Skip to content

…A national paid leave policy that ensures women don’t need to use valuable vacation time or unpaid leave to care for family members or deliver children. By not paying for care-related leave, we continue to stigmatize women’s caring work as less important than on-the-job work, further marginalizing them.

As part of my series about the five things we need to do to close the gender wage gap, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alaina Crystal, Head of Strategy at Purpose.

A committed feminist, Alaina has spent much of her career working on behalf of women and girls. At Purpose, she currently unites the organization’s diverse bunch of strategists across six offices to develop new processes and IP that help its partners create impact backed my strategic rigor.

Alaina joined Purpose from AMV BBDO, the UK’s largest advertising agency. Tere, she served as Deputy Head of Strategy and led global strategic development across Guinness, Snickers, and Bodyform, transforming worldviews around periods and women’s health. Within her role, Alaina served on AMV’s Diversity & Inclusivity committee and the Omniwomen committee (a cross-Omnicom consortium designed to lift women up in business), while also leading a pro-bono campaign for Plan International UK in honor of International Day of the Girl. She was awarded a WACL Future Leader award in 2019.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?

I come from a line of women who refused to fit the mold. My grandmother went to work for the U.S. Postal Service when her kids were in school, bucking the trend of the 1950s/60s housewife in America. My mom eschewed secretarial school in the early 1970s to attend business school (fighting with her university for all four years to stay in her business classes) and became a successful corporate executive, all while maintaining an equal marriage with my dad and raising me.

It was not a huge surprise to anyone when I ended up working in the social impact space, particularly given my passion for women’s and girls’ rights. I joined Purpose in November 2019 after nearly a decade in creative advertising, most recently at BBDO in the UK. While at BBDO, I worked with a number of brands that used communications to shift culture, particularly with women and girls. Our repositioning of Barbie in 2015 as a tool for girls’ imaginations and potential, and our work with Bodyform from 2016 onwards, which highlighted the taboos and pressures that women face around periods, lit a fire within me. Simultaneously, the latest wave of feminist action after Donald Trump’s election threw logs onto that fire. I joined the Women’s Equality Party in the UK in 2017 and ran a campaign for a local council seat in south London, highlighting the importance of equality in the home and in government. After that experience, I knew that I needed to find a way to merge these two flames — and Purpose came in there.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

I feel grateful for the way that this career has enabled me to travel the globe, meeting all sorts of people and leading to a multitude of experiences and stories. I have spoken with millennial moms in LA and beer drinkers in Nairobi, as well as presented on stage at Cannes Lions and swapped wedding photos in the back of a car with clients in Shanghai. I not only visited supermarkets with chocolate eaters in Poland, but also wrote decks with clients on the train between Dusseldorf and Paris. All in all, the past ten years have been pretty incredible.

Can you share a story about the funniest or most interesting mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started out, I had just begun working with clients and was learning quite quickly on the job. I was keen to prove myself in my junior role and prided myself on my efficiency in getting things done. One night, I had to send an email to a client analyzing some recent research. The email was not very detailed or clear, and it had a few errors in it. My boss (who was a lovely guy) emailed me immediately to point that out. I quickly hustled to correct the errors and resend…and in so doing, made a few more mistakes.

Priding myself on diligence and academic precision, this incident really upset me at the time. The next morning, my boss sat me down to ask what I learned. The answer? Stop, reflect, and review before sharing work, a lesson in non-reactivity that continues to serve me well. I have passed this lesson on to nearly every strategist I have mentored as well.

Okay, let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. Even in 2020, women still earn about 81 cents for every dollar a man makes. Can you explain three of the main factors that are causing the wage gap?

This figure continues to astound me and only worsens for women of color, with American Indian, Black, and Latinx women earning 75 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to data from Payscale. Despite making up 50% of the workforce, 50% of working women have stopped working or reduced their hours due to caregiving needs since the onset of the pandemic, which likely will cause the wage gap to worsen.

Patriarchy and white supremacy perpetuate the wage gap. Key factors stemming from these dominant ideologies include the marginalization of:

  • Girls in education: When girls are held back in school or made to feel they need to quiet their voices to create space for boys, they learn lifelong habits. According to research from the AAUW, girls’ work is more likely to get judged based on effort as opposed to vision, setting up a disparity for the adult working world. These differing expectations in childhood prompt women to become more likely to spend additional hours perfecting a presentation versus boldly sharing ideas.
  • Women in the workforce: Despite making up 50% of the workforce, women make up 29% of leadership positions. Early in their careers, women often get encouraged to take on certain types of roles, with administrative versus operational roles getting favored. Women then become less connected to a business’s P&L and get perceived as less critical or connected to visionary thinking.
  • Women in the home: According to OECD data, women in the U.S. spend 105 minutes more on unpaid labor — including care work, household chores, and cooking — per day than men. Men only spend 84 minutes more on paid work per day than women, a missed opportunity for equilibrium.

