Gender inequality: why is Mothercare not called Parentcare?

Gender equality is a hot topic within the advertising industry right now and this year Cannes is awarding its first Glass Lion for positive, progressive, and gender-aware communication.

Jamie Williams: the head of account management at Isobel
Jamie Williams: the head of account management at Isobel

New IPA president Tom Knox has set an agenda to increase equality in senior roles within the industry, an area that still remains distinctly imbalanced.

Last month’s Wacl event sought to inspire the future female leaders of our industry to tackle the gender inequalities that affect women within the workplace head-on.

It's fascinating that the advertising industry has played such a big role in portraying the negative stereotype of women's role in society, but is also at the forefront of the journey towards gender equality.

Recent initiatives such as the Always’ "#LikeAGirl" campaign, the Fawcett Society’s "this is what a feminist looks like", the Emma Watson-backed UN #HeForShe movement and Sport England's "this girl can" have helped to create huge momentum.

But there is also another side of gender inequality that doesn't receive much attention – inequalities against men. While this side is certainly less obvious, with less historical impact, it is real, and part of the double-barrelled gender inequality that fuels itself. Importantly, neither can be solved in isolation.

I look after account management at Isobel, which just so happens to be a female-dominated department. It's certainly not deliberate but the best people we've met and interviewed recently have all been women.

More women are graduating from British universities than men, more women are entering our industry than men, and while the average full-time pay gap between genders is still almost 10 per cent higher for men in this country, this is falling.

The latest Office for National Statistics report shows that women in their twenties and thirties actually earn more than men within this age range.

From this, it seems like everything is changing, and that in 10 or 20 years, things will have evened out. But the biological fact that women have babies still hinders.

Clearly, there are prejudices and inequalities associated with working mothers, and, as Sheryl Sandberg outlines in Lean In, there are psychological factors that may challenge working, and potentially working, mothers.

I certainly think it’s true that society has an expectation of what mothers’ roles are. But the expectation of a father is just as firmly defined. And these expectations are not equal.

As a recent dad, I've got some experience of this. I’ve had to change my daughter’s nappy in a women’s loo, waited in the mums' waiting area, and read medicine instructions for products that "calm down baby and mum".

Why are family areas or parking spaces signalled with an image of a child, a pram and a woman? Are dads allowed to use them? It’s all a bit backward and sexist isn’t it? And why is Mothercare not called Parentcare?

If you look at the packaging of products, all the signs and symbols, the baby industry is so completely mother-orientated, maybe some dads feel like they should just be back at work. A circle that fuels itself?

From speaking with young dads, I know that leaving early to pick up the kids or taking time off for poorly babies can feel very difficult for them. Maybe there's an unspoken expectation that this is a mum's job. It's an unequal status quo, which is unfair to both women and men.

Our paternity leave laws are changing and modernising, all for the good, but society's expectations and acceptance are lagging behind. Many dads I’ve spoken to wouldn’t feel confident taking extended paternity leave, or moving to three or four working days a week, for fear of not appearing to take their careers seriously.

I think the two-sided nature of gender inequality isn't given the airtime it deserves. The "#LikeAGirl" campaign used the analogy of throwing like a girl, meaning not very well.

Maybe there are similar insights in negative phrases like smelling like a boy or thinking like a bloke. Emma Watson beautifully described how she was called bossy as a young child, where a boy might be showing leadership potential.

It's an insightful observation and it doesn't take much imagination to consider the potential negative repercussions for women. But this doesn't seem helpful for either gender. The obvious negative being the awful stereotype of bossy girls, but it can't always be good for boys to have the expectation of leadership on them either.

Perhaps society's expectations of men contribute to the fact that suicide is the biggest killer of young men in UK.

The yin and yang of gender inequality, and the way in which they cause each other, deserves more focus. If women are treated unequally in a certain area, then on the flipside, men often are as well, but perhaps in less obvious ways. I'm not trying to raise any type of inequality competition, or suggest that prejudices or stereotypes affecting men have been remotely as severe or damaging as those affecting women.

But both gender inequalities exist and fuel each other.

If society expects women to be mothers first and men to prioritise breadwinning, then both stereotypes are unfair and damaging to both genders.

True equality cannot be reached in the workplace without true equality existing outside it.

Jamie Williams is the head of account management at Isobel

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