Unilever’s “Unstereotyping” approach will help to reduce sexism and may impact women’s careers too

Yesterday I facilitated at another senior women’s event where I was asked to help them repair damaged confidences, give them back self-esteem and help them to find their voice again. All alone in a room where the only man was the technical help.

Today, Keith Weed at Unilever announces that the company plans to remove sexist stereotypes from 400 of its brands (the company owns Dove and Lynx among others). From last night when I again felt slight despair that although we had shared some great insights and tips that would undoubtedly help the women – we were, in a room without the men they work with present, likely to be fighting a losing battle. One with often inadvertent sexism that runs deeper than we want to believe and impacts the unconscious programming of all of us from the day we are born. We see the repercussions every day in our organisations. I saw it yesterday in my training session.

While we are bombarded with images of men and women in stereotypical poses – it actually doesn’t matter how much we consciously appreciate that it’s not accurate – we absorb it all subliminally. That is why Unilever’s move is so much to be admired and very brave. By applying their new approach of “Unstereotype” they risk the appeal of their products not tapping into the deeper implicit psyche – and not selling as well.

Unilevers “Unsterotyping” approach aims to promote diversity and inclusion

Unilever’s Knorr advert previously showed a mother and daughter in the kitchen…however the new one shows a father and son cooking

However their discovery that 90% of women felt females in their current ads were shown as sex symbols and the reality was that only 3% of advertisements depicted women in any kind of managerial role.

When we explore how our view of the world is shaped – and how the expectations we have of ourselves are formed it’s easy to look to early years’ experience – or to “Blame the parents”. However the women I see have also been affected by Disney’s portrayal of women, and not simply physically. We see the impact of watching even simple cartoons that show women as needing to be saved – and men as being the saviours resonating today in the form of Benevolent Bias. An unconscious decision making process that effectively “protects” and “saves” women from stressful projects, roles and situations. Clearly not all the work of Disney – men find it harder to predict performance in a women if their own mother did not work – but still a clear demonstration of how the career path of women can easily be affected by the media.

So every little helps. We need to have the conversation with both genders present. We need to be real about how the advertisements and media of the past are still haunting our performance, recruiting and promotion decisions. We need to be real about our unconscious thoughts and where they originate. And we need to thank Unilever – it’s a powerful start and I can’t wait to see the new advertisements.

Click here to read the full story (BBC).