Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: gender representations in advertising have arguably barely changed over the past decade. Men doing DIY in their football kit, burger in one hand and techy gadget in the other; women clutching the baby, eating yoghurt seductively in marigolds whilst hoovering – you get the picture. It’s a long-standing issue, but it’s an important one (Dolmio and Clark’s take note).

There are recent notably moves by the big guns of the advertising world. The decision by the Advertising Standards Authority to ban ads that market exclusively based on gender gives us hope that things might get better. The campaign also aims to ban ads that body shame, and will clarify existing codes that pertain to sexualising and objectifying women.

Earlier this year, the Cannes Lions festival marked the first meeting of the Unstereotype Alliance, a new global alliance featuring more even more big guns such as Facebook, Google, Alibaba and WPP, aiming to wipe out stereotypical gender portrayals in all advertising and brand-led content. That’s a pretty powerful shove towards ending sexism in advertising already championed by the likes of Audi (with their inspiring ‘Daughter’ advert and Tesco’s Basket Dating which even shows a man buying cleaning products).

But behind the scenes and off the main stage, sexist party invites went out and men still far outweighed women on the stage. Look too to the presence of ‘booth babes’ (and blokes) at the 60,000 attendee advertising tech event Dmexco and the much-discussed pink Girls’ Lounge where the intentions might be good but the offer of new headshots to ‘improve your career chances’ are very much less so.

So how do we move things forward faster? The big guns are great but they move with the speed expected of a careful corporate. Here are three things that have caught my eye which are smaller, but incredibly powerful and useful:

  • Creative Equals: a small but dynamic organisation who are – in partnership with Facebook and J. Walter Thompson London – creating a ‘female filter’ to look at the role of women in award-winning creative as a benchmark for inclusion at the most senior levels; keep eyes on their ‘see it, be it’ campaign and female internships scheme too
  • Cadi Jones, Commercial Innovation Director at Clear Channel Outdoor has begun a project of her own to collate and curate women speakers from around the world who are experts in multifold fields. The ambition of being that never again can that female voice just not be found. All too important in the ad industry itself
  • Coralie Rose, Founder of Road Casting was made Entrepreneur of Excellence at this year’s National Diversity Awards for her role in bringing under-represented people into national ad campaigns – notably she was responsible for casting the first Muslim girl wearing a hijab in a global ad for H&M
These trailblazers are not content to play catch-up and as more innovative ideas join them, we can be sure the groundswell will grow. Keith Weed said recently that we need to join forces but I would go one step further. It is less about holding hands as an industry but rather rolling our sleeves up and get stuck in on a daily basis. Equality and inclusion is not something that will happen by accident but by action.



By Debbie Zaman, founder and managing director of Withpr


Image via Jonathan McIntosh

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