by D&E Staff

February 8, 2017

There’s no question that Audi’s Super Bowl ad featuring a gender pay equity message was bold.

If you haven’t seen it, the ad features a father pondering how to explain to his (race car driving) daughter that women are worth less in the workplace than men.

Taking on such a politically charged issue in such a politically charged time was an interesting choice for the luxury car company, and it’s certainly generated plenty of attention. But whether you praise the ad’s message or consider it a fail, perhaps the big question is: does Audi walk the walk?

It’s hard to rate the company’s performance on pay equity since it doesn’t disclose its pay structure (most companies do not). But it’s commitment and progress in the area of diversity and inclusion (D&I) are a telling proxy.

As commenters on social media pointed out, Audi lacks diversity in its leadership – for example, there are no women (or minorities, but since the ad focused on women, that’s my focus here) on its Board of Management and few on its Supervisory Board. However, I’m not willing to scold Audi for that necessarily – diversity and inclusion efforts take time to come to fruition, and most companies (including ours) are still in the early stages (as such most would not take out a Super Bowl ad about it…). What’s more interesting to me is how the company talks about its efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

In its 2015 Corporate Responsibility Update, Audi published a goal for increasing the percent of women in its leadership team (and presumably paying them on par with the men). When it comes to D&I initiatives, the company describes an action plan approved in 2007 – 10 years ago now. The part of the plan aimed at women has more details about the 30 percent goal for management, including an explanation of how the target was set – which is much appreciated. However, the timeframe is vague – “over the long term” – and that doesn’t inspire much confidence. Much of the rest of the content focuses on efforts to introduce girls interested in science and math when they are still in school or simply comply with German laws and regulations. The missing piece of the puzzle is how the company is supporting the careers of women who work at Audi today.

I’ll give the company the benefit of the doubt and presume it has a number of ongoing, effective D&I initiatives – but without the communications to back it up, we’re left wondering if the Super Bowl ad was just prime-time marketing. At a minimum, there’s a disconnect between Audi’s corporate responsibility story and its marketing efforts, which opens the company up for questions about the authenticity of its Super Bowl ad.

Companies can avoid the risk of such a disconnect by ensuring their corporate responsibility report and content are up to date, authentic, aligned with the company’s overall strategy and messaging, and easy to find.