“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO and founder of LeanIn.org famously said. A sentiment reflected by Cindy Gallop, founder of creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, who claimed: “One of the quickest ways to make people think differently about something is to change the visuals around it.”
Their argument is that imagery works on an unconscious level to reinforce our conceptions around identity. When it comes to presenting a realistic depiction of women – their lives, experiences and ambitions – visuals have a paramount role to play.
Over the last three years we have seen a monumental spike in searches for ‘female business executives’
The definition of modern gender roles and how these are reflected in advertising has changed dramatically in the last two decades. No longer do we see the popular images of the 1980s, featuring working women wearing power suits and holding briefcases.
Instead we have campaigns such as the highly commended LikeAGirl by Always that tackles issues of confidence in young girls, and Sport England’s thisgirlcan campaign that celebrated active women who are doing their thing, irrespective of how they look.
At long last, there is now a more conscious effort from brands and businesses to reflect women as they truly are, changing the way we visually represent women to embrace female diversity in all its forms.
Getty Images launched a collection of images in partnership with LeanIn.org, the women’s empowerment platform set up by Sheryl Sandberg. The collection is devoted to the powerful depiction of women and girls in contemporary work and life, with the idea being that in order for modern women to be portrayed realistically, this type of imagery needs to be accessible and readily available to use.
The good news is, perception is changing. Demand for this collection grow significantly, with images licensed in more than 65 countries and across multiple industries. Some of the biggest demand has come from financial and tech organisations – industries which are actively trying to attract more women.
However, while we are part the way there, simply offering pictures of a gender-balanced executive meeting doesn’t solely tackle such a complex issue. Imagery instead needs to address the full spectrum of women’s experience from working mothers, to ambitious young women and their relationships with each other, to a young girl building a robot. One of the images in the Lean In collection features a mother pouring milk into her child’s cereal, with a laptop under her arm. Such images capture the experiences of modern women and working mothers.
To fully capture a nuanced view of women’s lives today, we also need to consider how the role of men has changed too. Often depicted as the breadwinner or businessman, we have seen notions of masculinity changing too. The depiction of dads has seen a dramatic shift in the last five years. In 2007, the most downloaded image of a father was a dad playing football with his son – a stereotypically masculine interaction. But in 2015, the most downloaded image showed a dad reading a tablet with his daughter.
By changing the representation of not just women but men too, we build a more balanced perception of both genders; the dads who enjoy great relationships with their children and in turn, the working mothers of the world.
Imagery is the driving force that is shaping the way we view the world. It’s therefore important that visuals continue evolving to portray all of life’s choices and to celebrate diversity so that there is no stereotypical stock image. Images have the power to shape and move the world – let’s ensure we are moving our world in the right direction.