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Gender bias in healthcare media

WPP and SeeHer are launching brand new research on gender bias in healthcare and media – ‘Health on Her Terms’

Women handle approximately 80% of all spending decisions in the US, including health and wellness decisions. They make up 65% of the workforce in the healthcare industry. Yet for all the progress made in gender equality over the years, there are serious disparities and issues in the way women’s health is portrayed in media.

WPP has partnered with SeeHer, the leading movement to eliminate gender bias in advertising and entertainment, on new research dissecting the gaps in and opportunities for women’s health communications across reproductive care, weight, and mental health.

The research, led by Grey and Mindshare, was based on a survey of 1,750 women in the US (using Audience Origin and Kantar data), which includes race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, income, age, disabilities and parental status information. Intersectionality was key because we know that women who intersect with other marginalised identities face very different health outcomes and have different health needs. The study also included non-binary people to recognise their marginalisation in health and health communications.

We asked all respondents to answer a mix of open and closed questions across five specific areas to uncover bias in healthcare media. These were:

  • Women's identity
  • Impact of identity and media on women
  • Depictions of women and intersectional identities
  • Media “toxic” versus “healthy” channels
  • How brands can communicate better

Half of women said there are still pervasive taboos for women’s healthcare in the media. But they also said that they’re likely to be loyal to brands who tackle these issues – and speak to them authentically and with dignity.

The WPP team uncovered and analysed three pervasive themes on the reality of women’s health, how it is being depicted in media today, and how brands can do better.

1. Dynamism of womanhood
Ask a group of women to share what womanhood means to them, and you’ll get a widely varying range of responses. Yet the media positions women’s experiences with their health in a singular fashion, with an emphasis on womanhood as young, white, the sex assigned at birth and straight, and non-disabled.

2. End of exceptionalism
The idea of aspirational advertising is nothing new. However, it is problematic when the images being shown to portray women are always exceptional. For example, when considering weight, larger women are rarely seen in media unless they’re doing ‘extraordinary’ things, whilst, conversely, everyday experiences and realities, particularly in the areas of reproductive health, are not portrayed in media at all.

3. More than what we endure as caregivers
In culture and media, women are still widely seen as caregivers, and as such, internalise the idea that being a “good woman” is dependent on their ability to care for others.

Ultimately, marketers have an opportunity to drive better outcomes for women themselves, as well as their businesses, by showing a more dynamic and nuanced representation of women’s health.

The full report will be available soon and for a preview please contact [email protected] and [email protected]

published on

17 June 2022



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