Jiggle.” In 2013, LeanIn.Org partnered with Getty Images to develop a new collection that defied gender stereotypes.

“Women are the majority of workforce but they’re still not boss,” Parisi said. “And most of the marketing we get is heavily gendered.”

She drew upon a recent study by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey, in which 118 companies and nearly 30,000 employees participated, revealing that women continue to be underrepresented at every level of the corporate pipeline —and at the current rate of progress, it will take more than 100 years for gender parity in the C-suite.

“There were bright spots in the study — CEO commitment to gender diversity was high,” she said. “The majority of companies have great programs and practices but employees don’t use them. 90% of employees — men and women — believe they will be penalized if they take advantage of [work/life balance] policies.” 

She pointed to Facebook, where execs are not only encouraged to take extended leave, but they post about it on social media to show that employees — at all levels — have permission to utilize programs in place to ease the burden of working with family obligations.

She also pointed out that PR is not the only industry in which women dominate the workforce but not the top leadership positions, such as education and non-profit sectors. She also touched on the “likeability penalty” that women face as they rise within an organization.  

“PR doesn’t have a pipeline problem — engineering does,” Parisi added. “PR has a promotion issue.”

H+K Strategies’ Mike Coates opened the session by recalling how reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In showed him vast disparities between Canadian and US policies around paid leave and childcare. 

“In the absence of government policy change, we decided to create new policies and refresh existing ones to show we support working parents,” Coates said.