Sheryl Sandberg wants to change how stock photos represent working women

Rejoice, feature writers! You now have a more expansive database for your "having it all" think pieces

Topics: having it all, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, working women, Motherhood, Parenting, Fatherhood, , ,

Move over, frowning white mother holding a baby while staring meaningfully at a laptop, there’s a new crop of images out there to illustrate the endless stream of “having it all” think pieces.

While it’s often discouraging to see how images of working women are put to use — “Is your baby killing your career?” “Is your career killing your baby?” “Is your salary killing his sex drive?” “Is his sex drive killing your salary?” — the available selection of stock photos is pretty dismal.

So Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation and Getty Images have teamed up to produce a more diverse range of images to “represent women and families in more empowering ways,” according to the New York Times.

“When we see images of women and girls and men, they often fall into the stereotypes that we’re trying to overcome, and you can’t be what you can’t see,” Sandberg said of the venture.

The new photos will include photos of working women of different ages, races and body types, according the Times. Whether or not the images will diverge from the business suit/laptop/corporate executive meme wasn’t addressed by Sandberg, but since most working women are not corporate executives, it would make sense to reflect that in stock imagse, too.

More from the Times:

The new library of photos shows professional women as surgeons, painters, bakers, soldiers and hunters. There are girls riding skateboards, women lifting weights and fathers changing babies’ diapers. Women in offices wear contemporary clothes and hairstyles and hold tablets or smartphones — a far cry from the typical stock photos of women in 1980s power suits with a briefcase.

The partnership comes during a renewed national conversation about women and work, spurred in part by the success of Ms. Sandberg’s book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s possible presidential campaign. Its message has the potential to reach a wide area of society, through Getty’s 2.4 million customers who pull from its library of 150 million images.

There is an appetite for the images: The three most-searched terms in Getty’s image database are “women,” “business” and “family.”

“One of the quickest ways to make people think differently about something is to change the visuals around it,” said Cindy Gallop, who started the United States branch of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the advertising agency. “The thing about these images is they work on an unconscious level to reinforce what people think people should be like.”

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Sandberg and others are right to identify the role that visual representation plays in how we understand ourselves and our culture. Having images that correspond to the ways we live our lives is undoubtedly important. But will more diverse images lead to more nuanced coverage of the work/life balance? Here’s hoping.

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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