Strengthening its commitment towards gender-sensitive and gender-equitable content across all platforms and formats, the International Advertising Association (IAA) India Chapter, held the second edition of the Voice of Change summit: ‘Gender Portrayal from 30 seconds to 3 Hours’.
The 2023 summit bolstered its mission further, with the first-of-its-kind Google AI-powered research study on gender and intersectional representation in scripted Indian television, moving the needle from previous edition’s analysis of gender portrayal in advertising content.
Megha Tata, Co-Chair, IAA Women Empowerment Committee and Immediate Past President, IAA India Chapter, said, “IAA has always championed causes which are fundamental to advertisers, consumers, and the media landscape. This, coupled with the path-breaking insights of the study in 2021, was the genesis for the Voice of Change initiative. We acknowledge our ability as a collective to define narratives, and the culture-defining power that media holds. This is indeed an incontestable responsibility that we hold.”
Nina Elavia Jaipuria, Chairperson, IAA Women Empowerment Committee, urged everyone to champion gender-equitable portrayal on screen, as creators and consumers of content. She said, “Content serves as a mirror to the society, with a far-reaching impact on perception of gender-roles, affecting the lives we lead as a whole. We hope that the second edition of the summit will serve as an inspiration for us all to ‘Break the Bias’ together, and to drive change in cultural paradigms.”
The first-of-its-kind, large-scale, multi-lingual study powered by Google AI titled, “Reflecting India - An intersectional and longitudinal analysis of popular scripted television from 2018 to 2022”, led jointly by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDI), the Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory (SAIL) at the University of Southern California (USC) as the academic advisor, and the IAA as media studies advisor was also unveiled at the event. The study covered the 10 most popular scripted television shows in India across five languages - Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu - between 2018 to 2022, according to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), India.
AI-enabled technology developed by Google Research MUSE (Media Understanding for Social Exploration) was used to infer the visual and intersectional attributes of perceived gender, perceived skin tone, and perceived age of the on-screen characters, with automation enabling accurate and consistent analysis, yielding a wealth of evidence that would have otherwise been impractical and difficult to collect manually.
The study revealed several data-driven insights about representation in the India media and entertainment sector. Across all the shows analysed, young adults between the ages of 18 and 32 were seen the most, accounting for 75.6% of all characters present on screen, while characters with lighter skin appeared 8X more than characters with medium or dark skin tones. Female characters were present on screen and their names mentioned in dialogue more than male characters, amounting to over half of a show’s time, with 7 in 10 of all perceived female characters on screen typically being young and having lighter skin tones.
Neha Barjatya, Director, Marketing, Google India, said, “Access to digital is crucial to opening up the gateways of information, opportunity and progress, and we’re committed to building products that empower everyone to use the internet with convenience and confidence. Bridging the digital gender gap is core to this, and we’re committed to doing our part to ensure women’s participation in the digital economy is equitable - be they as creators, innovators, or entrepreneurs. As an AI-first company, we’re delighted to power this groundbreaking study and join hands with GDI, SAIL and IAA to build a better understanding of representation in popular media, and inform the industry’s progression towards greater inclusiveness.”
Komal Singh, Google AI Research, Product Manager and Lead on MUSE, said, "AI advances in computer vision and natural language processing technologies provide us a powerful computational lens to study human-centric representation in mainstream media, at scale. We were fortunate to have this meaningful and novel opportunity to apply the tech towards studying Indian TV across a breadth of languages and timeframe. This work is an exemplar of Google’s responsible approach to AI at work — using AI technology along with partners in the service of encouraging more transparency, and equity for diverse communities."
The release of the study was followed by a stirring collective pledge by the IAA for all attendees – from advertisers to brand custodians and students – to acknowledge their crucial role in forming a more inclusive and empowering gender narrative, by making a conscious choice in content creation and consumption.
Chief Guest Khushbu Sundar, Founder, Avni Cinemas and Member of National Commission for Women, graced the occasion, showing her support for the cause. In her persuasive anecdotal keynote speech, she touched upon how the real change needs to begin at home, exemplifying her upbringing that empowered her to celebrate both men and women as equals. The actor said, “The Voice of Change comes from within. The portrayal of gender on screen has undergone a significant change and has seen progress; women and men are now often seen as equal partners in decision-making. However, there is still room for improvement to eliminate regressive storytelling. We collectively have a responsibility to represent all genders in a responsible and empowered way. I would like to express my gratitude to IAA, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and Knowledge Partner UNICEF, for taking up the responsibility of spreading this awareness. All creative minds are responsible for breaking perpetuated stereotypes. We must pause, think and take a step back, to take that giant leap towards equitable and sensitive gender portrayal.”
Cynthia McCaffrey, UNICEF India Representative said, “Gender inequalities in children’s lives and in the lives of those who care for them, hinder their growth, development, learning and eventually in reaching their full potential. Statistically, the lack of parity impacts girls and women the most but also disadvantages men and boys. Children observe and learn social cues from many forms of content including advertising and it plays a powerful role in shifting perceptions on gender roles. UNICEF is delighted to be the knowledge partner with IAA and its members on this very important journey to promote positive gender roles and practices through advertising, so every young person can live a life free from stereotypes and achieve their full potential”.
