Even as women reach the heights of professional success, as recognisable business owners and executives, their ability to parent and perform their domestic duties is somehow at the forefront of their identity. It causes professional women to not be measured by their work, but instead to be measured by how they tackle household chores.
This issue is ever present in advertising and it causes the opinion of professional women to be relied upon for domestic-related issues, instead of for issues and products that are important to the business community.
Miele’s new advertising campaign, which recently involved a double-page spread in the Australian Financial Review, features leading Australian business woman Collette Dinnigan. Dinnigan is standing in front of an ironing board and a Miele washing machine, being lauded as a wonderful designer and a “wonderful mum”.
The explicit sexism of the advertisement is confronting: a very successful business owner, who happens to be a woman, touting a washing machine as her “secret weapon”. The first defence will be that she is a designer; and yes, there are design-related connotations in the advertisement and in Dinnigan’s use of a washing machine.
However, would we ever see a two-page spread of Alex Perry, or any other male designer, in front of an ironing board and washing machine, being described as a “wonderful dad” whose secret weapon in life is a cleaning appliance?
No, we would not, and especially not in a publication which is intended to target men and women in the business community.
Aside from the fact that a significant portion of the female demographic who read the Australian Financial Review may be insulted by such a campaign, the Miele advertisement serves as a reminder of the significant hurdles faced by professional women.
As men reach the top of their profession, and become recognisably successful business owners and executives, they are respected and relied upon for their work, not for their ability to keep on top of the household chores, such as cooking and cleaning. This is reflected in their presence in advertising: they are used in advertisements for technology instruments and time pieces, not vacuum cleaners and irons.
It is unlikely that anyone would be interested in which washing powder Ian Narev, CEO of Commonwealth Bank, uses to wash his children’s soccer uniforms. In fact, it is unlikely that anyone would expect Narev to wash his children’s soccer uniforms while he juggles being a wonderful banker and “wonderful dad”. This is because Narev is respected and relied upon for his professional success as a CEO, which is used to sell attendance at industry summits, not washing powder.
Despite all our gains, and women’s participation in politics and the business community, there is an insidious attitude that women’s opinions are rarely required for more than determining which is the best washing machine to juggle work and family obligations. This was manifestly clear a few weeks ago when the Prime Minister (and Minister for Women), for the first time, discussed significant proposed childcare reforms at an Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry lunch. Photographs of the lunch have since been circulated, along with commentary about the noticeable lack of women present.
It is firstly alarming, though old news, that the government relies on a man to determine and advocate for the issues affecting women in this country. It is secondly alarming that an important discussion with the business community about childcare, a key tool and requirement for women achieving professional success, involved almost no input from women.
The exclusion of women from a Cabinet role that is intended to relate exclusively to women, and from important discussions about reforms to the childcare industry, indicates how far Australia is from genuinely valuing the opinion of women on matters not related to housework. It also indicates that women’s influence in business and professional meetings, lunches and advertising continues to be limited…. Unless it’s about sourcing the “secret weapon” to juggling being a wonderful mum with working.