shEqual finds female stereotypes are still prevalent in advertising


This troubling topic is the basis of a new panel discussion video series

shEqual, Australian advertising equality movement, has found that narrow and limiting stereotypes of women – from passive little girls to sexualised women – are still prevalent in modern-day advertising

This troubling topic is the basis of a new panel discussion video series in which industry leaders look at some of the common depictions of women that have been highlighted in shEqual’s Female Stereotypes in Advertising guide.

Spanning the industry, the panellists tackling this nuanced subject include Dhivia Pilai (senior strategist, TBWA), Sarah Vincenzini (associate creative director, M&C Saatchi), Niall Hughes (group account director, Icon Agency), Anathea Ruys (CEO, UM Australia), Irene Joshy (head of creative, Insights, Kantar Asia & Australia) and Fiona Le Brocq (senior executive, Brand, Marketing & CX, Medibank).

The video series is part of the SH!FT campaign which is designed to give the industry the language to discuss and challenge gendered stereotypes in their work. It is hoped that the content will also support robust conversations across agency land.

Dianne Hill, CEO of Women’s Health Victoria – the organisation leading the shEqual movement, said: “We need to talk more about how the advertising industry represents women to the Australian public and the potentially damaging impact female stereotypes can have.”

Key insights from the panel include how changes to casting can create more authentic and diverse talent selection, the importance of raising concerns during the development of ads, and why advertising really needs to stop cutting off women’s heads.


Available on the shEqual website, the digital content series shows the expert panel discussing a range of commonly observed stereotypes, including:

The Model Mother: Women are disproportionately shown as the primary caretakers of both home and children caring, dressing, cooking and cleaning.
The Passive Little Girl: Ads show boys engaging in active play and girls sitting passively, often with one another, playing with dolls and house appliances and everything is pink.
The Observed Woman: The observed woman loses her agency and authority in the male gaze.
The Sexualised Woman: This stereotype demonstrates that a woman’s value comes only from her sex appeal.
The Pretty Face: This stereotype depicts women as secondary and “just a pretty face” without intelligence or independence.
The Magical Grandmother: Older women are generally missing from ads, commonly have few spoken lines, and are often in the kitchen serving food, smiling and supporting younger characters.
The Ticked Box: Characters included to check diversity boxes, commonly limited to the background.

The conversation also looks at the many other women that are absent from ads, including women living with disabilities, women with larger bodies, queer women, older women, and women of colour – especially First Nations women.

Hill said: “Our data shows that respectful (93%*), realistic (88%*) and diverse (89%*) representations of women in advertising content are important to the industry. The will to change is there and we encourage advertisers to use these videos to start their own meaningful discussions with their peers.”

The content was created in partnership with Icon Agency at its new digital production studio, The Content Garden.

Icon co-founder and managing director, Joanne Painter, said: “Australians see thousands of adverts each day, making it hard to underestimate the power our industry has to shape social opinions and expectations of women for the better.

“It’s therefore vital that we challenge inequality through our content and storytelling, which starts with the people making it.”

“Gender and cultural diversity are deeply ingrained in Icon’s DNA and as a female-founded and led agency, we’re proud to support shEqual’s work. We hope that the content series furthers the much-needed conversation around the representation of women in the media,” Painter added.

Top image: Attendees of the shEqual Event November 2022

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