Taking Stock: What Real Women Look Like in Today’s Society

Women in the driver’s seat. Tracy Thomas, owner of BOLT trucking and a 20|20 client, stands with her fleet.

Images are such a powerful part of branding- we work with original and stock images constantly to reinforce connections to brand platforms and help shape user experiences. Sometimes though, we forget that these faces staring back at us reflect more than a desired brand tone and personality—they can reflect our culture, values and expectations.

I was pleased to find that known feminist and all-around mover/shaker Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and LeanIn.org has set her sights on phasing out stock photos that patronize outdated stereotypes of women. Her argument: you can’t be what you can’t see, and these unrealistic visuals contribute to an unspoken bias against the potential of females in our culture. So the Lean In Foundation partnered with Getty to curate a selection of 2,500 images (about a quarter of which are brand new) that focus on modern, accomplished women beyond the stale shot of a young woman a skirt-suit wielding a briefcase and perhaps scaling a ladder/ clad in boxing gloves/ sarcastically holding power tools/ crushing small men. Unfortunately, all of those appear when you search for “career woman” or “girl power” in major stock sites. Seriously.

Getting Rid of Stereotypes

This new collection features women of all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities encountering real life in the work place, at school, using technology, out with friends, exercising, in the home or caring for children. It also has a selection of males caring for children to inspire greater equality domestically. You can compare searches on the standard and new databases side by side to see the difference. A portion of Getty’s profits from this collection will support the efforts of LeanIn.org too.

From our perspective, the greater variety and focus on modernity is a breath of fresh air to our stock-search weary eyes. We can attest that finding photos like these has been a needle-in-haystack mission until this point. Personally, I feel this is a clever and incredibly effective way to drive a shift in perspective when it comes to how successful, well-rounded women are portrayed in our society. I say bravo! This is a much-needed reminder to showcase a conscious, modern balance in editorial content and visuals. So the next time you designers or marketing gurus are on the hunt for the right images, consider this new approach as a way to not only reflect a brand’s authentic stance but to empower those who see it.

By the way, if you aren’t familiar with Sandberg and her knack for championing women in leadership roles, take a moment to do so via TED and PBS.

– Robyn