June 20, 2018

Written By Tarana Tabassum Pia

The advertising industry of our country, while growing, is providing more on the plate for consumers to choose from – opening even more doors for producers to create versatile content. With this increase in consumption and production comes the recurrence of another issue that our industry has been facing severely – gender biases. This problem has long afflicted the industry and it now is a business imperative to bring equality to make sure of the industry going strong. This representation of gender bias in advertising does not only affect the advertising industry but also cancels out all other efforts of gender equality in relevant media.

Women are often shown in stereotypical roles in ads as mothers, cooks or identified as symbol of beauty. Leaving exceptions aside, most advertisements represent women as the obsessive domestic selfless nurturer of their families, while men are commonly portrayed as the saviors, the Supremes. In the month of Ramadan, how many ads have we watched where the males of the family are serving food on the plates of their family members? Or how many HFD brands are endorsed by the fathers? In a 2016 survey of ads and consumers by Unilever in UK, it was revealed that 40% of women do not recognize the faces being reflected back at them. The study provided a possible explanation; of the women the ads featured, 3% were portrayed in leadership roles, 2% were intelligent, and 1% were funny.

The ever-present societal norms of women being the weaker gender seems to comply here with advertising terms, globally. Most brands that involve women in their ads, do not also seem very audacious to portray women in a non-objectifying tone – possibly because it’s always a risk to go with a new tone which may not connect the audience to the brand. While we raised the issue to the industry experts on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2018 at the WIL Fest (Women In Leadership Festival), Solaiman Alam, the Chief Digital Officer, Head of Brand and Digital Marketing of Grameenphone said, “The story of an ad rarely comes from a woman. The story usually comes from a male. So, however he may try, he will always have an outsider perspective of the woman. Given that there is a scarcity of woman in the industry, it gets difficult. In fact, there are brands which are ready to step out and embrace the difference. The ads are now different at least, if not progressive. Now there are brands that are ready to take the leap but they need the right kind of story as well”. Apparently, all the big fish of advertising society from around the world agree on this part, the advertising world needs more women leaders to make strong, empowered women appear on screen. It is as if advertising and creativity is the sole province of men. 

According to Cindy Gallop, a British advertising consultant and industry veteran, gender diversity is the key to make the advertising industry more creative, lucrative and bias-free. “The moment you have 50% or more women on your board, on your leadership team, in your creative team and at the head of your creative department, you’ll instantly make more money and do less work. Because innovation, disruption and creativity are the result of diversity”.

Interestingly, this industry might not have an issue with female recruitment, rather has a retention issue when it comes to females in creative departments. Be it the adversity in work environment or the household responsibilities on their shoulders, women in this industry generally do not stay for a longer period of time. To further take the advertisements in the right and unconscious lack of biasness direction, women with passion need to stay for longer in this career path. The women in advertising must set higher goals for themselves, because the unstructured nature of the industry makes it easier for a woman to fall down the ladder. Having strong female senior leaders to inspire younger women is also very important. So is listening to help them stay in the working environment, allowing them to feel courageous and give them the confidence to have opinions and make decisions.

As more women stay put in the advertising industry, we can sure hope to be able to eliminate gender bias from the ads, and see women in their empowered forms. With more women directing and creating stories for ads, we can positively shift the trend of women being portrayed in the media, be more significant as an industry and create a form of fresh advertising trend.


The writer is a brand enthusiast, working at Bangladesh Brand Forum as a Brand & Research Executive.

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