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UN's Unstereotype Alliance explores adland's part in erasing harmful stereotypes

The Unstereotype Alliance, an industry-led initiative that uses advertising as a force for good and to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes, was convened by UN Women to get the advertising industry.

At a panel on the first day of Advertising Week New York, a handful of the companies that make up the alliance talked about why their #UnstereotypeAlliance is so important to them.

Executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, got right to the point, stating: “To fight gender inequality we have to work with people across the spectrum. As the UN, we don’t have the reach that the brands have. We are working with companies that care about their bottom line and care about the world – and those are not mutually exclusive,” she said. Finding common connections between people means everyone has the possibility to make a difference, she said. Mlambo-Ngcuka brought it down to an economic level by asking: “Who wants money left on the table?”

After showing a powerful film by Mullenlowe on how a diverse cast of people is stereotyped into lesser roles for commercials, IPG chairman and chief executive officer Michael Roth said that as an industry and as people, we have to understand what we’re not seeing. “What we do has such an impact. The most important part of that piece is addressing tokenism. We’ve been focusing on inclusion. But what you find is that people recognize that there has to be inclusivity. We have a diverse group, but they’re not truly understood for who they are. It’s just checking the box. It’s understanding these individuals for who they are,” he said.

Aline Santos Farhat executive vice president, global marketing at Unilever, stated what an impact the ad industry has globally: “Our industry talks to billions of people every day. We have a massive impact in what we do. 40% of women don’t see themselves represented in advertising, and 90% of parents don’t see good role models in commercials. If consumers are not seeing themselves represented, why should they be buying our brands? We have been lazy,” she said, adding that laziness is not only damaging the industry’s credibility, it’s hurting humanity and society.

“Only the UN can have this power of putting people together. When you start doing advertising that’s more progressive, what we have seen is amazing results with 25% more branded impact and 21% more credibility.”

The business case wasn’t lost on Bill Moseley, director, marketing communications at AT&T, who said that advertisers and brands must be consistent with what they are doing with all their initiatives. His company is working with Reese Witherspoon on the AT&T Hello Sunshine Filmmaker Lab, to give young women a chance to learn to be filmmakers. “People want to know how they can do more. As one of the largest advertisers in the US, we have a responsibility. We have to make the right changes,” said Moseley.

Roth said that changes in stereotyping and equality must come from the top and be priorities for the company. “It’s a business imperative. It’s not just doing lip service. It’s obviously the right thing to do.”

For Mlambo-Ngcuka and the UN, unstereotyping is about calling out these situations as they happen. One verdant example is when panels of all men get together and talk about women’s future. She said leaders must teach their employees: “You are here to produce work and respect everybody you work with.”

Added Santos Farhat: “If you are not serious about this internally, that is a problem. You must walk the talk.” She said that at Unilever, they have 47% women in their workforce, so it’s almost balanced. But she stated that “there are a lot of other elements and stereotypes we’re not talking about. Gender, religion, color. At Unilever, we have unstereotype training. It’s another way of training about unconscious bias.”

All agreed that training, data and education are vital to move the needle sufficiently, as it is a global problem.

“We started in the US, but this is a global issue and you have to bring it to a global platform,” said Roth.

Bill – Marketers have been using stereotypes for years. The efficient way to communicate an idea. You need education to get past that.

Mlambo-Ngcuka wrapped it up, saying: “We’ve seen what this movement has done in galvanizing the industry. We must be visible in showing what brands can do. See every day, all the time, the change. You’re conscious now. Something is changing and it’s in your hands.”

Featured by The Drum

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