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Advertising agencies in South East Asia have revealed they never see specifications for diversity in client briefs even though there is an increase in awareness around diversity and inclusion in media and marketing.

Brands like Kotex, Avon, Colgate, Apple, and Nike were the standout names that have the best gender representation in advertising in SEA, according to R3’s “Diversity: From Agency to Ads” report which surveyed agencies in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, and Hong Kong and included a study of gender representation in 300 video advertisements broadcast in the region

All brands scored positively in areas of avoiding objectification, positive body image portrayals, and positive portrayal of gender roles and characteristics. The best performing advertising addressed female empowerment, body positivity, ethnic and economic diversity, and sexual orientation.

“If we look at progress through a regional lens, change is being made. There is greater representation across gender and ethnicity in the workforce, and more equality in agency leadership positions. Now it’s time for marketers and agencies to come together and shift the topic of diversity from one of corporate culture and optional participation to tangible process and policy,” said Shufen Goh, the co-founder and principal at R3.

“We need more people from diverse backgrounds in control of storytelling and production or we risk telling stories that are one-dimensional. 60% of agencies reported not having a formal process to ensure that diversity is addressed in client advertising is a red flag. Marketers can play a positive role and encourage greater change in the narratives being developed by requiring diversity among creative directors and producers and demanding more inclusive organisational design.”

She added: “Women lead the workforce in Southeast Asia and we have more women working in the region than the global average. What is missing is parity when it comes to remuneration and benefits. More can be done when it comes to integrating principles of diversity and inclusion into HR policies.”

What did the report find?

  • There are still strong indicators that negative gender roles are still being promoted in marketing in the region. 

  • 44% of advertising reviewed for the report limited women to domestic, familial, and maternal roles, with narratives being told from a male perspective.

  • The gender split across agencies in Southeast Asia are almost equal, with men in slightly more (10%) leadership roles than women.

  • Female empowerment has been the focus of diversity initiatives across agencies in the region, though most activities reported were limited to educational and culture building exercises.

  • 33% of ads portrayed negative stereotypes of body image.

  • 38% of ads portrayed negative stereotypes of gender characteristics.

  • 60% of agencies do not have a formal process in ensuring there is DE&I in their work for clients

  • 40% of agencies in SEA saw no change in representations of race and ethnicity, ability, sexuality, gender identity and age in their work over the past 12 months.

  • 40% of agencies agree they never see client briefs including specifications for DE&I.

Why is this important?