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CEO of Edelman Canada discusses why we need to talk about women in advertising

Lisa Kimmel, President and CEO of Edelman Canada, is dedicated to seeing real change in the advertising industry. In the advent of her panel discussion on June 8, Women to Watch: How Three Female Executives are Reinventing the Advertising Industry, we asked her why we need to talk about the portrayal of women in advertising, and how it affects our future leaders. 

By Lisa Kimmel


Just this month, the Gandalf Group, on behalf of Advertising Standards Canada, released its annual study on consumers’ attitudes toward advertising—and this year, there was an added focus on how women and men are portrayed. Unfortunately, despite the strides we may feel we’ve made in the industry, less than half of Canadians think that advertising is less sexist than it was a decade ago—and out of more than 1,500 people surveyed, 62 per cent said that at least some of the ads they see are sexist towards women.

The way that women are represented in the media extends far beyond advertising too.  In fact, even though women constitute about half the population and workforce—and more than 60 per cent of university grads—a study from Informed Opinions found that male voices outnumber female voices by a factor of four to one in Canada’s most influential print, broadcast, and online news media.

Both the lack of female representation in the media and how women are portrayed in advertising are part of the same problem: a lack of real role models perpetuates stereotypes and gender inequality in our society. Consider this: the Advertising Standards Canada study also found that while consumers may say that sexism is unacceptable, only nine per cent felt angry or outraged about it—and less than 40 per cent said they were much less likely to buy an advertiser’s product because of it. This apparent indifference is concerning, and demonstrates just how ingrained these stereotypical attitudes continue to be in our society.

We must do better. I, for one, am not comfortable with my 10-year-old daughter thinking that her self-worth is based on her physical appearance, that her ambitions aren’t valued in society, and that her voice likely won’t be heard.

We have a responsibility to each other, and to the women coming behind us—our daughters, our colleagues and young women everywhere—to make a lasting, positive difference now and in the future in how women are represented in an omni-channel world.  Young women are watching us. And it’s up to us to show them what they need to see.