It's about time we killed sexist stereotypes in advertising for good

Jane Asscher

The ASA's proposed crackdown on sexist stereotypes in advertising is long overdue.

The advertising industry, and in particular the creative departments within agencies, are still dominated by white, middle aged, middle class men whose world view is inevitably, and obviously, reflected in some of the adverts they make.

The majority of advertising agencies champion diversity – on panels, in opinion pieces and at big festivals like Cannes Lions. However, these commitments often seem to be absent from the most powerful platform they have: the adverts themselves.

Some advertising bosses would be horrified by accusations of sexism, body shaming and objectification of women, but without doubt, this mindset still persists in advertising.

The gender pay gap and lack of women at the highest level is still an issue. If we treat women less favourably in a work setting because of their gender, then it follows that the adverts we make are going to portray them less favourably too.

However, change is coming. The representation of women is slowly getting better within advertising. Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign has been rightly celebrated for its portrayal of women. It showed that women in adverts don’t need to be idealised or stereotyped. The results speak for themselves – 37m views on Facebook and YouTube alone with 1.6m women exercising as a result of the ad.

Interestingly this campaign is the product of a gender balance across the client and agency team.

As an active member of Women in Advertising and Communications London (WACL), I can tell you that there is a real desire to accelerate the pace of change and senior women in advertising are committed to addressing gender issues within the industry.

Caitlin Ryan, the executive creative director of Cheil UK, is, along with other powerful women in advertising, leading the way in championing female creatives and the more flexible approach required to retain and promote female creative talent. As part of our drive for equality, senior women across the industry are mentoring younger women and providing a robust support network.

Getting this balance right will certainly lead to a better portrayal of women in advertisements.

It is absolutely right that advertising’s governing bodies do what they can to address sexism in advertising. There will be many who think banning adverts is about political correctness and will stifle creativity.

However, advertising is a powerful medium and with that influence comes responsibility, so we should welcome any measures that help the industry’s drive for equality.

£ Jane Asscher is chief executive and founding partner at 23red.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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