One afternoon while I was doing research on gender and income inequality, I came across the name Cara Lemieux, digital media strategist for The Shriver Report–“a nonpartisan initiative that raises awareness, ignites conversations and inspires impact around the deﬁning issues and fundamental changes facing modern women and their families.”
After reading about her online, I learned that Lemieux spent part of her career as a network control room producer at ABC News for “Good Morning America.” She then moved to ABC News Digital where she helped produce the Stand Up for Heroes campaign with Bob Woodruff, a digital video series that paired up high profile mentors with veterans making the transition back to civilian life. Later, she joined The Shriver Report, where she helped launch the group’s digital platforms and ran social media campaigns. Now she heads her own firm, CPL communications, is a contributing writer to sites such as SheKnows.com and Lifetime Moms and she is passionate about rebranding the single mom, which is both the subject and focus of her blog, “Here We are Today.”
In her Tedx talk, “Rebranding the Single Mom,” she discusses the single mother stereotype, her experience with an unplanned pregnancy, her growing identity crises, and how she deals with and works to end feelings of isolation and stigma.
As Lemieux prepared to bring her daughter into the world, she struggled with the stigma attached to her newly acquired title. “It is not like single mothers are painted in a great light in the media,” explained Lemieux in her Tedx talk. “We have all seen the headlines: ‘Finally city to tackle unwed moms epidemic,’ or ‘Are single mothers to blame for sons’ poor grades? Our readers weigh in.’” Lemieux also felt stigma from her peers. “There was no shortage of commentary around me, ranging from ‘No one is ever going to want to hire a single mom,’ to ‘How can someone so smart be so dumb?’”
Once her daughter came into her life, she grappled with her seemingly incompatible “brand identities” — network news producer and single mom. But, as she struggled to make sense of this conflict, she knew that she was not alone. “I knew there were so many women doing so much more with so much less,” explained Lemieux. “After meeting and talking to other single moms, I realized the reflection of us in the media isn’t necessarily accurate, we love our kids just like married moms, we have a work-life internal debate just like married moms, we show up for our kids and are doing the best we can just like married moms…I came to the conclusion… that the single mom needs a rebranding.”
After watching her Tedx talk, I called Lemieux to learn more about her work with women’s issues and digital media strategy.
”Very few women plan on being single mothers,” she said. “When I first got pregnant, I struggled with the label and the connotations that came with it, and then I had this whole branding conflict. You know, how I could be this accomplished, smart news producer and a single mom, like how do those things co-exist? But in reality, they do.”
Lemieux went on to say that “the only way to rebrand something like this is through storytelling. If you get enough people saying, ‘Hey that’s not me, that is not a representation of my life — then the public perception will have to shift, [but] it may take awhile.”
Sharing stories about single mothers as well as fathers is a strategic one. “Framing of issues always lays on the mom. We need to do a better job at including the full family in that conversation. You have to include men in these conversations,” argued Lemieux. “We need to be more inclusive with the way we frame the conversation.” Lemieux cites the current Lean In conversation, centered around Sheryl Sandberg’s book of the same name, as an example of an effort missing an opportunity to speak to single parents and diverse families.
Lemieux also feels social media is key to the work she’s doing – both her own project and the professional ones she has worked on.
For example, to coincide with the release of The Shriver Report’s “Paycheck to Paycheck” – a documentary that followed a single mom struggling to take care of herself and her family — Lemieux worked with the Shriver Report team to create an online conversation focused on issues of income inequality by using the hashtags #whatwomenneed and #womendoingitall. In addition to inviting women to talk about the challenges they faced, she used the hashtag campaign to crowdsource the kind of help they needed. The campaign #doingitall was featured on the Today show and NBC.com, and the campaign #whatwomenneed had more than 108 million impressions from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It also produced over 27,000 posts on Twitter, and received endorsements from President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and celebrities like Oprah, Bette Midler, Melinda Gates, Ben Affleck and others.
Lemieux’s advice for those working to address other social issues? Use social media “to develop and foster conversations” around issues. “If you don’t [use social media], you are missing a very accessible tool. The audiences are already there. You have to reach them. You have to think specifically how to cater the social media platform to them. I can’t think of anything lately that has been successful that hasn’t used social media.”
As our conversation came to an end, Lemieux took a deep breath, and shared her thoughts on the role of communications in advancing social change: “I think communication has the ability to really make life better. I truly believe that without communication, there is nothing.”