Can you share with our readers what your work is doing to help close the gender wage gap?

At Purpose, we practice and reinforce equity across all of our work, whether in our global campaigns and labs or through internal procedures and processes.

Recently, Purpose interrogated gender equity in the early childhood and education sector in partnership with LEGO Foundation. The campaign directed parents to a platform where they could participate in a set of learning activities with their children during the COVID-19 pandemic, acknowledging and correcting for how gender roles get cemented and reinforced through play.

In terms of internal efforts, we have transparent pay grades at Purpose. We encourage open discussions about pay, destigmatizing conversations that hold women back from understanding how their own salaries compare to peers. Our promotion process also runs via a strict calibration process, wherein promotions get reviewed by the person’s professional development (PD) manager, their head of office, head of department, and head of project. That way, we can spot trends across the organization and areas where people might rank themselves higher or lower across certain metrics. For instance, if women rank themselves lower than men on the more visionary- and leadership-driven metrics, we correct for that bias.

On a personal level, I am really committed to mentoring women around pay negotiation and promotion. I take pride in having helped a number of my mentees secure promotions, pay rises, or new roles within the organization that better suit their skills and desires.

Can you recommend five things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the gender wage gap. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. A national paid leave policy that ensures women don’t need to use valuable vacation time or unpaid leave to care for family members or deliver children. By not paying for care-related leave, we continue to stigmatize women’s caring work as less important than on-the-job work, further marginalizing them. This issue becomes even more important amongst non-white women; for example, Latinas in the U.S. have reported taking the highest rate of leave to care for themselves or others during the pandemic.
  2. A redefinition of roles that accounts for a more fluid expression of gender. By continuing to underscore a binary lens, we exclude those who don’t identify as male or female and pit those two genders against one another. Understanding of gender has grown more nuanced, with Pew reported that nearly 1 in 5 Americans knew someone who used a gender-neutral pronoun by 2019. A redefinition of gender can change how we see power in the workplace and where the money should go.
  3. A close examination of the power dynamics in the workplace. While the #MeToo movement led to incredible strides, we still need to create safe spaces free of stigmas around how women look or dress. Sexual harassment from majority male colleagues remains a major issue, but it goes beyond that. We must address the harassment for clothing, hairstyles, and manicures that BIPOC women disproportionately face. The CROWN Act, which passed the House of Representatives in 2020, aims to put a legal framework around ending hair discrimination in the U.S. for good.
  4. A true reckoning with girls’ mental health and the social media networks that perpetuate unrealistic lifestyles and unattainable body images. According to the AMA, suicides doubled amongst girls age 15 to 19 from 2007 to 2015; with most social media platforms launching between 2005–2015, this spike hardly comes as a surprise. We must put better provisions in place to keep young people safe from the harms of social media, such as regulating airbrushing and building safer algorithms.
  5. A reconfiguration of how we understand ‘women’s work.’ We must equalize caregiving responsibilities for women to take on more in the workplace, while valuing that work monetarily. According to a March 2020 New York Times op-ed, if women’s unpaid labor got compensated at minimum wage, they would have earned $1.5 trillion in that year alone.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Women have led community-based lives for years and found that it provides robust support networks, from childrearing years well into their sixties. Community-based organizing amongst Black women has resulted in incredible gains in states like Georgia, ultimately powering Biden to the White House. At Purpose, we work toward ‘new power’ movements — movements that have peer-to-peer participation at their core and center the most marginalized communities. I would like to inspire a movement that rebuilds and reshapes our towns and cities to centralize communal living, solving inequalities tied to and beyond the wage gap.

Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote”? How was that relevant to you in your life?

I have a poster in my bedroom that my work wife from New York gave me right before I moved to London. It’s from 2016, when Hillary’s campaign was in full swing and I had been volunteering in her Brooklyn HQ as a phone banker before I moved.

It says “do the most good” with Hillary’s logo at the bottom, and I wake up to it every day. While simple, this phrase really sticks with me as a mantra. I strive to do the most good in my work, for the planet, and for the people in my life, whether that’s the strategists I mentor, my family and friends, or myself.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the U.S. whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? They might just see this — especially if we tag them.

I’ve been watching a lot of West Wing during the pandemic, so I’m tempted to say C.J. Cregg. Given she is a fictional character from a 22-year-old TV show though, that probably doesn’t fit the bill. It’s a bit cliche but I think Gloria Steinem. I read Revolutions from Within about ten years ago, and it massively impacted me, particularly around my connection to my self esteem and how broader societal trends inform it. Because she has lived through so many waves of feminism, I also would love to get her view through the decades. She still seems hopeful, which I really respect.

This conversation was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.

Alaina Crystal of Purpose On The Five Things We Need To Do To Close The Gender Wage Gap was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.