As I type this, it’s Women’s Equality Day and a press release has come across my desk telling me that Michelob Ultra is committing $100 Million to support gender equality in sports. The beer-drinker and the athlete in me is happy to hear the news. The feminist in me has more questions. Most top of mind is: Why now?
I’ve been a female since I was born 45+ years ago and I’ve been an athlete since grade school. When I was making my way through school in the 1980s and 1990s, boys’ sports were what brought in all of the attention and money. This is hardly news and anyone over the age of 35 is probably familiar with what I’m talking about.
A shift started to occur in the last 15 or so years where the collective ‘we’ began to take notice of women in sports. From Misty May-Treanor in women’s volleyball to American soccer’s Mia Hamm, it was exciting to see women were finally being represented in sports.
I can’t remember the exact moments I started to follow women’s teams, but I do remember the outrage I felt when I noticed they got more coverage for what they wore (or didn’t) rather than their athleticism. Guys, can you imagine being the top producer in your field, section, or shift, but the only thing anyone in management can talk about is how tightly that suit hugs your, ahem, ‘packaging’?
I understand the timing of Michelob Ultra’s announcement. Today is Women’s Equality Day and it’s one of the few food and beverage brands I’ve seen so far today that’s put anything out about leveling the playing field.
Their contribution, though, reminds me a lot of what brands were doing this time last year. Following the death of George Floyd, numerous brands – and their parent companies – announced they were making shifts in how they did business, how they hired people, and how they branded their products.
As a white woman, I recognize I sit in a position of privilege. What transpired last year hit differently and I discovered I was better off listening and learning rather than reaching and preaching. One of the most significant things I learned from my BIPOC brothers and sisters was the difference between performative actions and allyship.
Performative actions usually show up as grand gestures and announcements. They show up often in the form of well-placed donations and press releases. Allyship is looking inward and noticing your own imperfections and learning from them. It’s making sure your Board of Directors is diverse as is your hiring practices, your staff, and your business partnerships.
Performative actions and allyship aren’t saved for issues relating only to race. It also includes gender diversity; an area companies still need to address internally and externally.
It’s a lot easier to do something performative because you can show it off like a line item on a resume. It makes for good PR and feel-good photo-ops. How many times have you seen an iteration of “Hey, Look at Us! We Changed/Donated/Contributed To This Thing!” Our news pages have performative actions sprinkled among them. For example: PepsiCo made headlines with Pearl Milling Co. announcing it was creating a fund for Black Women's empowerment in 2021. Also, in early 2021, Coca-Cola made headlines by telling its law firms to diversify.
It’s a heck of a lot harder to become an ally and to walk through the minefield of ways you or your company have contributed to the lack of diversity. For an example of non-allyship, see the doubleback Coca-Cola did three months after it told its law firms to diversify. To truly be an ally requires a lot of self-reckoning and righting the wrongs you’ve continued to perpetuate.
Being an ally is much harder, but it makes people, brands, and companies so much richer.
I’m glad to see Michelob Ultra is contributing money to women’s sports. It's about time more people take notice of what women are capable of. I think all brands should be putting more money toward programs like this, even if it’s performative. But if they want to be a real ally? The brand, and its parent company Anheuser-Busch, should take a closer look at how it can do better to become a more racially and gender-diverse company.