A Discussion on Gender-Conscious Media

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When computers became generally affordable, people bought them in mass and gave them to boys. They were toys for the likes of young Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg because that’s who computers were marketed to, Reshma Saujani says.

Saujani is the Founder & CEO of Girls Who Code, an organization with a mission to flood the tech job pipeline with well-trained women and compensate for the lack of diversity in that sector.  On the Advertising Week panel at Thompson Reuters, she said girls would have invented Apple or Facebook if they had been given computers as toys too.

Madeline Di Nonno with the Geena Davis Insitute on Gender in Media, had an opinion on the matter. “Our tagline is ‘If she can see, she can be it,’” Di Nonno said. And, unfortunately, the inverse is also true: if she doesn’t see it, she probably won’t be it.

Applying that tagline to advertising is simple. If girls had seen themselves depicted playing with computers in advertisements instead of boys, if they had been the targets in the first place, then they would have been buying and using them and we wouldn’t be having a conversation about it.

Di Nonno offered a hopeful comment on the industry, too. “Advertising is the only sector that can completely switch gender imagery overnight,” she said.

Kim Getty, President at Deutsch LA, and Jessica Jensen, Head of Brand Strategy & Product Marketing Communications at Facebook, agreed with Di Nonno. Getty and Jensen are encouraged by the advancements being made in advertising. More equitable depictions of women in ads are being lauded and shared both within and outside of the advertising industry.

But gender imagery isn’t the only issue at hand when it comes to gender in media. What happens behind the scenes in management matters too. Diversity there is just as important.

“Girls Who Code is fighting a pipeline problem,” Saujani said. “But we’re also fighting the people who say ‘we should be teaching all kids to code.’ It matters what the talent pool looks like just as much as whether there is a big enough pool to draw talent from. Girls and racial minorities should be given priority.”

VP Brand Strategist at Mac Presents, Andrew Hamp, said management in the music industry is slowly growing more diverse. The only man on the panel brought interesting insight on women in music.

“In recent years, one of the biggest developments in the music industry in terms of how women are represented is Meghan Trainor,” Hamp said, referencing her popularity for, and not in spite of, her own body positivity and her other empowering messages.

Every panelist seemed to agree that media are at a junction in gender-consciousness. It is an issue that’s gaining attention nationally and globally. But it is an issue whose resolution demands upsetting the status-quo, disturbing the balance of power. Tackling that requires it’s own creative solution.

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