stock photos

Addressing Stereotypes in Stock Photos

enhanced-buzz-wide-20979-1392163420-30Getty Images teamed with LeanIn.org to create a collection of stock photos intended to represent women in a more empowering light.

LeanIn.org is the foundation launched by Sheryl Sandberg, author of Women, Work and the Will to Lead. The book, published last year, challenged women and the business world to step up to increase female leadership. An accomplished executive with business and government experience, Sandberg points to solid research on the stubborn stereotypes that discourage female leadership, and calls on women not to give in to those traps, but rise above them.

enhanced-buzz-wide-24504-1392163397-11The project with Getty is certainly welcome and I might say long overdue. Anyone who has worked with stock photography for the past decade or so has no doubt seen much improvement from the 90s, when smiling white men were the office norm, and the only people of color were gardeners or laborers. Today it’s possible to find images of people of various ages, ethnicities and even disabilities.

But like any media stream, the available stock photography reflects our culture and its resistance to change. Stock photos of women have developed their own tropes, many of them unfortunate. So the LeanIn collection, while populated with remarkably pretty people, is quite a few steps forward. The images feature women  at home, at work, in the world, working, leading, using technology and in hands-on careers. There are girls being bold, reading, using tools and taking charge.

An article in the NY Times points out that we’re becoming more image-based in our daily communication, using our smart phone cameras, Instagram, Pinterest and similar tools. Getty CEO Jonathan Klein notes that “imagery has become the communication medium of this generation, and that really means how people are portrayed visually is going to have more influence on how people are seen and perceived than anything else.”

original-11250-1392253880-5It’s as true as ever: seeing images of ourselves reflected in the culture supports our confidence as accomplished women. Until I browsed this collection I didn’t realize just how much I needed to see an artistic woman instructing a group, or a confident girl looking me straight in the eyes!

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