Gender Bias in Advertising - Are We On the Right Track?
Advertising holds a mirror up to society. By looking at ads from different eras, you can gain a sense of what the cultural climate was like at the time and see how things have evolved.
From housebound Stepford Wives of the ‘50s, sex kittens of the seventies to the empowered gritty woman we see today, ads are constantly shifting the view about a woman’s role in society.
In the workplace, equal pay and anti-discrimination laws have paved the way for a generation of women to make their foray in their chosen industries.
As a child of the '80s, born to working class immigrant parents and raised by television, I am a product of a culture and society that has been shaped and influenced by the women’s rights movement. That’s roughly five generations worth of women fighting for gender equality - an entire century worth of ‘nasty women’.
But with every leap forward there is a reminder that we’re not quite there yet. Following the #MeToo movement late last year, Cindy Gallop called for the 'Harvey Weinsteins of our industry' to be exposed. Her inbox exploded with stories of abuses of power, sexual harassment by 'white male luminaries', HR department and manager cover-ups to protect those so that they can reoffend, agency culture that was complicit in sexism and racism intending to demoralise, demotivate and destroy women's sense of confidence to force them out of the industry.
This is a wake up call for those who smugly thought that progressive advertising was doing it better. We’re not and we need to fix it.
So how does a relatively fresh Award School graduate like me navigate an industry that still has a few skeletons lying around?
I’ll be honest, when I was approached to write this opinion piece, I was apprehensive. I didn’t want to be seen as having a whinge at how difficult it is for a young, Asian woman to get her foot in the door of the ad world.
I have never felt like a victim of overt sexism, and have been fortunate enough in being able to work at workplaces that are open and considerate.
However, to claim that sexism hasn’t impacted me would be to over simplify the issue. Because gender bias doesn’t just come in the explicit Weinstein variety. There still are silent and invisible forces at play that have long reaching effects on everything from the way women are perceived to their opportunities in the workforce. The type of unconscious and institutionalised bias that you or I are probably not even aware of.
What starts as the innocent pink and blue divide in childhood leads to much more problematic assumptions in adulthood. There is a gross underrepresentation of women on boards across the business world including our industry. This, at its very core, is a product of gender bias.
If asked, I would say I see myself as a creative first, and most of us female creatives are keen to just get to work and do our thing.
But, again unfortunately things are much more complicated than that. I, like everyone else in this industry, need to recognise the part we play in stamping out these biases.
It is a time for us as an industry to speak up and not give up on pushing for more diversity.
The addition of the Cannes Glass Lion shows that there is a real impetus for change. For the industry to take a look at ourselves and start addressing issues of gender inequality and prejudice, and that can only be a positive.
When ‘Fearless Girl’ dropped in on Wall Street, the world reacted. The idea behind ‘Fearless Girl’ is markedly admirable and the award well-deserved. We could point out the hypocrisy over State Street hardly being a leader in gender diversity itself (its 11-person board of directors includes only three women) but what excites me about this work is that it shined a light on a big issue and exposed a myriad of thoughts and opinions and kept the conversation alive in the public consciousness.
If we really want to change these institutionalised gender bias we have to make sure that we reflect this in the work we create. It is not enough to just to hold up a mirror any more. We have to actively normalise the representation of women and minorities.
Reflecting on this centenary of women’s suffrage and considering all that’s been happening within the current climate, I’m grateful that I am where I am. Some may think this debate is done and dusted or that this opinion isn’t unique. But realistically, we’re not there yet and the only way to get there is to keep shouting. Keep shattering the ceiling and keep championing more women in the workplace.
Our ultimate goal in opening the industry up to more women is to foster diversity of thoughts and ideas. Advertising has the opportunity to become the instigator and influence a change in thoughts and behaviours for the future. Let’s do it.
Jenny Tang is an Art Director at Naked Sydney