News and Insights

Femme Forward: Tired of Being Sick and Tired

March 30, 2021

In this week’s Femme Forward, Helen Shelton emphasizes the importance of amplifying the voices of women in the workplace and acting now to drive change in trying times.

Last week’s one-year anniversary of the official COVID-19 lockdown laid bare the reality of what has become the new normal.

It also provided an opportunity to take stock of where we are as a culture, a society and as professionals in the communications industry.

While the last 12 months have been fraught with moments of despair and crisis, many of us are utilizing our skills and passions to make a difference. I’ve been able to use my platform as a professional communicator and diversity advocate to draw attention to and fight against racial injustice and health inequities.

And in this season of reflection during Women’s History Month, I’ve embarked on a new mission to amplify the voices of women in the workplace.

Throughout history, women have served as the backbone of society, driving decisions at home, raising and caring for their families and making strides in the workforce – contributing significantly to the global economy.

Thanks to advances made by women in business, science, education, technology, medicine, politics, culture and the arts, women have collectively accelerated the global economy. And research shows empowering women to participate equally in the global economy could add $28 trillion in GDP growth by 2025.

I have the honor of serving on the most diverse board in the 90-year history of New York Women in Communications, where I am chief communications officer. Our new #WomenHeard initiative is a multiplatform campaign to address the alarming number of women forced to leave the workforce and disproportionately affected by the economic devastation of COVID-19.

We simply must be respected and heard, particularly since women are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, even as we power through obstacles to drive results and the reality of the coronavirus as its effects continue to be unprecedented for us all. And, even more so, women of color are disproportionately affected by the tough job market – bearing the brunt of layoffs, furloughs and budget cuts.

Last spring, at the height of the pandemic in New York City, I led a COVID-19 safety protocol campaign aimed at communities of color. Working with the global nonprofit Hip Hop Public Health, a Finn Partners client, we launched a trilogy of COVID-19 safety music video PSAs that resulted in the message of safety and love becoming part of the vernacular.

The 20 Seconds or More20 Segundos o Más and Behind the Mask original songs and videos helped us correct preexisting messaging failures around the coronavirus when it came to minority audiences.

We sought to create a way of communicating that was both culturally relevant and impactful, encouraging positive behavior change around handwashing, mask wearing, social distancing and other important safety protocols.

The resulting campaign, Message in The Music: Spreading Love NOT Covid was recognized with a PRWeek Award in the Community Relations category as well as an Honorable Mention in the Non-Profit category. This recognition stands as a shining beacon of hope and inspiration even as we continue to face the uncertainties of the pandemic.

In addition, as a board member of the New York Urban League, I’ve been able to work on strategies to amplify its work in addressing inequality – an unacceptable set of circumstances facing New York’s Black community around jobs, the digital divide, education and access to necessary human services.

Finally, during this time, I’ve worked with our senior management to reinforce our commitment to DEI with even stronger actionable steps around recruitment, education, civic engagement, volunteerism and inclusivity.

These activities are having a direct impact on us as well as the industry. I see my new role as global chief diversity officer as an opportunity to continue to make a difference and drive change.

“Being tired of being sick and tired,” to quote American Shero and activist Fannie Lou Hamer, best sums up my sentiments on these trying times. We simply must act and act NOW!