The event saw the felicitation of Gender Warriors, industry stalwarts who have incessantly championed gender equity, and led by example as protagonists of change. This included advertising veteran KV ‘Pops’ Sridhar, who revolutionised the industry by challenging stereotypes to make way for a more equitable and inclusive advertising landscape; A. L. Sharada, Director, Population First, whose work effectively continues to change norms and advance gender equality in India through campaigns like ‘Laadli’; and Padma Shri Dr. Shyam Sundar Paliwal, whose social activism pioneered the Piplantri model, a remarkable initiative celebrating the birth of girl children with tree planting in Rajasthan.
Additionally, the event also recognised the distinguished service of, and felicitated the IAA North Star awardees, Srinivasan Swamy, Chairman and Managing Director, R K SWAMY and Ramesh Narayan, Founder, Canco Advertising, for their contribution to the IAA.
The day proceeded with discussions, where panellists debated impending challenges and shared their experiences with the audience. The ‘From Screen to Screen: Gender Portrayal in the World of Entertainment’ panel brought together esteemed visionaries like Sameer Nair, MD, Applause Entertainment; Aparna Purohit, Head of Originals, Amazon Prime Video; Gaurav Banerjee, Content and Business Head, Disney Star, popular actor Manasi Salvi and actor, writer, director and stand-up comic, Sumukhi Suresh. Moderated by renowned journalist Anuradha Sengupta, the session saw the luminaries engage in a compelling dialogue on the evolving role of and the transformative power of storytelling for equitable gender representation. The dialogue traced the journey of gender portrayal in media and entertainment, the progress so far and the direction for further positive development. It touched upon the parallel evolution of content creators and consumers, and the role of today’s audience that looks for a progressive narrative in content on-screen, be it television or streaming platforms or cinema. The panellists also spoke about the need to mandate equitable gender participation on- and off-screen to create definitive change, and how creating gender-sensitive content can be well-balanced with commercial considerations when the intent and impact coincide.
Leading creative powerhouses and industry stalwarts like Raj Kamble, Founder and CCO, Famous Innovation; Mansha Tandon, Head of Marketing, YouTube India; Dr. A. L. Sharada, Population First; and Ad & Film Director, Screenplay Writer Renzil D’Silva delved into ‘Gender portrayal in advertising and media’. Moderated by Prasad Sangameshwaran, Editor, ET Brand Equity, the panel candidly explored nuances like softer cues of imbalance in gender portrayal, while shedding light on the power of imagery and narrative in shaping perception of gender roles. The panellists discussed corrective measures and ways to make them a way of life, beyond academic discussions. They also shared their perspectives on pertinent aspects, for advertisers and brand custodians, like ensuring gender-sensitive messaging within a 30-second time limit which must also include brand specific mandates; and purposefully reimagining gender roles in advertisements while keeping in mind client delivery timelines and balancing it with direct consumer connect. The panellists also debated how, despite fundamental challenges of time, commercial deliberations, and popular culture that drives stereotypes, it is possible to inch towards gender equitable portrayals through subtle and effective changes in writing character roles.
The day concluded with an evocative and inspiring fireside chat with Dia Mirza. The actor, producer and UN Secretary General’s Advocate for Sustainable Development Goals, UNEP Goodwill Ambassador spoke to Celebrity Host, Atika Farooqui, about her conscious choice of roles as an artist in her professional journey, to advocate the values that deeply align with her. She also spoke about the progress made and the distance to go, when it comes to storytelling across cinema and OTT, by giving examples of the latest projects she was intentionally a part of to drive that much-needed change. Speaking of one of her latest movies, she illustrated how men too can be strong allies in telling revolutionary stories reflecting the women of today. The chat also touched upon her concerns pertaining to gender portrayal, such as assigning beauty to youth for women, formulated roles basis gender and the awareness around gender fluidity, and its impact on society. Mirza said, “I believe there has been a shift in storytelling when it comes to depicting gender sensitivity and equity on screen, but we have a long way to go. I truly think that a lot can change in society with what we portray. For that change to happen, we must all come together, men and women alike. Representation matters. Each of us has a part to play towards creating a lasting change.” Dia also took the aforementioned pledge with audience, showing her commitment to the cause of breaking the shackles of stereotypes.
The game-changing second edition of the IAA: Voice of Change summit, packed with riveting discussions, forthright debates, and critical evidence-based insights probed deeper into the nuances, challenges, and possible solutions for breaking gender stereotypes effectively on screen. The event harkened the need for gender-equitable and gender-sensitive portrayal in all content across formats - be it a short video on social media, a television show, an advertisement, or a full-length feature film. With presenting event sponsor Google India, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Knowledge Partner UNICEF and Associate Partner TVS Raider, the latest edition of the summit served as another milestone in the journey of IAA’s ‘Voice of Change’ movement, to develop the dialogue in favour of right benchmarks for gender equitable portrayals on screen and to continue this endeavour at the grassroot level across the length and breadth of the media and entertainment industry.