News & Views

A little less conversation

by Kate Hollowood

At the start of my call with Cindy Gallop, I am nervous. Partly because of my deep admiration for her – as an industry legend and fierce champion of women, shes led campaigns to change the way businesses can do good and people have sex – but also because she tells me that she is angry.

‘I am not exasperated and angry at you,’ she reassures me. ‘I am exasperated and angry because I've been talking about diversity and have been providing actionable things to do for years and nobody is doing them.’

The aim of our call was to discuss research Contagious had recently commissioned in partnership with LADbible. Our UK-based study, conducted by Opinium, sought to understand how young people (Gen Z and millennials) feel about gender stereotypes and the ways in which brands are trying to put an end to them. But rather than talk about the work, Gallop (quite rightly) directs the conversation inwards on the advertising industry itself.

We’re all familiar with the stats that are fuelling Gallop’s fury: women fill less than 40% of jobs in the creative industries in the UK, according to the government’s official statistics. And, according to Creative Equals, just 12% of creative directors in the advertising industry are female.

Of course, young consumers are well aware of the fact that the world is not gender-equal. While we found that the majority of respondents (60%), believe brands should be involved in the gender equality conversation, young consumers will ditch a brand if it doesn’t behave accordingly. A third of people in the survey said that they would stop using or shopping with a company if they were paying men and women differently or weren’t giving both genders equal opportunities to progress in their career.

Gallop is far from being alone in her beliefs. When I spoke with Otegha Uwagba, writer, brand consultant and founder of creative community Women Who, she warned against companies trying to jump on the inclusivity bandwagon in their ads without employing a diverse set of people to make them.

‘Don’t try and create a campaign that talks about gender identity or uses self-empowerment and feminism without having women or people who understand the issues there with you,’ she says. ‘If you don’t have the right people in the room, it will blow up in your face, because these are very nuanced topics and what is acceptable today might not be acceptable tomorrow.’

The answer is painfully simple. ‘Hire women and promote women to create and approve the ads, and you are done. Stereotypes and worries about how you depict women in advertising go out the window,’ says Gallop.

Crucially, women are not just better at identifying feminine stereotypes, but they are more likely to spot sexist portrayals of men too. Our research revealed that women see more types of masculine stereotypes as prevalent in society compared to males.

There are insidious forces at play preventing women from getting equal power too. During the aftermath of #MeToo, Gallop invited women who had experienced sexual harassment within the ad industry to email her and tell their stories. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she was inundated.

Not only does sexual harassment cripple people with low self-esteem, leaving them too self-conscious to command the attention required for their careers to flourish, but it can actually stop their work from becoming approved. ‘When she says no, [the harasser] is all the more inclined to shit on her work from a great height,’ says Gallop.

It's great to spark positive conversation and shatter stigmas. But if brands and agencies really want to change the world, their leaders need to refocus their energies within. 

Illustrations by Cécile Dormeau