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Fearless Voices: Girl Up Leaders Reflect on Activism, Advocacy and Action

Marching on Brooklyn Bridge

Fearless Voices is an ongoing virtual event series that invites thought leaders to discuss culturally relevant topics and provide insights on what brands can do to help advance important societal issues today.

To close Women’s History Month in 2021, Zeno Group hosted an inspiring discussion with three young women leaders from Girl Up. This United Nations campaign draws students, public figures, and private sector stakeholders from around the globe to inspire a generation of girls to advocate for gender equality and social change.

The session shed light on the experiences of these young Generation Z leaders following a year of unprecedented societal change. Zeno’s latest Generation Disrupted research confirms the importance of brands and companies understanding this generation that is so committed to helping solve some of the world’s greatest challenges, and holding brands accountable for the promises they make.

We virtually sat down with Sampada Nyalapatla from the University of Central Florida, Nehal Jain from Duke University and Rhea Raman from American University in Washington D.C. to discuss Girl Up’s campaign efforts, Generation Z’s perspective on activism and advocacy, and the future of feminism—all within the backdrop of COVID-19.

Below are a few key takeaways from the discussion:

Be Aware of Intersectionality: Coined by Professor Kimberlee Crenshaw, intersectionality helps us understand how aspects of a person’s social or political identity, such as race, gender, and class, interact to shape one’s life circumstances and experiences. Often the concept is useful to better realize complex and nuanced systems of discrimination and privilege. For example, though sexism oppresses both Black and white women, their lived experiences can manifest in different and disparate ways due to racism.

Acknowledging intersectionality is crucial when discussing social issues and advocating for social justice. Raman said, “We’re really seeing feminism go beyond the plight of those just oppressed by sexism. We’re trying to incorporate other forms of oppression like racism. We still see women continue to fight for basic education, but we’re not able to liberate those women because [our] agenda changes. Feminism is not a single issue because people don’t lead single issue lives.”

Be Authentic and Consistent: It’s become commonplace over the past year for brand social pages to share statements and directly engage with social issues. While it’s still important to acknowledge pressing affairs, it’s essential that statements and claims are backed by real actions, activations and content.

On this subject, Jain stated, “When a brand tries to engage in an issue that’s not consistent with its messaging, it can be obvious to the consumer. When they have a clear purpose and passion that aligns with my values it makes me want to [buy] from them more.”

Be Thoughtful Before You Engage: While it’s impossible to predict the next global event that will dominate the news cycle, we know all too well the past 12 months that there will be more moments and issues requiring brands to step up and speak out.

Consider asking the following questions when preparing to respond to rapidly changing cultural conversations and societal shifts: What are we doing or have done to support a specific issue or cause central to our brand identity? What will we share on social pages and when should we share it? Once an issue is identified, how can we support external stakeholders?

Be Accountable: Gen Z is the first generation of digital natives. This has created an ecosystem where the conversation can exist on an equal playing field between brands, influencers and individuals. Nyalapatla believes young people look for brands to follow up on promises through their social channels specifically, “if you’re going to make a post about an issue, our generation will keep brands in check.”

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