United Nations (UN) Women recently launched the UnstereotypeAlliance - India Chapter to tackle the persistent gender biases in advertising, media and marketing in the country. Among the founding members of the India chapter are Unilever, Diageo, WPP, Publicis Groupe, Havas Group and the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).
To mark the launch, a panel comprising Manisha Kapoor, secretary-general, ASCI; Priya Nair, executive director - beauty and personal care, HUL; Apoorva Bapna, chief cultural officer, WPP India; Anupriya Acharya, CEO, Publicis Groupe South Asia; Namrata Tata, The Advertising Club; Priya Naik, founder and CEO, Samhita Social Ventures; Savita Pai, chief digital and media officer, Diageo India, and Vandana Tilwani, CHRO, Havas Group, gathered to discuss the growing plight and the need to stop stereotyping in advertising communications. The panel was moderated by Nishtha Satyam, deputy representative in India for UN Women.
The panel discussed how gender bias has been deeply rooted in the culture of advertising, not just in India, but also globally. The UN Women have decided to take a stand against age-old stereotypes represented in communication, and drive positive change by encouraging the right portrayal of both genders.
Elaborating on the issue and the task at hand for the alliance, Kapoor said, "This is a big focus for ASCI. Advertising, too, wishes to be responsible and progressive in its descriptions. However, the changes in the gender narrative are very complex and many ideas exist simultaneously. We have our own biases and conditioning that we need to question and the idea is, 'how can this alliance help in enabling this phenomenon?’. We need to know that different companies have their own protocols and are debating these issues, but we can only standout collectively."
Nair explained how HUL, through its various brands like Brooke Bond Red Label, Dove, Glow & Lovely (formerly Fair & Lovely), have been looking to promote a sense of equality, not only in terms of gender or colour but also in caste and creed.
Speaking of the initiatives undertaken by HUL, she said, "We recognise that while we have the power to set new standards of development and equality, there are millions of women who are still held back. We are committed to using our scale and reach to drive wider social reach through our brands. We tell different stories that ‘unstereotype’ minorities, and openly source this to all our agency partners. The teams creating the work also need to be unbiased. We are on a journey to banish these stereotypes and this needs systemic changes. Brands play a role in redefining what they consider is a stereotype. Various organisations need to come together to set new standards of equality."
Giving WPP’s point-of-view on how the company is looking to get a more diverse representation of people, Bapna, chief culture officer at the company said, "We believe in the importance of creating more equitable societies for our clients and have a global inclusion and a local council. We also dedicate US$ 30million within WPP to support these initiatives. It comes down to three levels i.e., people, client and community. Creating diverse internal teams is truly important to be able to eradicate any forms of bias in work that goes out in gender and beyond.”
When asked about the efficiency of the push and pull effect, Acharya elaborated on how the Publicis Groupe is partnering with the Unstereotype Alliance globally and as an advertising group. She admits it has been a huge force for change. “It has created a diverse and progressive world that also changes with time. The push-and-pull is also a function of which era you are in,” said Acharya. “We advise purpose-led advertising to our clients. Push brings in the issue of gender discrimination and addressing that in advertising has a very established power. All organisations are moving towards that. The push factor is actually a step in the right direction.”
Tata believes that brands that have a progressive portal of gender do get noticed. Agreeing with HUL’s Nair, she said that making a business case for gender diversity will go a long way as compared to plain lip-service. "We deal with unconscious biases at all times. This change comes with intrinsically motivating brands to walk the talk, not just for tokenism, but so that they feel like working towards a cause much needed in the era we're living in," she said.
Looking at the brightest side, Samhita Social Ventures’ Naik believes that the fact that UN Women has managed to bring together brands and women in this conversation is already a step up. To take the conversation up a level, though, she asked, "How do we help each other really achieve all of the intent that we talk about individually and collectively? We need to ensure that everyone feels a need for ownership and create the right enabling mechanism to turn our talks into action. We have to take all of this commitment to see if we can already start executing this holistic support in the next three months."
"We have 60%women at the executive level, although India is still not as advanced as some western countries which have taken a few long strides, even in the case of women working behind the camera etc. Even in the company or outside, we're looking at bringing to life some of the key themes that at some point will also move beyond just gender. We're also kicking off a progressive media charter,” Pai said.
The ASCI has already laid down guidelines that monitor the impact of incorrect gender portrayal. However, there's a whole spectrum that needs to be addressed to make any real headway.
Touching upon this, Kapoor admits that there have to be regulations to guide people. "Regulations will always define the end boundaries. You have to encourage gender stories that are positive to be a part of those narratives. It will be a combination of regulation and consensus approach," she said.
Havas’ Tilwani is certain that there is a bigger role that needs to be played in the way women view themselves. She says, “We are extremely conscious of the Diversity and Inclusion movement in the country. I'm convinced that while gender-balanced teams will bring in holistic perspectives, the question is 'how do we mitigate these influences of conditioning that both men and women have about themselves?”
"Together, we need to take steps forward for success to be seen very soon. We also learn from other markets that gender is a global concern and that there are similarities and a lot of starting points to look at from other markets. We are all taking a step together, and we will create a big impact," added Kapoor.