I'll never forget when Food Processing's beloved Diane Toops interviewed Ms. Brown M&M 10 years ago. Ms. Brown came onto our screens during Super Bowl XLVI and Ms. Toops—being the industry professional she was—got a coveted opportunity to ask many of the questions we had of this mysterious new personality.
In the interview Ms. Brown is described as having "her own distinct personality, rooted in her wisdom, high intelligence and sharp wit. Her unmatched knowledge of milk chocolate vaulted her to the position of Chief Chocolate Officer." I've always seen a lot of myself in Ms. Brown. We're both intelligent, wise, and sharp of wit. Much like Ms. Brown, I, too, wear glasses and have an unmatched knowledge of chocolate.
Cult of Personality
On January 20, Mars unveiled its new plan for the M&M Gang. To be honest, I didn't even know Mars had rolled out their more inclusive M&Ms until I saw it spring up on social media. What started out as people poking fun on a new choice of shoes for a fictional character on Friday seems to have evolved into at least one pundit decreeing that the candies are no longer sexy enough.
While I don't know that I've ever thought of my candy as having sex-appeal, the conversation about what the characters have evolved into got me to thinking about the parallels of women in the workplace and how we view them. It's not lost on me that the rebranded M&Ms are part of Mars' Full Potential Platform, which seeks to advance gender equality in the workplace.
Unless you knew about the changes ahead of time, you most likely wouldn't notice what did change. Some of updates were cosmetic and had to do with footwear. The bigger changes had to do with their personalities, which is where we need to have a deeper conversation.
The Women&M Conundrum
Of the cosmetic changes, the two most noticeable (if you notice these kinds of things), are that Brown's heels are shorter and more squared off and Green traded in heeled boots for sneakers. As a person that wears sneakers, boots, and heels in a pretty regular rotation, I speak on behalf of all heel-wearing people everywhere when I say thank you for letting them put on more comfortable footwear. But as a woman, I want to say "why does it matter what footwear someone is wearing so long as they can do the job?"
I remember a few years ago hearing the stories from one of my manufacturing media colleagues and the several conferences she attended that had tracks about being a woman in manufacturing. Of those tracks, there was always at least one session on appearance. "Wear this, but not that." "Don't wear these heels; instead where those." "Wear an attractive sensible heel." "You mustn't dress sexy while at work." All of these statements and their iterations were commonplace in these tracks. Having your appearance as a woman be conference-track worthy always seemed alarming to me. That this practice was still in play four or five years ago tells you how far we still need to go in manufacturing to reach equality. I mean, can someone point me to the tracks where we tell men at conferences how to dress?
From a marketing perspective, I understand that the M&Ms needed to have some kind of appearance change in order to illustrate the update, but where I'm struggling is the narrative about the personalities and why they're changing.
Green and Brown—one of the changes Mars made to the M&Ms was to remove gender from their color—are the two M&Ms that had been identified as female. They're also the two M&Ms that seemed to be at odds with each other all of the time. As a woman, I have to say the trope that women don't get along with other women is old and tired.
As part of their new groupthink, Green and Brown are apparently now friendly to each other. This is a much-needed rebrand on how women work with other women. That it took 10 years to change their adversarial nature, however, speaks volumes about how men often see women in the workplace. We are not adversarial. Most of us really want to see our fellow female co-workers do well. It's about time we stop the message that women can't work well alongside other women. And we need to talk about that more; that's the deeper conversation we really need to be having.
Influential Women in Food
Speaking of working well alongside women, I'm going to shamelessly plug something that speaks to how much we want and need to see women succeed in manufacturing, especially food and beverage manufacturing.
If you know a woman—or several women—making an impact in the food and beverage industry, consider nominating them for our Influential Women in Food honor. It costs zero dollars and takes about 3 minutes, but the rewards are definitely worth it. We'll be collecting peer-submitted nominations until March 1, so be sure to check out our page on the site and definitely be sure you submit a nomination (or 10) before March 1.