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Women Not Objects, with Madonna Badger

Women Not Objects, with Madonna Badger

Episode 68: Women Not Objects, with Madonna Badger

Can you imagine a space where women in ads are seen as more than just objects? Well, Madonna Badger has not only imagined it, but she's created it. The advertising executive at Badger & Winters Ad Agency has pioneered the campaign #WomenNotObjects to put an end to objectification of women in advertisements. In this week's podcast, Madonna talks about the effect these images have on children, the importance of empathy and what she's learned from allowing herself to be vulnerable. Through tough conversations, Madonna has learned a lot about herself and her business.

Episode Transcript


00:00 Rachel Griesinger: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. Conversations of Women Changing the Face of Business. And now your hosts, Kristy Wallace and Maricella Herrera.

00:13 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace. And I am here with Maricella, who is back from your vacation.

00:22 Maricella Herrera: Yay. Well, you're back from your vacation too.

00:24 KW: I know. Do I sound exhausted?

00:25 MH: Kristy, your voice gives you away. But I was thinking, we haven't been in the same room for more than a month.

00:37 KW: We haven't been in the same room since the summit, yeah. So June 21st. Yes, it's been... My goodness. I missed you.

00:47 MH: I missed you too.

00:48 KW: Wow, that's pretty crazy. But you had a good trip right? Jess stood in while you were gone.

00:53 MH: I heard her, I was so proud.

00:55 KW: She did awesome. But you had fun, where were you? Why don't you share?

01:00 MH: So I had so much fun. I went to Greece for one of my best friends' wedding and it was amazing. And then I spent a few days just in the islands relaxing after the summit. It was great, except you know when you've been running and your body is just basically a ball of adrenaline that's keeping you going, and then you stop?

01:24 KW: Yeah.

01:25 MH: Yeah, I got a respiratory infection and was on antibiotics for eight days.

01:27 KW: Oh my goodness, of course. Did that mean you couldn't drink?

01:31 MH: Yes.

01:32 KW: So you were on vacation in the Greek islands for eight days not drinking?

01:36 MH: Yep.

01:38 KW: Wow.

01:39 MH: But then I went to Russia.

01:40 KW: Okay. Vodka?

01:41 MH: Vodka. And so that was fun. So I saw my brother who lives in Finland. I went to see him and then we went together to Saint Petersburg which is so beautiful. It's really...

01:55 KW: I loved your pictures.

01:56 MH: It's just amazing. And then to top it all off, I went to see another one of my good friends who lives in Paris and so worked from there for a while, which I have to say was probably one of the best decisions I made because I started easing myself back into the work life. And I love you all, but working while everyone else was sleeping was the best way to catch up.

02:20 KW: 'Cause you can send a bunch of emails and get caught up, and it's not like people are responding right away.

02:26 MH: Yeah, it was great. So that helped, I got mostly caught up, and then had been here for a week and a half. I still haven't gone back to my normal sleep cycle though.

02:38 KW: Well, I just came from the West Coast, so we'll see how that works out. I'm more concerned about the children than myself because I had to drag them out of bed this morning. No one wanted to wake up, so they're...

02:52 MH: Yeah, kids on West Coast time doesn't sound like a good idea.

02:55 KW: No, no. I was so proud of them when we were there because they adapted wonderfully and everyone was sleeping. One morning I think we had to wake the girls up and it was like 9:30 East Coast time and I'm like, "Oh, it is afternoon and they are still sleeping." [chuckle] And they're like two and four. But that's fun, we had a great time. And I'm excited 'cause we have a great guest today as well.

03:20 MH: We do. We do. I've had a lot of time to think lately, which is good and bad, but the amazing people we've had... We haven't talked about the summit. I mean, I know you and Jess covered it, but the amazing people we've had lately, both on the podcast and at the summit and all of our events, it's kind of overwhelming sometimes.

03:47 KW: You know, it's overwhelming but it's...

03:49 MH: In a good way.

