Katie Couric and the Leaders of #SeeHer Talk Women's Equality in Media

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Photo: From left: Gail Tifford, Patty Kerr, and Shelley Zalis in N.Y.C.’s Yves restaurant. Photographed by Jeremy Liebman.

When three high-powered executives couldn’t find positive female role models in the media, they created #SeeHer to change the narrative from within. Katie Couric joins their ranks.

Patty Kerr, Gail Tifford, and Shelley Zalis are on a mission to make sure girls and women are portrayed in a positive, empowering way across all kinds of media. Their initiative, #SeeHer, operates under the premise of “If you can see her, you can be her.” In just three years their widely adopted Gender Equality Measure (GEM) scoring system, which quantifies consumer reactions to ads and content, has triggered a positive change in the way women are represented in the U.S. advertising market. After taking GEM global last year, the trio plan to continue expanding their effect on content creation with partners like Meredith Corporation (InStyle’s parent company). Recently, they sat down to chat with journalist and #SeeHer adviser Katie Couric about reframing the industry.

Katie Couric: First question: How did this Blond Ambition tour get started?

Gail Tifford: In 2015 we met [the then U.S. chief technology officer under President Obama] Megan Smith at an event in D.C. and began talking about gender inequality in the workforce and how hard it was to get girls into STEM careers. I thought, “My daughter has no role models [in the media] to aspire to.” At the time, I worked at Unilever, one of the largest advertisers in the world, and I said, “What if we could leverage the power of advertisers to create change?”

Patty Kerr: We wrote out on a napkin how we thought we could bring our plan to scale. Then we took our idea to the Association of National Advertisers [ANA], where I worked, and launched #SeeHer four months later at the United State of Women Summit in 2016.

KC: How did you actually make it happen?

GT: We met with chief marketing officers at companies like P&G and Unilever. Our first priority was helping advertisers create better ads. The easiest part was recognizing that something had to be done and that leveraging billions of dollars in advertising spending was important. The hard part was capitalizing on those dollars when it came to content and programming at networks.

KC: What made everyone sit up and take notice?

Shelley Zalis: In advertising, 56 percent of women don’t see themselves, 55 percent of adults believe women are portrayed negatively, and 90 percent of parents don’t see positive role models for their children [even though women in the U.S. control 85 percent of all purchases]. In movies and TV, women don’t have leading or corporate roles. And we’re often sexualized or objectified.

PK: Everybody knew this was the right thing to do. This is not a women’s movement. It’s about the power of the collective, men and women, working together as an industry to transform stereotypes.

SZ: I think we’re most proud of bringing the industry together with standards that help us march forward with accountability. That is pretty amazing.

KC: How do you feel watching ads that upend ones we saw when we were little or shows that celebrate strong women?

GT: It’s amazing. The result is that the next generation of women see themselves differently — like my daughter, who now wants to go into forensics. I can’t wait to tell Megan [Smith] it’s working; we are getting more girls into STEM!

Photographed by Jeremy Liebman. Location: Yves, NYC.

For more stories like this, pick up the April issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Mar. 22.

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