January 6, 2020

Is the media capable of representing gender equality?

Shelley Zalis // WTF GENDER

Shelley Zalis has brought us all a long way in seven years.

The ad hoc Girls’ Lounge she started in 2012 at a technology trade show to feel less alone in a crowd of businessmen is now a global community of 20,000 women. When she thinks What The Future, the founder and CEO of The Female Quotient wants to advance gender equality, including in the advertising industry. Already, The FQ’s #SeeHer joint-partnership with the Association of National Advertisers has met its 2020 goal to increase accurate portrayals of women and girls in media by 20 percent.

WTF: Your company’s purpose is to advance gender equality, particularly in the workplace. How important do you see TV, films and advertising in advancing this cause?

Shelley Zalis: It’s going to be the next generation that transforms culture. Media defines culture, culture defines change and change defines action. When you look at what you see on television, that’s what boys and girls, men and women believe they could be.

WTF: The Ipsos study showed that there is broad awareness about the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, yet less agreement that they are creating positive changes for men and women.

Zalis: These kinds of movements have done a wonderful job of breaking the silence and creating consequences for bad behavior. But what we need to do more of is create positive, proactive solutions for change with measurements for accountability.

WTF: How would you do that?

Zalis: That’s the work we’re doing inside a company. It’s not about sexual harassment training in the textbook. It really is about conscious mindset immersion. We all have bias. But it’s really about making the unconscious, conscious. It’s about education and awareness and realizing that we’re not trying to put people on the defense. It’s assuming that most people are good. #MeToo and #TimesUp make the assumption that most men are bad. Most men are good, so it is about education and awareness because a lot of men today are just afraid to do or say the wrong thing.

WTF: In advertising and Hollywood, we are seeing more women taking leadership roles. Is that reflected in the kind of content and advertising that’s being produced?

Zalis: Not yet. We’re starting to see more women not just on camera, but behind the camera. That is creating a new sensitivity, a whole new awareness around the accurate, realistic portrayal of girls and women. And we have organizations like GirlGaze and Free the Work that have databases of female producers, directors, photographers, cinematographers and now people have no excuse when they say, “Well, we don’t have any female directors and producers.”

WTF: What are some examples of how advertising is moving in the right direction?

Zalis: We are starting to see ads where the dual partnership is sharing responsibility at home, and I think this is really for the Millennial generation, where they want double-income families. The more they start seeing it being OK in media, [the more] they start adopting those behaviors as well. We’re starting to see more single-sex couples reflected in advertising. The more you see it, the more normalized it becomes. Also, you start seeing women in boardrooms and women still responsible for the families but also very successful at work. It’s not perfect. You see the blemishes, but the blemishes are what make it perfect because it makes it real. The past stereotype has been dads spend time with their boys and moms spend time with their girls and boys. But now you also see dads with their daughters. We’re starting to really show a whole new modern culture.

Shelley Zalis
Founder and CEO
The Female Quotient
She, her, hers

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What the Future is a quarterly deep dive into different aspects of consumer and social thought and behavior. Each edition features exclusive new data from world-leading research firm Ipsos. WTF explores how a single industry or behavior fits into the broader culture now and in the coming decades. Read Previous WTF Issues »


Media and advertising still box people into traditional gender roles, but can play a role in changing them.

Total (Agree net) Male (Agree net) Female (Agree net)

TV and movie plots often keep men and women in their traditional gender roles. TV and movie plots often keep men and women in their traditional gender roles. 53% 46% 49%

TV and movie plots can change how we perceive traditional gender roles. TV and movie plots can change how we perceive traditional gender roles. 63% 66% 65%

Advertisements and commercials often keep men and women in traditional gender roles. Advertisements and commercials often keep men and women in traditional gender roles. 55% 48% 51%

Advertisements and commercials can change how we perceive traditional gender roles. Advertisements and commercials can change how we perceive traditional gender roles. 54% 61% 58%

When I watch movies or TV these days, the female actors often play less important roles than male actors. When I watch movies or TV these days, the female actors often play less important roles than male actors. 30% 26% 28%

When I watch movies or TV these days, the female roles are more sexualized than the male roles. When I watch movies or TV these days, the female roles are more sexualized than the male roles. 49% 56% 53%

I'm seeing more men portrayed positively as active and involved fathers in movies and TV these days. I'm seeing more men portrayed positively as active and involved fathers in movies and TV these days. 45% 57% 51%

I'm seeing more men portrayed positively as active and involved fathers in advertisements and commercials these days. I'm seeing more men portrayed positively as active and involved fathers in advertisements and commercials these days. 50% 59% 55%

(Source: Ipsos survey conducted August 29-30, 2019 among 1,005 U.S. adults.)

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, Founder and CEO, The Female Quotient



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