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Advertising companies to end stereotyping


UN Women, Unilever, The Unstereotype Alliance, advertising companies, stereotypingCurrently, persistent images feed into cultural norms and are a serious barrier to gender equality.

Nearly 25 industry leaders came together recently and affirmed their commitment to a global and universal agenda to tackle unhelpful and harmful gender stereotypes in advertising.

The Unstereotype Alliance, co-convened by UN Women and Unilever, met for its inaugural meeting during the 2017 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on 20 June.

Participants agreed to develop a roadmap and tools to set standards for content creation and achieve progressive gender portrayals.

They also decided to define gender diversity goals for the workforce, in particular in senior and creative positions; and measure change annually, including third-party measurement, for transparency and accountability, with a view for substantive impact by 2020.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women and Under-Secretary-General said: “The global advertising industry brings a sophisticated science of influence, finely honed creativity and deep pockets to shaping audiences’ choices of products and services.

“A by-product of this powerful process has been the shaping or reinforcing of negative stereotypes of both women and men.

“These persistent images feed into cultural norms and are a serious barrier for gender equality.

“We need to recognise and change them.”

And she called on leaders in the industry to reflect critically on the role they played in this, to examine their portfolios with this specifically in view, and to “collectively establish metrics and together, drive change,” signalling the central role of businesses and their leaders’ responsibilities in shaping modern societies.

With the initial support of industry leaders such as Unilever, P&G, WPP, Johnson & Johnson and AT&T, and the commitment of dozens of industry leaders to engage, UN Women is galvanising collective action to accelerate change and scale up individual initiatives to a true, transformative movement for the industry, with a view to alter perceptions in advertising and drive cultural change.

Attitudinal change toward gender equality has been identified as a key driver of progress for societies around the world.

A report by the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, released in March 2017, identified “Breaking stereotypes: Tackling adverse social norms and promoting positive role models” as the first of seven drivers of change to increase women’s economic participation worldwide.

A Tracking Study on Gender Equality Attitudes, to be conducted by UN Women with support from WPP on a biennial basis and sponsored by P&G, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever and a growing list of other companies, was also announced.

“We need to gather firm data on attitudes towards gender equality within the industry,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

“This evidence will fuel political will and financial muscle for change.

“The study will provide the insights necessary to inform corrective action, for instance through policy and education, but also through adjustments in the portrayal of both women and men in advertising itself.

“This is where the Alliance comes in, so that the findings of the survey can reinforce and motivate additional industry efforts.”

Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Unilever, said: “The Unstereotype Alliance is our path to a global ambition, not just for Unilever brands, but for the larger industry to advance advertising away from stereotypical representations of gender.

“We believe cross-sector collaboration will lead to sustained transformation, which is why we are proud to co-convene The Unstereotype Alliance as a crucial step in putting this into action.

“Our job isn’t done until we no longer see an ad that diminishes or limits the role of women and men in society.”

UN Women works consistently to disrupt stereotypes and engage diverse constituencies on gender equality, such as men and boys, including with its HeforShe campaign, as well as youth and faith-based leaders.

Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP‘s CEO said: “Both of these initiatives, the Unstereotype Alliance and the Tracking Study on Gender Equality Attitudes, are powerful examples of what we can achieve when we set aside our competitive differences.”

The lack of gender equality in advertising is a long-standing issue,” said AT&T Chief Brand Officer Fiona Carter. “But I believe we are at the forefront of a real change – this alliance and study are evidence.

“When the biggest brands join together, we can make a breakthrough.”

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