03:49 KW: It's inspiring. I feel that with every... I'm such a believer in human relationships, and human connections, and the things that you can learn from others. It was interesting, so when I was in Portland on vacation this past week, I was late at night sitting on the porch having a conversation with a friend of mine, and I was actually talking about Madonna Badger. And I was talking about the interview she and I had together because there were just so many insights that all of you will soon hear that Madonna shared, that really resonated with me and will stay with me forever. So it's been just overwhelmingly positive and uplifting, and just making me a better person by having these conversations, from learning from others, from hearing from others. So from Wade, who was on the podcast and was at the summit, to Alison Levine, to Sallie Krawcheck, to Madonna Badger, each one of these individuals has this great perspective and this great insight that I think when you layer it all on top of each other, it helps to make each of us stronger and better and deeper. So yeah, I agree with you, it's been a really inspiring year between the podcast and the summit and everything else.

05:11 MH: And everything else that's coming. It's so exciting. Well, tonight we have our anniversary party.

05:18 KW: We do. Our 20 year anniversary of Ellevate. For those that don't know, actually, 'cause I get this question quite a bit, we started as 85 Broads, a woman, Janet Hanson, founded 85 Broads as an External Women's Alumni Network for Goldman Sachs employees. Thus, 85 Broad Street had been the address. And it was a labor of love. She grew the network, she really, literally with time and money and energy invested in other women and in their success. Just hear such wonderful things about her all the time. And she grew 85 Broads until Sallie Krawcheck bought it in 2013.

06:03 MH: I know. It's amazing. I've recently celebrated my five-year anniversary here. So I used to work for Janet, and she's great, she's amazing. And I do think that the strength of this community in the last few years is just, it's insane, really.

06:20 KW: Yeah, I always like to say I was a member of the network, of Ellevate Network, for years before I started working here. And it was instrumental for me in my career growth and progress, just in meeting other like-minded women who were passionate about innovation, and getting ahead, and helping others. All positive memories. It's been fantastic.

06:44 MH: Awesome.

06:45 KW: So we will celebrate, we will share some champagne tonight at the Ellevate anniversary party.

06:51 MH: Oh yeah!

06:52 KW: And I'm excited for all of you, our guests, to hear the interview with Madonna Badger. I think you're going to find, as I did, some great takeaways from this. Madonna is just truly inspirational on so many levels; personal, professional, she's done some wonderful things to raise awareness about women in the media and the sexualization of women in the media. And I'm always just inspired by those that see something that's not right and do something about it. And she certainly has. So I hope you enjoy this interview. We do want to hear from you, so please tweet at us @ellevatentwk #ellevatepod. And you can always shoot us an email as well. We are


07:56 KW: Madonna Badger, I am so excited to have you here today. And I don't know if you know the backstory of how you ended up here. But I saw you at Women in the World, and I was slacking with my whole team, pictures of you, going, "This is the most amazing woman I have ever met, and she needs to be on the podcast." So thank you for being on our podcast.

08:18 Madonna Badger: Wow! Thank you so much.

08:19 KW: And, at Women in the World, you talked a lot about your campaign, Women Not Objects.

08:24 MB: Yes.

08:24 KW: And I cannot tell you how much that resonated with me as a woman, as someone in fights for gender equality, and as just a human being. What inspired that, and can you share a little bit more about that?

08:40 MB: Sure. What inspired it was really a pitch that we were doing for a $10 billion beauty company, and we came up with this idea that we thought was the smartest idea in the world, as agencies will do, especially the first idea, you know? And the idea was put on red lipstick and ask for a raise.

09:10 KW: Oh my God, I'm wearing... And you can't see on the podcast, but I'm wearing red lipstick right now, which Sallie just popped in and commented on. So clearly this is not my norm. Maybe I should ask for a raise today.

