IAA Voice of Change Summit: Experts discuss why it is important to break the bias

Anuradha Sengupta, Nitesh Priyadarshi, Deepika Warrier, Tista Sen, Lipika Kumaran and Dr. Falguni Vasavada shared their perspective on gender sensitisation in media

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Aug 2, 2022 8:36 AM  | 6 min read

International Advertising Association (IAA), India chapter hosted a summit on Gender Sensitisation In Media, last week in Mumbai. The theme of the conference was Gender Portrayal across the creative spectrum from a 30 Seconds TVC to a 3 Hour film. The event saw  a power-packed panel of prominent voices of the industry speaking on why it is of importance to break the bias. 

On the panel were Anuradha Sengupta, Journalist; Nitesh Priyadarshi, Vice President CMI - South Asia, Unilever; Deepika Warrier, CMO, Diageo India; Tista Sen, Regional Creative Director, Wunderman Thompson, South Asia; Lipika Kumaran, Senior Vice President - Strategy, Futurebrands and Dr. Falguni Vasavada, Professor, MICA.

Commencing the session, Sengupta put the spotlight on the challenges faced by women around the world, “The needle is moving but very slowly and it's very urgent in today's context for us to step on the gas where women's rights, gender portrayal and breaking the bias towards gender is concerned, because look at the confluence of events in the world, eg. In Afghanistan, women are not going to school, they are limited to maybe less than a handful of jobs and they are being brutalized. In Russia and Ukraine, look at the war that's playing out there, and think of what's happening to the women whether they are in Ukraine or fleeing the borders. It's really becoming difficult to get an abortion in many parts of America today. So there is an assault from all sides across the world on the rights of women. These were hard fought rights and they are not yet anywhere near fully realized and look at the setbacks that they are being dealt with. So to move the needle in any which way we can is absolutely urgent and absolutely critical.”

Warrier highlighted the importance of having women in leadership roles, she shared, ”It makes a huge difference to have women in leadership. I'm not talking about my company…we have about 33% leadership in our top 100 leaders, 50% of our executives are women, it makes a huge difference. Women do get promoted less because they ask less for promotions. Our company, which really believes in equality when it comes to pay and compensation, is hiring women who have a very poor base and then it takes a lot of effort to correct the compensation. So it's important to look at data and make those corrections through hiring, mentoring and salary corrections, and we are very determined that we will do so.”

Sen shared, “If you ask me if the scenario in advertising is changing fast enough? Of course not. I mean, there's a reason why we're sitting here and debating what we can do or what we can’t. But I tend to be optimistic. It will be much worse to sit here and talk about what a mess we're in. Because of course, women rights are being questioned. This is India, there's a huge cultural shift. So we're doing it in bits and bobs. Some brands are doing it fantastically. Unfortunately, most brands want to take the tried and tested. It's much easier to do safe advertising, because it's like wallpaper and you won't be questioned, it just goes by. But to be brave and radical and really talk about women, needs a commitment, needs accountability and a lot of questions and answers. So I call it laziness somewhere. I call it to build on that lack of insight and it's really somebody else's problem. And a lot of communication currently kind of falls into that bracket.”

Sharing his perspective on breaking the gender bias, Priyadarshi  “I think hand on heart, the audience which is here in this room and people who are viewing us online, we belong to 2% of the population. And if the 2% of the Indian population is going to make incise sitting on the chair, today it will never be the reflection of what the consumer is. And I loved the sentence Santosh shared “Tell them and not me”. So, if you go and talk to the consumer on the street and consumer in the villages and towns, you will find that the consumer is far ahead of us, the consumer, the individual, women, even the man to some extent, is far ahead of us than what we see when we are sitting in our own chair in our own offices. And I think that understanding the pulse is very important in my understanding.”

Speaking about gender bias and advertising, Kumaran explained, “The needle has moved and there are brands and there is a newer more progressive language that you see in communication representation of women today. And there is sympathizing today, which is a phenomenon, we do Mother's day, Women's Day and do advertising that gets celebrated for being progressive in that sense. But if you look at it closely, a lot of ads that in a sense goes ahead and again celebrates women, also tends to actually strangely align to a lot of implicit sort of beliefs that you have. So even though you show women as being leaders, you always show them also being good caretakers. A woman who is successful is usually alone, and there are several ads in different categories where you see a woman doing new things, being in new spaces, somehow she's still not allowed to let go of what is considered traditionally and culturally a good woman.”

Concluding the session, Dr. Vasavada said, “Why are we looking only at advertising? There is something which makes the popular protagonist more accessible for brands is the development of your entire popular culture, what you see in television and in films. So I make reels on sarcastic content on what television today carries. And if you see even five serials at a ago, you will realize the anger within when you see it. You will realize the power distances that still exist between men and women in those serials and on screens and demonstrated not only by dressing, by domesticated rules, but also by the fact that there is a hierarchy which is shown. And hence I think it is still there and the slow needle we've been talking about, that it's moving but slowly, is the fact that today it's a laid back approach.”

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