Marketing Brand Purpose Diversity & Inclusion

‘Time to push for change’: shEqual eyes legislation to tackle sexism in advertising


By Danielle Long | Acting APAC Editor

November 23, 2022 | 7 min read

Australian advertising equality movement, shEqual has set its sights on regulatory and legislative change in a bid to achieve greater gender equality in advertising.


ShEqual sets sights on legislation to tackle sexism and gender equality in advertising

ShEqual, which was created by Women’s Health Victoria (WHV) in 2020 as part of its commitment to improve the health and well-being of all Victorian women, aims to connect the advertising industry, consumers, regulators and government to demand better representations of women.

To date, ShEqual has focused on raising awareness of sexism and gender inequality in advertising through research studies, surveys and regular newsletters highlighting ads that harm gender equality.

However, Linden Deathe, project manager at shEqual, told The Drum now is the perfect time to step things up.

“There is a strong sense that this is the time to push for action. Global events and campaigns have showcased that gender equality is far from ‘solved’. While we have made progress, we are well into the 21st century and the advertising industry must step up,” says Deathe.

“The first two years of shEqual has been primarily focused on establishing relationships with the industry, bringing our existing research and trying to fill research gaps through our shEqual Survey and Female Stereotypes in Ads guide,” says Deathe.

“The next two years will see us focusing on another element of our strategic framework – regulation. Advocacy for legislation and regulatory frameworks that support and reinforce gender equality in advertising is important and we are perfectly situated, with our relationship to government and neutral standing outside the industry, to tackle this in the next phase of our funding.”

Deathe said there has been “a substantial growth in gender equality initiatives within the industry”, citing groups such as F*ck the Cupcakes, Be the Change, The Aunties, Never Not Creative, Assisterhood, Mums.In.Ads, Unstereotype Alliance - Australia, The Mavens, The Only One in the Room and Never Not International Women’s Day.

“Even the Advertising Council of Australia is getting on board and working on addressing gender inequality in the industry. Each in our own way and together, we are changing the landscape and progressing equality in advertising.”

This positive industry movement, combined with a recent $1m funding boost from the Victorian Government, will help the organisation to scale and launch training initiatives - Gender Equality in Advertising and Gender Equality in Advertising Workplace - which will serve as micro-credentials for the industry.

ShEqual is also working on a slate of new research projects and initiatives and next year plans to release a research project created with Kantar.

“Those who are already working towards gender equal ads keep coming up against opposition, being told that sexist ads just sell. Our work with Kantar aims to critically examine that and give those in the industry fighting for change the numbers to back them up.

“We’re also continuing to build that evidence base for the industry, from our shEqual Survey that surveyed almost 600 people in the Australian advertising industry about their experiences with gender equality which gave us some concrete data about the state of the industry for women and where and how we need improvement."

This week the organisation rolled out a video series called SH!FT, which featured industry leaders discussing shEqual’s research into the seven common female stereotypes which appear in advertising. These include: ‘The Model Mother’, The Sexualised Woman’, ‘The Passive Little Girl’, ‘The Observed Woman’, ‘The Pretty Face’, ‘The Magical Grandmother’ and ‘The Ticked Box’.

Stereotype 01 - The Model Mother from shEqual on Vimeo.

Deathe says the series “brings together leaders in the industry to not only talk about these stereotypes but how they come to exist, from initial pitch to post-production, and the challenges and responsibilities the advertising industry has to shift this narrative.”

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Deathe admits that while progress has been made, “gender stereotypes are still prevalent in ads” however, shEqual’s unique position outside of the industry enables it to influence change.

“While there are so many incredible initiatives from within the advertising industry, what makes shEqual different is that we aren’t in the industry. Our health promotion and feminist approach brings robust gender analysis, a focus on the impact advertising has on consumers wellbeing and a connection in the broader gender equality work happening across Australia in different industries and communities. It also helps us, as outsiders, build trusted relationships with advertisers,” says Deathe.

“shEqual was founded with the vision that advertising will show all people, regardless of gender, as authentic and multi-dimensional – supporting a society in which all people are viewed and treated as equal and live free from violence.

“Our main priorities for action are to support culture change within the advertising industry, empowering communities to recognise and call out sexist advertising, and improving regulation and policy from industry bodies and government.

“These are interrelated, as advertising content is influenced by the culture of the industry that creates it, as well as consumer expectations and values, and by the regulatory and legislative environment the advertising industry operates in,” says Deathe.

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