An ad developed by the BBDO agency for Pantene Philippines has created quite a stir in the business community.  Time Magazine and the Huffington Post are just a few of the publications offering commentary on the organization’s depiction of male and female stereotypes in the workplace. The ad shows examples of men and women in leadership roles with a twist—when we see the image of the man we are presented with a positive label e.g. “dedicated” yet in the next frame where we see the female counterpart, the viewer is presented with an opposing label, “selfish.”

The video has gone viral with people around the globe posting and sharing their perspectives on Pantene’s portrayal of male versus female bosses. Even Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of the popular female empowerment guide Lean In, has responded stating, “This is one of the most powerful videos I have ever seen illustrating how when women and men do the same things, they are seen in completely different ways.”

While many have praised Pantene’s message as progressive and good business, others have cried foul by suggesting that the campaign is nothing more than a corporate strategy to sell beauty products. Some have compared the ad to Dove’s successful Campaign for Real Beauty.  The Dove campaign calls for a broader definition of beauty, utilizes real women in the ads and encourages females of all shapes and sizes to value themselves to enhance their self-esteem.  Many bristle at this comparison by pointing out that Pantene’s ad brings forth no formal call to action- but are they missing the point? Perhaps the very call to action Pantene was seeking is the global conversation that has ensued.

Workplace stereotypes and institutional sexism are real issues. The debate surrounding Pantene’s ad has highlighted the challenges facing today’s women business leaders AND the individual biases (conscious and unconscious) affecting how we perceive them. Wherever you stand, I invite you to take an active role.  Watch the video, read the posts, and then ask yourself—Am I aware of gender topics in the workplace? And is it my time to Lean In?

Join us at the next Diversity Insights breakfast event on February 6 to delve into the relationships between gender, power and leadership. This seminar offers tools to understand the masculine and feminine power systems at work, what happens to women when they have to function within the masculine work culture, and strategies for addressing these differences that can help female leaders succeed, and female and male leaders begin to evolve their culture at work, rather than just conform to it. Register today and learn more about the speakers »