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Q&A: Can and Getty Images change sexist depictions of women in media?

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook during a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting on September 24, 2013 in New York City. Timed to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly, CGI brings together heads of state, CEOs, philanthropists and others to help find solutions to the world's major problems.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook during a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting on September 24, 2013 in New York City. Timed to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly, CGI brings together heads of state, CEOs, philanthropists and others to help find solutions to the world's major problems.
Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

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Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, announced today a new partnership with Getty Images, one of the largest stock photo libraries in the world. Together, Sandberg's nonprofit and Getty have created a collection of stock images depicting diverse women in non-stereotypical scenarios.

There are images of women working as doctors, doing CrossFit, and in office scenarios that don't include literally climbing a ladder with high heels. In addition, the purpose of the collection is to also include diversity, whether it be in body shape, race or age. will get 10 percent of the licensing revenue. This the first time Getty has partnered with a nonprofit to share licensing revenue.

Is there a need for these less stereotypical images? What kind of an impact might this new collection have on how we view women in the workplace? Why have stock photos been perpetuating sexist depictions of professional women?


Jessica Bennett, contributing editor of She was part of the team who spearheaded the Getty deal.

Pam Grossman, director of visual trends for Getty Images

Interview Q&A

Is there a dearth of women in a variety of professions and women in non-stereotypical positions?
Jessica Bennett: "Getty has a beautiful collection already, but what we've done is curate 2,500 images that are specific to showing women in leadership positions and all of the families supporting them in one place that's easy to search. I think part of what our hope is, is that there will not be an excuse to not use these images anymore. When a photo editor or creative director is looking for something to portray a woman in power they can go right here and we've made it easy for them."

So will the result of that be that these images will be more prominent?
JB: "We hope so, this is the most direct way that we can envision to get these images into the hands of the people who are making decisions around advertising and marketing and media. We really believe that media has a huge impact on leadership aspirations and it may not be something that is measurable in the same way that you can measure the number of women at the top, but we are consumed by media every day, from billboards to the Internet to television."

From a business standpoint, how does this arrangement make sense?
Pam Grossman: "We have a really phenomenal collection of photographs and video that we have created and sourced from image partners, as well. We've been doing a lot of great work around the representation of women for the better part of a decade now. But what's exciting about our partnership with Lean In is we can really blend together the power of both of our platforms and hopefully inspire some change. Getty Images has 2.4 million customers in every industry that you can imagine. So we really think that we can help spread the Lean In message and get more powerful pictures of women and girls into the right hands."

What are some examples of how clients use these images?
PG: "As I said, we have 2.4 million customers around the world, and those are customers in advertising agencies, also creatives and head's of marketing in every kind of industry you can imagine. So if you think of any big bank, any big technology company, any big book publisher, these are all our clients, so we have a really powerful reach."

How important is the social component of your job?
PG: "We've seen a lot of conversations happening these days about representation of women in media, in the stock photography industry specifically. We thought to ourselves, we have powerful pictures in our collection already and we want to make even more powerful ones. So this really is our way of entering this dialogue and hopefully coming up with real world solutions instead of just criticisms."

How can you encourage clients to choose women with a range of body types:
PG: "I would say even as long as five years ago, we began to shift away from using modeling agencies and shifting more towards casting "real people" doing more street casting, and making sure that we have a very diverse representation of all different body shapes. This is not only coming from the top down, it's not coming from fashion and advertising, it's coming from real people who want to see themselves reflected in these images. I think social media has a huge impact on the kind of pictures that we're all used to seeing of one another, and it's only right that advertising and fashion and the photography industry at large catch up and make sure that we're taking responsibility for the images that we're putting out there."

Could this have an impact on women's products? 
PG: "Absolutely, a lot of my role is meeting directly with our clients. On any given week I'm meeting with creative directors at advertising agencies, with the chief marketing officers of various corporations, and these are the conversations that I'm having with them time and time again. They're hungry for this kind of content, and we're really happy that we're in a position to be able to put those images in their hands."

How often to big companies use stock photos in their campaigns?
PG: "It happens a lot more frequently than you might realize. In this day and age, we're a real weapon in the back pocket of any agency you can imagine. The biggest ones you can imagine come to us to help them either to deliver the hero images of campaigns or to supplement some of the original content that they're creating. So this is happening kind of behind the curtain every second of the day. We're just talking about it much more publicly to have an impact with our issue."

What are some examples of depictions of women in stock photos?
JB: "I think, typically, for many years women hadn't been in the workforce as much as men, so there simply wasn't a ton of photography to choose from, but you also tend to notice that women aren't always in the leadership roles, they're not sitting at the table, they may not be leading the meeting. Even things like body language, we really paid attention to the body language of the characters in the photos and we wanted them to look powerful, we wanted them to be standing upright, we wanted them to be moving forward. We really paid a lot of attention to diversity, not just of industry, but of body type, or background, of age and we really want to be inspirational to young girls because I think these images do have a real impact on what they inspire to be."