Women's Equality Party on JWT London's gender pay gap, knackered women and media stereotyping

Women's Equality Party on JWT London's gender pay gap, knackered women and media stereotyping

'What kind of business are you running when the disparity of earnings is so huge?' This is the question Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party has posed to JWT London, in a wide-ranging and passionate speech on the power of the media to challenge unhealthy gender stereotypes.

Speaking at Creative Equals' Future Leaders conference in London last week, Walker urged the audience – primarily made up of female creatives – to take "immediate and tangible action to close the gender pay gap."

She told the audience to "tell women’s stories" in the work they created. "We need to see positive and realistic representation of women, not the sidelining of women we see everywhere."

According to Walker, the media tells the "stories of our lives" and it presents those stories as essential truths. She explained: "Its mirroring and buttressing a world in which women are unequal. Achieving real cultural change for women requires real cultural change in the media."

Changing the narrative

Addressing the pressure that unrealistic, unhealthy and airbrushed images are putting on young girls, she said: "We see ads that show women with an unhealthy BMI and we see seven-year-old girls worrying about thigh gaps."

She added: "It always amazes me how advertising passes itself off to be risky and creative when it is so not."

Equal Representation

She urged business to embrace the truth that equal representation starts with equal representation on boards. "Opening the door to women is not rigging the system," she explained.

Walker said that this problem will not be solved by the current approach of many businesses. She added:  "Women don’t need mentors to get ahead, get mentors for the men who don’t think there is a problem."

"Now is not the time to compromise," she told the audience, "Now is not the time to play by the rules. We didn’t write the rules they did. I became an activist because I was really be tired of being told that not having equal rights is my fault, that the only thing you need to do is to try harder."

A generation of knackered women

"As women we go through an education system that tells us we must be small, quiet, studious, beautiful and thin. We strive for perfection and we go to our first job and we are paid less and overlooked at meetings. We miss the promotion, we miss the pay rise we know we earned. So then we learn to bake, jog, take up yoga. While reading books on how not to upset our partners and trying to bake more," she said.

Walker described the net result of this situation as "a generation of knackered women"

She implored women to ditch the lie that someone is coming to the rescue, saying: "No one is coming to the rescue. If the people in charge where going to make space for us they would have done it already." A fact she described as 'liberating'.

The myth of ‘strong women’

Walker also addressed the prevailing masculine stereotypes of women in business. She urged the audience to ditch the myth of the 'strong woman and instead be the leader you want to see.

"Do not think you have to grow a thicker skin, I am all for thin-skinned empathetic types," she added.

Walker believes a male-dominated notion of what constitutes strength is incredibly damaging and urged women not to succumb to it.

She shared with the audience the fact that she often gets schoolgirls writing to her asking. "How can I be brave?" Yet, as she explains, "it is easy to be brave in a world that works for you".

"The world is not built to fit women. If you are asking yourself to be brave you already are, for you are prepared to make yourself known in a world that wants to make you feel uncomfortable and know your place," Walker added.

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