The Women We See: gender and diversity in advertising

London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, yet this isn’t reflected in advertising around the city. Today, the women we see in adverts still fail to represent the women we see around us. 

We believe it’s time this changed. 

The Women We See

The Women We See report

The research

Earlier this year, we commissioned UCL to carry out a study to explore women’s experiences of outdoor advertising in London. It asked what impact a lack of representative images of women in advertising has on those who see it every day.

This research collected the stories of 38 women and teenage girls, alongside a survey of 2,012 women and men. 

The findings

This research revealed that Londoners do not feel represented by adverts in the capital. It found a lack of representation in the following areas:

  • 27%
    of respondents
    feel London adverts are relevant to them.
  • 51%
    of BAME Londoners
    said their ethnicity isn’t well-represented in London’s advertising.
  • 18%
    of survey participants
    could recall ever seeing an ad featuring a disabled person.
  • 35%
    of LGBT Londoners
    feel they are well represented in advertising.

Frequently asked questions about the report

How was the research carried out?

UCL Institute of Education carried out the research between March and June 2018. They took a three-pronged approach, including in-depth interviews, focus groups, and a quantitative survey. 

UCL researchers interviewed 16 women aged 21-65 on their experiences of how women are portrayed in advertising, at 18 public sites across London. The researchers met participants outside their homes and accompanied them on daily commutes and routines. The women were asked what they thought about out-of-home (OOH) advertising images from campaigns running at that time. These interviews were documented using voice recording, photography and film.

There was also a second strand of research with 22 teenage girls, aged 14-16, at 2 London schools. The girls worked in groups to create art collages (2 per school) using advertising content. These were annotated with their comments on what they thought was problematic and what they’d like to see done differently. You can see the collage images in The Women We See report.

Finally, marketing research company Republic, carried out a wider survey with 2,012 women and men about gender within advertising in London’s public spaces. 

The Women We See report brings together the findings from these three pieces of research on how Londoners feel about gender, diversity and advertising. 

How did you ensure the people you spoke to included different backgrounds and ages? Why was that important?

UCL spoke to 16 women (aged 21-65) across 18 London postcodes. The included a wide range of backgrounds, ages, sexual orientation, incomes and physical ability. 40 per cent were BAME and 20 per cent were over 55. UCL also interviewed 22 teenage girls, aged 14-16 in 2 London schools. 

Given the nature of the study, it was vital that the participants came from a broad range of backgrounds and ages to ensure that the research reflected the views of London’s different communities. 

Quotes were used to make sure that the survey of 2,012 women and men was representative of Londoners. These included gender, age, regions, income brackets, housing type and ethnicity. A weighting scheme on gender, age, income and regions was also applied to match the known population.

How did you choose what adverts to ask people about?

We showed adverts to participants to act as visual prompts and encourage them to talk about gender diversity in advertising. These included current campaigns featuring women, as well as several adverts that have been widely recognised by the industry to portray a positive image of women. We also showed examples of targeted advertising on social media and a TV campaign highlighting disability. 

Why did you choose to look at adverts in public places?

The study set out to examine how women are portrayed in out-of-home (OOH) advertising in London compared to men. It asked: what are the outstanding gender-based generalisations/ sexism /stereotypes in current advertising content? We are aware that this is experienced by a diverse group of women and girls. 

The focus was on OOH advertising because unlike advertising on a mobile, in a newspaper, or on TV, it can’t be ignored. That means that women and girls encounter these images every day. As such, OOH advertising contributes more to a city’s culture than other forms of advertising, therefore it should be raised to a higher standard. 

What do you mean by advertising in public places?

This refers to advertising which is encountered outside of the home (OOH). This might be on the Tube, Overground, network rail, bus shelters, shopping centres, newsagents, hospitals, libraries, schools and more. This does not refer to advertising in the home: TV, radio, online, or targeted advertising on social media.

Why did you just look at adverts in London?

The research was done as part of the Mayor of London’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign. This campaign is focused on tackling gender inequality specifically in and around London, across all areas of society.

According to UCL Institute for Global Prosperity, London is a city of ‘super-diversity’. This means it has multiple small ethnic groups and multiple social, legal and cultural differences that cut across ethnicity. The Mayor wants to explore how this diversity is reflected in the city’s adverts. He wants all women in London to be able to relate to and feel represented by the ads they see.

The Women We See competition

City Hall and TfL launched an advertising competition calling on creative agencies and brands to challenge gender stereotypes, increase diversity and create more positive and inclusive campaigns. The winning campaign will win £500,000 worth of advertising space across the TfL network.

The competition has now closed. The winner and up to two runners-up will be announced in January 2019.

Share this page