Can Stock Photos Eliminate Sexism in the Workplace?

by Kaitlin Edleman | February 19, 2014

If you read articles on the Internet, you can’t escape stock photos. In fact, you are looking at one right now! While some are certainly more creative than others, the carefully contrived images of 30 something office workers in painfully straight pinstripe suits are almost laughable. Although many of us might not give these images spicing up our blogs and news articles much thought, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg is. 

Sandberg’s nonprofit organization, LeanIn.org, is partnering with Getty Images, one of the largest purveyors of stock photos, to provide an updated collection of stock images. Sandberg argues that the current cache of stock photos portrays women and men in work and the in home through outdated and harmful stereotypes. She believes that these images both reflect our negative stereotypes and reinforce them. Others agree. Jonathan Klein, co-founder and chief executive of Getty, stated that imagery is our primary mode of communication and has the most influence on how people are seen and portrayed. Cindy Gallop, the founder of the United States branch of the advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, believes that a quick way to change someone’s mind about something is to change the images around it, unconsciously changing or reinforcing messages.  

Getty’s Lean In collection aims to provide images countering negative stereotypes and to show women and men in the complex roles that they occupy in real life. For example, there are women hunting and men changing diapers. The office setting photos will also update the 1980’s Wall Street-esq briefcase power suit combo so prevalent in stock photos today. Images of men and women of different races, ages, and body types wearing contemporary business attire and using smart phones and tablets will offer more variety for those seeking “business” images. Women will be portrayed as leaders in the office rather than as only secretaries and assistants.

The need for the images of Getty’s Lean In collection appears to be real as “women,” “business,” and “family” are the top three most-searched terms in Getty’s image database. The hope is that increased portrayals of women in more empowering positions will assist in the erosion of rigid gender role stereotypes and the institutional and individual mindsets against women.

Frequent users of stock photos should perhaps invest more than one second of thought when choosing images that accompany their blog and news articles. If visuals and images do have the power to change our perception, then choosing images from Getty’s Lean In collection, or similar collections, seem to be a simple and easy way to fight sexism and credit women and men for their contributions to both the workplace and the home.    

Do you think that many stock photos are sexist? Will Getty’s Lean In collection and others like it change our attitudes about gender roles? Let us know in the comments!

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Read More:

LeanIn.org and Getty Aim to Change Women’s Portrayal in Stock Photos
Women: For Greater Productivity, Lean Away—From the Mirror
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Filed Under: Law | Workplace Issues


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