09:22 MB: Right, exactly. And so we did a film of young women, mostly in New York and the surrounding area, and we said, "Tell us about red lipstick. What do you think? How do you feel?" And they said, "Oh! I feel so good. It makes me feel empowered. Makes me feel like I can... I'm a superwoman for the day." Literally these were the things that they said. And we said, "Great! That is perfect. Okay, so would you put on red lipstick to ask for a raise?" And they said, "Oh, no. I would never do that. I wouldn't wanna push my femininity into someone else's face." And so they were completely aghast that this was even remotely an idea. And so we had a real conundrum. We didn't understand what was happening. So we did research and dug deeper, and basically found that the reason why they didn't wanna wear red lipstick and ask for a raise is because they didn't want to objectify themselves. They wanted to be seen for their own merits. The sad part about that, too, is that they didn't wanna be seen as feminine, which of course is what we are, no matter how we dress or what we do. So anyway, we figured out that the objectification of women and self-objectification runs very deep, obviously within this sort of millennial class and even younger. And we wanted to know more about it. So we did what all good research companies do, and we googled it.

11:17 KW: Of course.

11:18 MB: The best research ever.

11:21 KW: What did we do 20 years ago?

11:22 MB: Right. We went to the Encyclopedia Britannica, I guess. [chuckle] And so anyway, we googled objectification of women and tapped images, and every single image was an ad. Every single image was an ad. And that was it, that was when I thought, "Okay, this is it. We're not doing this anymore. We aren't gonna be a part of this, and I need to understand it, I need know what we're doing and how we're harming these young women." Because if women make 77 cents on the dollar, every single thing that makes you feel empowered should be brought to the table when you're asking for a raise.

12:06 KW: Sure. Yeah, and it's such a conflict that we don't wanna use our femininity to ask for more power or to ask for that raise, but yet there's major brands that are using the female form and image...

12:29 MB: Yes.

12:29 KW: To sell. So clearly, in that form, it wields so much power to drive sales and revenues, but yet on the individual side it's perceived as...

12:41 MB: And there are two parts really to that. The one part is that because of objectification, which is literally treating a woman like an object, people get very confused about it being sexualization. And so that, for me, I think the best example is when you send Sissy home from school, she's 10 years old, because her arms aren't covered and they're seen as sexual things. And it's like, "Wow, Sissy's 10-year-old arms are not sexual, it's what we're projecting upon it." How did we get here? Okay, we got here because of the over-objectification of women so that we're treated as props, we're treated so we'd have no agency, where through a male gaze or through someone else's eyes do we have purpose or agency. Parts, so a woman's body parts, like a lollipop in between her breasts, or I saw an electronic slim cigarette being sold by only showing a photograph of a woman's bikini area and...

14:00 KW: Because the cigarette's in the bikini, I can totally get it.

14:03 MB: It's like, "Oh, okay, is that where they come from?" Yeah. And then the third is plastic, so overly retouched, beyond human achievability. And so we see that everywhere with bodies, with skin, with hair being... People can't get their hair that shiny. People can't have that flawless of skin, people can't... There's one famous Ralph Lauren image that had been so overly retouched that the woman that anatomically her head would not be able to support... I mean, her body would not be able to support her head, she had been made to be so skinny.

14:48 KW: We laugh, but it's not funny.

14:49 MB: It's very old, but... And so yeah, so objectification is also, the second part of that answer is that we did research on objectification. And side by side, same brand, roughly the same year, let's say for a jean company, and the objectifying ad had Justin Bieber really over on top of a woman, clearly in control. She had her eyes closed, whether in ecstasy or death we don't know. And that was the objectifying ad, and the non objectifying ad was a woman on one leg and kind of in this cool yoga pose. And she had the jeans on, and she was an actress, and she had dreads. And she was just obviously full of life and agency. And she was a sexy woman, but that wasn't what it was about necessarily. And even if it had been, it would have been fine. She was in full power of who she was. Anyway, testing-wise with millennials, with women, with men, with households with children, across the board the objectifying image did horribly. And so this idea that sex sells is actually not true. This idea that this objectifying of women sells products is not true. And in fact it hurts in all of the KPIs that we tested. It hurts most brand reputation. So the thing that makes you feel good about those Stuart Weitzman shoes...

16:43 KW: Carl's Jr. Burger.

16:44 MB: Yeah, exactly.

16:46 KW: And so in the testing, was it across the board, genders, age groups, other social economic...

