Women are at the centre of C&A’s global retail business. They work the cotton farms and fields, they gin and produce fabric, they stitch our clothing, they are the majority of our store staff, and they are our target customer. In 2015, we had just released a new global sustainability strategy, and we felt that engaging with our thousands of colleagues around the world on the role of women in their lives would be an effective way to help make this strategy come alive.
At the same time, our foundation, which is working to promote gender justice across the apparel industry, wanted to raise its profile amongst our colleagues and create a deeper connection to the cause of women’s empowerment. But that’s easier said than done.
To connect our colleagues – deeply and meaningfully – to our sustainability strategy, we needed an activity that was relevant … but also fun and easy. We didn’t want to preach but instead wanted our colleagues to desire to know more. To feel interested on a personal level. And we had to appeal to colleagues across cultures and age brackets.
This led to a campaign we called Inspiring Women. In October 2015, we asked C&A’s over 50,000 colleagues a very personal question: who inspires you? Specifically, we wanted to hear the stories of the women who have inspired us – the mothers who worked hard to put us through school, the sisters who have always been there for us, the teachers who pushed us to do our best, the leaders who influenced our careers.
Our campaign provided a platform for all C&A employees to take a selfie and upload it with a story of a woman who has inspired them throughout their lives. Every time they shared a story, it triggered a donation from C&A Foundation to one of 53 non-profit organisations working to support and empower women.
Given the nature of retailing, many of our colleagues are part time, and few have access to a computer in the store, so we were not expecting a large uptake. Based on this, as well as our experience in running employee engagement campaigns, we anticipated receiving close to a 10% participation rate, which would have been a respectable result and double the benchmark for corporate employee volunteering in those countries where C&A operates.
But we were off the mark. When the two-week campaign ended on 30 October, we had received 23,616 uploads across 28 countries, which represented over 50% of the eligible colleagues. These thousands of acts mobilised over €1 million in donations to 53 non-profit organisations around the world, all of which have gender- focused missions. For example, our support to the Global Fund for Women is helping women garment workers in Cambodia, Indonesia and Bangladesh to learn about their rights to a fair and equal wage and safe working conditions. Our colleagues’ stories of inspiration can be found here: https://iw2015.org/ explore/timeline.
We were thrilled with the result, but baffled. What was it about Inspiring Women that appealed to our colleagues around the world, and how could we leverage this approach towards broader employee sustainability engagement in the future? After debriefing with the volunteer co-ordinators and the project team, we have identified several elements that contributed to the campaign’s success:
> Make it personal. Over 50% of Inspiring Women’s participants named their mother as their inspiration. This activity – while publicly celebrated – became personally meaningful.
> Make it easy. It takes five minutes to take a selfie, upload it with the story and select which of the three charities one wishes to donate to. Most of our colleagues decided to do this activity as a group, meeting over lunch or coffee breaks to share with each other.
> Link to the cause. This wasn’t just about the selfie. Our colleagues were inspired by the good they were able to do by directing funds to non-profit organisations of their choice. Many asked how they could become even more involved by, for example, volunteering in their communities.
> Bring in the experts. We engaged the services of Fiona Halton, CEO of Philanthropy in Action (and a former director of Comic Relief, which has raised over Åí1 billion for charity) to design and implement Inspiring Women. Fiona brought with her a team of creative experts who developed the compelling selfie concept.
> But co-design with each business unit. At the same time, each of the 28 participating countries developed its own approach to implementation, which ensured local ownership and accountability.
> Communicate … and celebrate. Through the website and internal communications across C&A, we continue to share stories of the beneficiaries of the funds raised.
Reflecting on the success, Fiona Halton refers back to one of the first planning sessions: “The woman sitting next to me could hardly speak for the emotion of seeing how many of the colleagues around her were saluting women close to them, and exclaimed: ‘I never knew how many strong women there were amongst us.’ It turned out to be an experience repeated again and again in similar sessions across the world. The astonishingly high rate of employee participation that the campaign then went on to achieve was down to enabling employees, like the woman I sat next to, to feel a connection with the cause.”
To C&A, what’s most important is that we have raised the awareness of gender and women’s rights amongst our 50,000+ colleagues. In our independent evaluation of the initiative, we also found that:
> 59% talked about the supported women’s charities with family and friends outside of C&A
> 53% planned to personally donate to a charity supporting women in the next six months
> 61% of participants felt happier about working at C&A.
Engagement around complex sustainability topics takes time. Through this successful campaign, we now have our colleagues’ attention, and we plan to build on this interest and enthusiasm in 2016 and beyond. In planning for our second campaign we want to move beyond awareness to action, helping our colleagues understand what role – however big or small – they might play in promoting the roles and rights of women worldwide.
Jeffrey Hogue is Chief Sustainability Officer, C&A Global, and Leslie Johnston is Executive Director, C&A Foundation
Image credit: Leanne Grossman for Global Fund for Women