The fight against gender stereotyping must start young
A view from Sue Unerman

The fight against gender stereotyping must start young

Every stereotypical depiction adds to the likelihood that kids will grow up with the same cultural expectations that lead eventually to barriers at work, warns MediaCom's chief transformation officer.

At the centenary of suffrage for some women in the UK, a report reveals that girls as young as 7 years old think women less smart than men. What did you want to be when you grew up? 

A recent report on the career aspirations of 7-11 year olds has concluded that from a very young age most children stereotype jobs according to gender and their career choices are based on these assumptions.

"Drawing the Future: exploring the career aspirations of children from around the world" asked 20,000 kids to draw a picture of what they wanted to do when they grew up. 

The report reveals data from a US study that by the age of 7 girls are less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are "really, really smart." Throughout the UK socio-economic background limits the scope of jobs that all children aspire to.

Most kids know about jobs from members of their family, but after that it is from popular culture and advertising. 

Less than 0.1% kids in the UK want to work in marketing. Less than 0.1% kids want to work in advertising. The few that do aspire to advertising are all boys. 

For the authors of the report this has begged the question of whether advertising has a role in gender stereotyping. Which leads them to refer to the ASA’s report from last summer on this. The ASA report concludes that there is plenty of evidence that there needs to be a tougher line on ads featuring stereotypical gender roles, including ads which mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes. 

Every depiction that stereotypes or follows clichés – and you don’t have to look far to find examples of this – adds to the likelihood that kids will grow up with the same cultural expectations that lead eventually to Glass Walls at work that get in the way of women and top jobs.  And which ladder up to there being more FTSE 100 CEOs called Dave than FTSE 100 CEOS who are women. 

 According to the ASA this includes:

-An ad that depicts family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up.

-An ad that suggests a specific activity is inappropriate for boys because it is stereotypically associated with girls, or vice-versa.

-An ad that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks.

What can be done about this? Brief and create content that challenges those stereotypes rather than reinforcing them.

In addition, the Drawing the Future report remarks that: "Less than 1% of children stated they heard about the job from a volunteer from the world of work coming in to school." 

If advertising and marketing is to find the talent of the future, and the diversity of talent that it needs, there’s a marketing and advertising job to be done in schools at an early age to create aspirations to join our industry.

Ann Mroz, editor of TES, comments: "Our children are encouraged to shoot for the stars, but we glue their feet firmly to the ground".  Particularly young girls. Let’s help them reach for the moon.

Sue Unerman is the chief transformation officer of MediaCom
@SueU