16:56 MB: Yes, it was across the board. I think it was 13 different groups that we tested it with, and it was in a Apex study that had over 3,000 ads in it. So they couldn't have... It wasn't like these ads came side by side. They were just sort of testing as they went along. So it was a very complete test, and we paid for the test, we have it on our website,, open source for everybody to have. But it's really important to recognize that sex actually... People don't even remember the name of your company. And nine times out of 10 when you see it on the internet, it's really just click bait. So this whole idea of making women into things doesn't help anybody.

17:52 KW: How do we get to this point? If it doesn't work, but you have billions of dollars companies are spending, advertising agencies creating these types of advertisements, how did we get to the point where when you did a Google search there was such a huge amount of ads and that we've been creating it?

18:17 MB: I think there are two reasons. One is that, it's the way it's always been done. So, we did another bit of research, and we went back and looked at how races had been treated, how ethnicity has been treated, and how women have been treated, for the past, I don't know, let's say 100 years in advertising. And overall, race has changed completely. We don't do black face ads anymore or any of that kind of crazy. We don't do... The famous ad is, "Have you ever seen a fat Chinese?" for Rice-A-Roni.

19:01 KW: Oh my gosh.

19:01 MB: Yes, so that was... But then the other ads around that same period of time were ads like, let's say, for Vantage cigarettes, where the woman in the ad is completely naked, sitting on a picnic table made up of Vantage cigarettes. For a Pacer car, and it compares a woman's derrière to the back of the Pacer, 'cause it had sort of a wide end. So, we haven't changed in a long, long time. The proliferation of the internet makes it even more of an issue, because now, children, everyone, is so much a part of seeing ads. Something like 5000 ads per day are seen by children, and so people are seeing them more. People are worried about them more, and I think that's why we now have it in our conscious. And I think that having these ads everywhere is also making people stand up and say, "This isn't okay anymore. I'm not okay with these anymore." And then the second reason is, 11% of all creative directors in the United States are women. So it kinda goes to what's been happening in cinema and in TV, etcetera. And I'm a woman, I objectified women and men both, not knowing what I was doing. But now that I know, obviously I wanna make that change, and I think that overall, younger women already know.

21:03 KW: Yeah. This actually just happened to me this morning. My little daughter, who's four, we went to get dressed and she said, "I don't want to wear a dress. I don't wanna be pretty. I wanna wear boy clothes." And I had to stop and I'm like, "Where did that come from?" And I think it's... Where I think I've been thinking about it today, is when she puts a dress on, everyone's like, "You're so pretty. You look so pretty. You look pretty today." And when she's wearing jeans and a T-shirt, people don't say that. And so from advertising to our interactions, there's so many touch points where we reinforce this idea of what's pretty, what's not pretty, what's feminine, what's not feminine, what's the right way to sell cigarettes or cars.

22:01 MB: Right, right.

22:02 KW: And it's efforts like yours with Women Not Objects that is really putting that into the spotlight and saying, "Okay, come on, can we think about this for a minute? Why is it this way?"

22:14 MB: Right.

22:14 KW: Let's be honest, does that work? And it doesn't, who's it hurting? All of us.

22:18 MB: Right. Exactly, exactly. And that who I am is not how I look.

22:24 KW: Yeah.

22:24 MB: And I think that, that is certainly something that all, children especially, need to know. But it's a proliferation throughout every age group. I had two friends that just got facelifts for no real reason. Not because they're actresses or models or not even that that would be a reason.

22:56 KW: Sure.

22:56 MB: But it's like, "I need to look a certain way in order to get through this world." And that isn't true. That's not why we're here.

23:09 KW: Yeah.

