Women make up 51% of the population on Earth. They make up 50% of the workforce in advertising. And they account for 85% of all consumer purchases. So why are women still being discriminated against in advertising? It’s an issue that women have faced for millennia. And even though women are breaking through the glass ceiling of advertising, we’re still seeing commercials, hearing radio, and seeing print that is aimed mostly towards men. Why is this still going on and what can be done to stop it?
It’s not a difficult task. Look at a bus passing by or flip on the TV and you’ll see an ad objectifying, discriminating against, or downplaying the role of women in society. Take this ad recently found in the D.C. metro system.
No. We can’t just talk about shoes. Who thought this was a good idea for an ad? Seriously. I can only imagine the conversation that went on at this agency. “This is great, Johnson. A+ work. Send it to the printers and go home. You did some really great work today.”
All ranting aside, you don’t have to look hard to see ads like this, and it’s not a modern phenomenon. Discrimination in advertising has been going on for as long as advertising has existed. Advertising has, for the most part, been made by men, for men, regardless of product or placement. But, as time goes on, the first part of that statement becomes less and less true.
The ‘Mad Men’ mentality of the 1960s is still prevalent today, but it’s difficult to see why. Women make up almost 50% of the workforce in advertising, a much larger number than even 20 years ago. Does this ‘50%’ go all the way to the top?
In the advertising industry as a whole, only 30% of executives are female, and only 11% of creative directors are female. This is hardly proportionate to the 50% of the total workforce. But this may not have anything to do with the type of work that is being created. Maybe we have just been blasted with gender-bias for so long that we begin to produce it ourselves? Maybe we just don’t know its happening? Well, except for that D.C. Metro ad… It’s still impossible to see how someone didn’t flag that before it left the shop.
So what can be done about this epidemic of discrimination in both content and the workplace? Well, first of all, we can start accepting women as the powerhouse of spending that they are. If it’s true that women make up 85% of total consumer spending, then the industry needs to start paying more attention to their preferences, or at least creating ads that are less gender biased.
Next, the industry as a whole could start putting more females into positions of power in agencies. Creative directors, media directors, CEO, and CMO positions are all disproportionate to the actual number of women in the workforce, and it’s about time these numbers start to even out. Once this occurs, we’ll hopefully start to see more advertising by humans, for humans, not for one group alone.
But really, the only thing that can end discrimination in advertising is time. We’ve come a long way from the ‘housewife’ image of the 1950s and 60s. For every D.C. Metro ad and Carl’s Junior/Hardy’s campaign, there’s the Dove ‘Real Beauty’ campaign or the Always ‘#LikeAGirl’ campaign. There’s still discrimination out there, but it’s changing fast. The only thing that will help it go any faster is time.