The ASA and the breaking down of gender stereotype barriers

Bygone ads from Mini and Tipalet

'Blow smoke in her face and she’ll follow you anywhere,' Believe it or not, that was once an accepted advertising slogan. Thankfully, not something you’re likely to see in 2017 – but in the 1950s, this was cigarette brand Tipalet’s message – and its tone was nothing out of the ordinary.

During that period, most professional jobs were largely closed off to women and they faced pressures to stay at home away from work. But a lot has changed in the world of women’s rights, equality and inclusion in our politics, society and culture – it’s entirely unrecognisable from 65 years ago. And we must celebrate this!

And yet there is an underlying feeling the media industry in particular still carries some of the baggage of the ‘Mad Men’-style image it once had. Many corners of the media, including in film and TV, are still struggling to catch up with the real world and the important (and equal) role women play in it. This must change and it’s the responsibility of all of us in the sector to make it happen.

A step in the right direction

When the ASA's Depictions, Perceptions and Harm report was released recently in a move to crack down on adverts that depict stereotypical gender roles, many in the industry welcomed it. The new guidelines will look to ban these adverts from next year onwards in a bid to end discrimination against content that is deemed to be sexist.

I guess the big question, is whether this will be enough to break down the barriers of gender?

The short answer is 'not yet - but it’s a good start and a step in the right direction.'

For children and young people in particular – who, according to the study, are more likely to internalise messaging – it’s important they appreciate that stereotypes are now representative of the more diverse, equal and inclusive society we live in today.

These outdated and misrepresented advertisements have plagued the industry for far too long. When the wheels are set in motion as of 2018, it’ll weed out the inequalities many women still face today. As long as these measures continue to reflect our more open and accepting society, that’s no bad thing.

It’s a culture thing

If the first big question is whether this is enough, the next question must surely be: What else needs to be done to achieve gender neutrality in the media?

It starts with work culture. The more that media, advertising and creative industries embed an equality and diversity culture in to their workplace and the work that they do, the more this will permeate within and outside of the organisation.

Create the culture internally, and watch it flourish and match the campaigns that these organisations create; we’re already seeing more diverse advertising that more accurately reflects the way we work, live and communicate.

Only recently, we carried out research showing that the top five career aspirations for women are: teacher, vet and animal care, medicine, science/psychology and emergency services. It’s up to the creative and media industries to create engaging and thoughtful content that breaks barriers, smashes the stereotypes of yesteryear and reflects a more modern representation of women.

Old news?

Many would argue that we’ve been talking about this issue for years – so why is it only now that people are taking notice?

Culture takes years to adjust – and industries within our culture (such as engineering, technology companies, the arts, finance etc.) – tend to follow suit later.

30 or 40 years ago, a female banker would have been unheard of. Some female professional tennis players weren’t even being paid.

While accusations of sexism and lack of diversity are still rife in both finance and sport, times have changed; it’s not unusual to see a woman on the board of a major global bank, let alone being employed by one; and after much campaigning, female tennis players are now paid the same as men at Grand Slams.

The media industry is no angel either, but has seen dramatic improvements of late. At MediaCom, we pride ourselves on our 50:50 gender ratio across senior management and have set ourselves the challenge of improving diversity by 10% this year.

It’ll take a concerted effort to rid the media, advertising and creative industries of gender stereotyping that reflects a more balanced society.

Let’s set an example for others to follow.

Josh Krichefski is chief executive of MediaCom UK

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