23:09 MB: And the other thing is that, when we are made into objects, of how we look, like trophies or soda cans or whatever things, then that also strips us of our sexuality. And so, female sexuality is something that is also so denied with Planned Parenthood and all of those efforts and that right now sadly, the government is trying to take away our rights. And so part of who we are, we are sexual beings, but that doesn't mean we're things. And I think that that's an important distinction. People have said to me, "Oh well, what about Beyonce? You know, what about Rihanna? What about this? What about that?" It's like, "You know what? She's in full control, totally, of who she wants to be and how she wants to be." Do I agree with it? Well, that's my concern. But is she an object? No. I'm sorry, that woman is not an object. And so it's how do we get to be sexual beings, full 100% whole human and strong, and not be made into a trophy or a thing, or a rock or a shiny object. And that for me, is where real equality lies. And that's why I think that people are loving women not object so much because they're identifying with the fact that until we are portrayed as equal, we will not be treated as equal. And that's why the fourth filter is so important, and that's empathy. What if that woman being portrayed was me? What if it was my mom? What if it was my daughter, my sister, my wife? How would you feel about it then?

25:27 KW: You had a quote actually, that I have written down here, 'cause it really resonated with me, which is, "Empathy is the ability to see the world from another person's perspective and not judge it." And it resonated with me 'cause I think that that is something we're often missing out on. Is we're so wrapped up in how we see the world and not understand other's perspectives, and those perspectives are driven by their life situations, by how they grew up, where they grew up, so many different things, and we all view the world differently.

26:04 MB: Exactly.

26:04 KW: And it's that acceptance of it that can help bring us all further along.

26:09 MB: Yes. And actually, that quote comes from Brené Brown. That's one of the ways that... She's the empathy guru, I think, of all gurus, and for me anyway. But yeah, I totally get that, that we can't... Having been through what I've been through with losing my three little girls, and my mom and dad, and my life, my everything, the people that looked at me and kind of gave me that, "Ohh." Like that side puppy, "Ohh."

26:51 KW: Sure, yeah.

26:53 MB: Those were the people that I want to run away from, because there's judgement in that, "Ohh." [chuckle] There's like, "You must be crippled." But then I met Ethel Kennedy, who is my friend Rory Kennedy's mom. And of course she's been to hell and back, and so she said to me, "I love you. I love you." And she just held me, and she said, "I don't know you but I love you." And it was just like, "Oh my God, that is empathy without judgement." In other words, however you need to mourn this, whatever you need to do, however it is that you are alive right now, I love you. And that doesn't really pertain to objectification, although it's that same idea of assumption, the assuming that somehow, in women's world, in our world, there are the working women and then there are the bimbo women, and the not very bright women, and the mothers, and that we're somehow segmented. But the reality of it is that we're all women. And I don't know anything about that person's life, I'm not gonna judge whatever she's doing to get through her life. And then in the same way I wouldn't want someone to judge me.

28:38 KW: Yeah.

28:40 MB: So it does help to think about it like that.

28:42 KW: Yeah. We don't always know hot to react to situations and to people who have gone through situations that we don't understand. And so our instinct is to maybe place assumptions on it rather than having conversations about it.

29:00 MB: Right.

29:00 KW: It's like we're almost afraid to have conversations about the tough things that we've gone through. If it's work, or life, or whatever those situations, you kind of it's easier to just avoid it.

29:11 MB: Right.

29:13 KW: And then in so many ways, you're having those tough conversations but in a very public space, these are the things we need to be thinking about and talking about and understanding.

29:23 MB: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Yeah, I know. I mean before the fire, I hadn't really... I had gone through loss with my ex-husband who was my then husband, and I was scary... I was scared, and it was scary when other people went through loss and I didn't know what to say. And so rather than saying anything, I would just not say anything. And of course, that was just my ego, it's like, "Well, this is about me." "Well, no it's not." It's not about me. And so I learned a lot through this whole process about... The people I appreciated the most were the ones that said, "I don't know what to say." And I said, "It's okay. There isn't anything to do or say. Let's just sit together. Let's just have a cup of tea together or I'll just cry for about an hour. Is that okay?"

30:29 KW: Sure, yeah.

