Fiat and Elle's flexible-working spot faces social media backlash

Social users have panned video for portrayal of women, flexible working and women in sport.

Fiat: working with Elle on series of films
Fiat: working with Elle on series of films

A film created in-house by Elle for Fiat UK as part of the Hearst title’s "A modern woman’s guide to…" series has been criticised on social media.

The spot, "Work/life balance", features Elle’s digital editor, Natasha Bird, in a Fiat 500 parked in a field, telling colleagues via a video call that she is at a pitch.

During the call, she is shown swapping work attire for a football kit inside the car, while telling colleagues: "I’ve left a tonne of notes, so nobody should need me for the next hour." It ends with Bird stepping out of the car and warming up for a football match, with the words: "Break the mould."

Elle described the film as "being smarter at planning your working week in order to maximise productivity".

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This is damaging. I can’t watch it. @elleuk @fiat_uk flexible working is not about lying to your colleagues. It’s centred on trust. It’s about productivity. This sets the conversation back a decade. This is everything we’ve been fighting against #wrongpitch #feministmagazine #flexappeal REPOST with @_repost.app Elle’s digital editor on ‘flexible working’ ?????? Break the mould with @fiat_uk

A post shared by Anna Whitehouse (@mother_pukka) on

Comments on Instagram about the film have ranged from: "Superficial, vacuous and so bloody regressive" to "This is tone deaf and plays into the worst prejudices around #flexibleworking – that flex workers are shirking and not to be trusted. This tells a story that it is so shameful to be away from your desk, you need to lie about it."

Another user noted: "Such a huge issue is that women aren't believed/trusted/seen as slacking/not serious about career, how did they get it so wrong?"

Anna Whitehouse, founder of the Mother Pukka blog and a campaigner for Flex Appeal, which encourages people to talk to their employer about flexible working, said: "It’s clearly meant to target millennial women, it’s clearly meant to tap into a zeitgeist topic (flexible working), but it’s just an example of a brand clumsily bandwagoning without a whiff of research. It amplifies a message that those who work flexibly are liars. Lying about where they are and what they’re doing.

"It’s an archaic narrative we’ve been trying to break down for five years and in one fell swoop (in conjunction with a feminist magazine), those painful stereotypes are clunkily wheeled out to flog a car."

"A modern woman’s guide to…" is a content series developed by Elle for Fiat UK, highlighting moments in a woman’s life. A second video looks at "celebrating your new arrival", in which a woman hosts a party for her "new arrival", which is revealed as a tortoise.

A spokeswoman for Hearst said: "We created this content to show the importance of getting a work/life balance. This video simply shows how this busy professional is finding time in her day to go and play football.

"We’re saddened that this has been taken out of context. Hearst has a strong commitment to supporting women and flexibility in the work place. Those who read Elle will also be aware of how we champion women’s rights and diversity and inclusion."

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