Women Continue to Be Sexualized and Misrepresented in Ads, Even in 2017

New data from Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and JWT

Women are still underrepresented in ads.
Getty Images

Between 2006 and 2017 there was relatively little change in how women were represented in advertising, and in the last nine months progress has still been slow. However, there’s some hope that brands and advertisers are working to rectify that.

J. Walter Thompson New York and The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media released new research around the topic at Advertising Week New York. Overall, the data shows that things aren’t improving when it comes to gender diversity in marketing.

Earlier in the year at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, the duo presented data focused on gender representation in ads between 2006 and 2016. The numbers weren’t great. Men were four times as likely to appear in ads as women and received seven times more speaking time than women. Women were usually portrayed in their 20s in ads, while men were in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

JWT and the institute released a new set of data that looked at the past nine months to see whether the numbers would improve. Unfortunately, it appears many agencies and brands still haven’t learned their lessons.

When it comes to humor, men are 2.6 times more likely to play funny characters in ads, but between 2006 and 2016 men were landing the funny roles just twice as often as women. It’s a small increase, but still worth noting, according to the institute.

Then there’s the problem of portraying women with jobs. From 2006 to 2016, ads portrayed just one in four women as having a job (and to top it off women were 48 percent more likely to be shown in the kitchen). That was compared to one in three men who were shown with jobs. Now in just one year, only one in five women had a job, compared to two in five men.

Finally, when it comes to intelligence, men are 89 percent more likely to be depicted as smart in comparison to women. That number is up from 62 percent from the last 10 years.

“These findings are truly disheartening. But I am inspired and hopeful to see the impact and resonance they have had already with clients, partners and colleagues. I cannot wait for our industry to show that they are much better than that,” Lynn Power, CEO, JWT New York, said.

The only area where things have changed in a favorable way is around the objectification of women in ads–well, sort of. Between 2006 and 2016 women were shown in sexually revealing clothing six times more than men. In 2017 that dropped from six times to five times, but the number of female characters shown in sexual revealing clothing overall remained the same (one in 10).

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media uses what it refers to as GD-IQ to gather its data. The institute partnered with Google to develop the technology, which uses audio and video recognition to analyze how many women are in ads versus men and how much screen time and speaking time women get. Most recently, the technology is being used to dive into what races are portrayed in ads and how often.