YWCA underscores gender inequity in sports with ‘Add the M’ campaign

Who: The YWCA, with Rethink for strategy and creative.

What: “Add the M,” a new awareness program underscoring the need for greater equity between men’s and women’s sports.

When & Where: The campaign is in market now, running across the YWCA’s owned and operated channels, as well as a dedicated website called LetsAddTheM.com. There is no paid media for now, with the organization relying primarily on media engagement as a way of spreading the message.

Why: “A lot of sports fans aren’t necessarily thinking about gender equity, and they should be,” said Amy Juschka, director of communications and advocacy at YWCA Metro Vancouver. “All of the issues that are important in other realms, like pay inequity and lack of opportunity, are also showing up in sports.”

The campaign stems from the insight that the word “Women’s” is always added to the names of professional sports league for women, but the word men or the letter M is never added to their male equivalent. While it’s simply the NBA or PGA, for example, women’s leagues feature gender identifiers: WNBA and LPGA.

Juschka said the campaign was inspired by a recent interview she heard with Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis. She said he was unable to provide a satisfactory answer when asked about why there was no professional soccer league for women in Canada.

“One of the goals of our work is getting the issues of gender equity and social justice on the radar of people and organizations that aren’t necessarily thinking about it,” said Juschka. “After hearing that interview, I spoke with our partners at Rethink about what we can do to really show the impact of gender inequity in sport.”

How: The YWCA and Rethink have created downloadable updated versions of the logos for sports leagues that feature the letter “M” added to the front of their name. The iconic NHL shield now reads MNHL, while others include the MNBA, MPGA and MMLS.

“Men’s sports leagues all just assume that men are the natural players, and women are kind of siloed off,” said Juschka. “What we wanted to say is let’s add the ‘M’ before these leagues for men and talk about the fact that women don’t have the same kind of investment, support or media attention.”

The YWCA has also recruited several notable figures from the sports world to help promote the message, including Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair (soccer’s all-time leading international goal scorer), Sportsnet host Tara Slone and TSN host Jennifer Hedger. They appear in a new video calling for greater gender equity in sport.

Any concerns about being penalized for trademark infringement: Juschka said there were discussions about the implications of using trademarked logos during the campaign’s development, but that the YWCA has received no feedback from the leagues since it went live. “If leagues were coming to us, giving us that feedback and asking us to cease and desist, of course we would do that,” she said. “But really we see this as an opportunity to have fun, have a conversation, and to give a real visual element to the message.”

A commitment to bold marketing: The YWCA is making something of a habit of using attention-getting marketing to get people to pay more attention to women’s issues. Last year, for example, it created the “Wall for Women,” a 42-foot tall mural that used hidden QR codes to relay information about the prevalence of domestic violence. “The big thing with these kinds of initiatives is that we’re able to penetrate into an area of the community where our message is typically not known or understood,” said Juschka.

And we quote: “After I listened to that radio segment, I googled ‘Top international goal scorer, soccer’ and [Cristiano] Ronaldo popped up,” said Juschka. “But Christine and nine other women have scored more international goals than Ronaldo or any other male soccer player. I just said ‘Okay, we need to have this conversation.’ This is very obvious to us but there are a lot of people who aren’t having this conversation. It just goes to show that men are the default, but women are doing incredible things in soccer and other sports. It’s not for a lack of talent, it is really just a lack of opportunity.”

Chris Powell