Staff Writer
Jul 4, 2019

Diversity in media matters. Here’s why.

Edelman gathers media, brand and agency leaders to talk about diversity at WLC 2019

Diversity in media matters. Here’s why.

It goes without saying that diversity matters in ad- and media-land. After all, we’re exposed to it on a daily basis, be it on buses and trains, via the digital sphere, or on an actual piece of paper. Sadly, only 24% of those we hear, see or read about in the news are female.

“Media is the avenue by which people see the world. If we’re missing out on representing the views of half the world, we’re missing out on the [full] story,” notes Stephanie Phang, Bloomberg’s managing editor, SEA, at Campaign’s Women Leading 2019.

Unfortunately in today’s world, when women are portrayed in media, it’s usually in stereotypical roles. In South Asia, women are more likely to be depicted in the media as ‘victims,' while in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, they are depicted as ‘family figures’, says a 2015 UNESCO report. The same report also says that women believe that they’re increasingly depicted as ‘sexual objects’.

These stereotypes are perhaps not surprising, if you consider that the media workforce is skewed towards the male sex. Globally 31% of stories on politics and 39% of stories about the economy have female bylines. News is typically gendered, with female reporters, writers or editors encouraged to enter softer news industries such as fashion, beauty and travel – areas often seen as less ‘serious and ‘prestigious’ than hard news. The statistics are even more stark in APAC, where men outnumber women 4:1 across the Asia and Oceania region.

But perhaps, women’s absence is most evident at top-level positions in media companies. Only 21.6% of boards of directors are filled by women. The figures are worse when it comes to top management and senior-level management – an abysmal 9.2% and 13.4% respectively.

After all, how does a newsroom achieve diversity, both within the workforce, as well as in stories it publishes, if the top-level executive positions are all filled by men? 

United for News (UfN), founded by Internews in partnership with the World Economic Forum, attempts to correct this. Launched at Davos 2019, (UfN) is a non-profit coalition that seeks to fight gender bias, provide healthy role models for women and girls, and build trust for media by amplifying women’s authoritative voice in the news. UFN’s partners list is wide and far-ranging, including Bloomberg, Edelman, Media Development Investment Fund, LSE and Group M.

Naturally, brands play an important role in moving the needle on diversity. Rightly so, as they hold the advertising budget and have the ability to decide where and how they want their advertising to appear – on a forward-thinking platform that supports diversity, or one that reinforces gender stereotypes.

Vivian Pan, VP, head of marketing, SE Asia at Visa says, “We need to find a way to represent everyone as Visa is a brand for the masses.” 

Agencies, too have a role to play as they are in a position to advise brands on how to align diversity messaging, internal and external.

“All too often, the [female] protagonist in these advertising campaigns are…caregivers, about women being modest,” says Lizzie Nolan, head of integrated strategy, APAC, BBH.

The good news is, we are seeing progress. Gen Z and millennial marketers are more inclined to use images featuring racially diverse models, same-sex couples, transgender models, people with disabilities and gender-fluid, non-binary or androgynous models, says a Shutterstock research, which surveyed more than 2500 marketers in Australia, Brazil, Germany, the US and the UK. This was also seen at 2019 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, where a key theme was ‘Embracing Inclusion, Equality and Diversity’. 

Of course, D&I shouldn’t just come down to specific numbers and ratios.

Bob Grove, chief client and operations officer, Asia Pacific, Edelman, says, “KPIs are good to have. It’s something to aim for...but it’s certainly not the answer.” What really moves the D&I needle forward, according to him, is “tackling the cultural DNA, about how people behave with each other…and increasing the awareness of what those behaviours mean to other people they work with.”

Watch the video, which Campaign produced in partnership with Edelman, for more insights.

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