'We can be the force for good': inside Diageo’s fight to stop gender stereotyping in ads

Behind Diageo’s framework that's helping it stop gender stereotyping in ads

Diageo has built a framework that will help its global teams have more awareness around the decisions it makes creatively that passively, or actively, put gender stereotypes in ads.

The decision to put the thinking into the framework came from the fact that change needs to be scalable on a global level. One of the champions of this framework is Julie Bramham, chief marketing officer of Diageo in India, who tells The Drum that a framework is needed to start to cut through unconscious bias.

“The point of the framework to stop gender stereotyping because so much of what goes on is driven by our unconscious bias. Having a framework and following it as a bit of a litmus test at every stage of creative development means you don't fall into the trap of unconscious bias, even if it’s a great film," she explains.

"The UnStereotype Alliance, which is by United Nations Women and we’re a proud partner of, shows all of the casting unconscious bias. It's shocking, so having a framework means we all follow it, including all our markets around the world, including agencies, we all agree around what that means. Unconscious bias then doesn't slip through the cracks because it's not like people are deliberately making ads that aren’t progressive. It's just the bias that comes in during casting and characterisation."

In terms of the guidelines, there are four areas that creatives and marketers are asked to consider when casting and writing roles for men or women. The first is ‘Representation’ which looks at who is being portrayed. The second is in ‘Perspective’ and asks questions around who the point of view is coming from. The third is ‘Agency’ and questions who is directing action in the ad. The final part is around ‘Characterisation’ and asks whether real attributes are being given that will allow people to relate to the characters.

Bramham says representation can be a bit of a numbers game and is easier to track when it comes to the protagonist in a story or ad, but there’s a need to be fully diverse and representative across the entire ad. She believes Diageo is improving across its body of work in this respect.

For characterisation, she says it is a little harder. She says this is where you can make sure you aren’t adding women in for the sake of it, for example, by making sure the characters feel real.

“Characterisation is about ‘don't just put women in for the sake of having a woman in’. It's the worst thing you can do, we need to bring in women because they're interesting, because they’ve got that depth of character and because they´ve got personality. We need to bring in women who are seen as owning their own decisions,” she explains.

To speed this up, having a more diverse perspective of talent work on creative and marketing projects would help. Numbers differ slightly depending on the research, but the UK’s IPA found around 12% of creative directors are female.

When asked what Diageo is doing around this with its own agencies and partners, Bramham said it would be stepping up its work with organisations like Creative Equals. For Bramham, bias is one issue that creates this number but there’s also a talent drain once women leave to have children, as the industry does not do enough to encourage them to return.

Diageo has just announced a major partnership with Creative Equals around a programme aimed directly at mothers returning to work, with London, New York and Mumbai as the first three cities. Bramham explains that this project was first tested in London.

“It's how all of us are, we are all biased, right? It's not a criticism, it's just a fact. I do think having more female creative talent and more female directors will really help with that. Two pieces of work that we have involved in globally and also in India is ‘Free the Bid’, which is about getting more female directors behind the camera and also ‘Creative Equals’. We run a program, which makes it easier for female creatives, who drop out for whatever reason and often it's maternity but not exclusively, to come back to work,” she says.

As to why Diageo is doing this, Bramham says it is a business imperative as more inclusive advertising appeals to the right people and works better. She also believes that Diageo, as a corporate, has an opportunity to take a stand on this because it’s something the company truly believes in.

She says this is both at a company level and at an industry level: “Firstly, as a corporate brand, we are all uber passionate about diversity and inclusion. We´re really paving the way and on all of our policies, we have to make sure that we've got a representative workforce across the world."

"So 44% of the board are female, 50% of all senior marketing roles are female and that's about equal to the number of grads that we'll bring in as female as well. We're really walking the walk and that's important."

She continues: “Also from an industry perspective, I feel like we're spending millions and millions of dollars around the world on advertising, so we feel like we can make a difference by taking a stand on this. I'm going to need other partners to come along, and many have, but we feel it's important as industry leaders to be doing the right thing."

Asking partners to come along for the ride may be necessary to move the number on figures like the IPA’s 12% female creative directors, but Bramham believes advertising is a powerful industry that can make changes for good. “Advertising is culture shaping, so we´re either the force for good that can help take away some of the next stereotypes, or we are part of the problem, and we absolutely will be the force of good.”

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