30:30 MB: You know what it's like? But that is the truth. It takes a lot of courage to have empathy, and to allow yourself to feel vulnerable, and to be vulnerable with that person who usually is in some kind of pain. It has taught me and opened my heart in so many ways to have gone through all of these, and to still be. My ex-husband, Matthew just died at the end of February. And that was another huge blow, and I've been having a very tough time with his death. A lot of PTSD came back, and it just is, this lifetime, this is just what I'm, for some reason, here to go through. And but for me, the Women Not Objects has really kept me alive in terms of giving me... Not literally, but certainly figuratively, giving me a sense of purpose.

31:49 KW: Yeah. So are you doing today, are you having the impact today that you thought you would when you started out that freedom? And I know a lot has happened in the world and in your life, but is it still kind of giving you that freedom, running your own business, and having impact with campaigns like Women Not Objects, and working with the clients the way that you do?

32:18 MB: I think that overall, work has always been something that I just naturally like, and I naturally get confidence from, or... And I love the challenges, I love how different the work can be. Obviously going through what I went through with my children, and still go through. It has its challenges but overall, I get a lot of pleasure out of doing good work. And certainly, Women Not Objects as being something that people are interested in or changing people's minds. I'm speaking on Tuesday at a commencement for an all girls school in Providence, Rhode Island. And they've made Women Not Objects a part of the curriculum, which is incredible. So yes, that gives me... Honestly, that makes me incredibly happy. We did work for Procter & Gamble, for WeSeeEqual, #WeSeeEqual. And it was all about their gender equality efforts globally, and want to bring...

33:57 KW: That was great, fantastic.

34:00 MB: Yeah, bringing awareness to that. Thank you. And worked with something on DICK'S Sporting Goods about sports, and the importance of sports to young women, and how that helps them grow. So all of those things, for me, and I think great brands have this responsibility to really stand for something bigger than selling whatever it is that they're trying to sell. And that that's a part of the fabric of our lives now that we are starting to really demand that from the brands that we purchase. And I think that's right because they are the holders of the billion-dollar kingdom that can spread that money, and do more than we can alone. And so because we still need all the things in our lives, why not have that be a bigger part of a greater whole? It makes sense to me.

35:10 KW: Yeah. And it's been very interesting to see, in many instances, inspiring to see, from the Super Bowl to recent campaigns, when companies are really coming out and taking a stance. And then also to see the public call them out when they fail at that, when it seems disingenuine, when it feels like a marketing tactic, because they're kinda like, "Alright, enough with objectifying issues in people to sell a product. Let's be authentic, and let's be real." And then that's what's gonna resonate with the consumers.

35:41 MB: Absolutely, and I think that we all have in some way or another the ability to see ourselves through all of our social media channels and through, my God, just in so many ways, through our zillion selfies in our phone. And so, when we see ourselves through the companies, when they have empathy and true honesty, and understand who we are and what we want, then that's real connection.

36:22 KW: Yeah.

36:23 MB: And I think that getting people to vote with their wallet is really the way to change the future in ways that... I mean, look at what happened with Fox News, and that nothing changed until the people writing the checks, the advertisers, said...

36:50 KW: Yeah, stop right in their tracks.

36:51 MB: "Sorry, bye, bye. We're not here. We're out of here." And that's what made them change.

37:00 KW: I applaud you. As I said, when we started, you just inspire me greatly, and I applaud you for what you've done 'cause it's amazing.

37:07 MB: Thank you, thank you. I think in the future, like a calorie chart or a nutrition chart, on the back of goods, it'll have things like the percentages of women that sit on the board of directors, the percentages of women that have upper management jobs, percentage of women that have middle management, supply chain that are women-owned, could also add race, could also add disability. I mean, you could add all kinds of different ideas about people figuring out who people are. Transgender, androgynous. But it's an interesting time to look at the world of how can we make it a more transparent place in terms of equality for everybody.

38:07 KW: Absolutely. Well, thank you. Thanks for joining us today.

38:10 MB: Oh, thank you. Thank you. Thanks for having me.


38:15 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out. Subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars, and share your review. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter at EllevateNtwk, that's Ellevate Network, and become a member. You can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, That's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller. She rocks. And to our voice-over artist, Rachel Griesinger. Thanks so much, and join us next week.