Olympics: have london businesses dropped the ball?

Olympics business opportunities speed past.

With just days to go until the start of the Olympics, London is heading down the home straight. But as athletes settle into the Olympic village, many businesses and their employees have yet to begin their preparations.

London expects 5.3m visitors over the next few weeks. Already overstretched, the capital’s transport system could face nearly a million extra journeys per day. But despite repeated warnings of unprecedented disruption, a Populus poll commissioned by Global Action Plan has found that businesses nationwide are unprepared, with only a fraction putting in place contingency plans to avoid the expected commuter and delivery chaos. Just one in five employees say their company has a strategy for the transport of essential goods and services crucial to keep their business running. In London, only a quarter of employees say their business has plans to help them get to work.

How will companies and commuters cope? Worst case scenarios – involving people sleeping in offices – are perhaps not as unrealistic as first assumed, with several lines already closed for many hours before the Games have even started. Yet despite these travel difficulties the reality is that businesses are missing the opportunity offered by the Olympics to boost productivity, reduce costs, cut the damage they cause to the environment, and radically change travel and work patterns.

Telefonica O2 recently held a flexible working day at their head office to prepare for this summer’s disruption. Just 109 cars arrived in the car park that day compared to an average of 1,100. By taking so many cars off the road carbon emissions were cut by 12,500kgs. For staff, a survey found that 88 per cent of employees felt that they were as least as productive as normal on this flexible working day. A third felt they were more productive, with over half of respondents saying the time they spent commuting was used for working instead.

The Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for businesses to revolutionise the way they work and travel. Although the Olympic clock has reached its final countdown, it is not too late for businesses to prepare for the chaos. Our five point plan offers businesses clear, practical and simple steps they can take to avoid the chaos of the next few weeks and the longer term.And it’s not just the athletes at the Games that should compete. Offering prizes and providing quarterly feedback of miles travelled and carbon saved can foster a friendly spirit of competition and collective responsibility to reduce commuting and business travel.

It’s a win-win situation for both employers and employees, changing work and travel patterns for good. Even if plans are not put in place in time – the Olympics can be the catalyst to thinking about doing things differently.

12 years ago in Sydney, the Olympic Games resulted in 24 per cent of Sydney employees changing their working hours and 22 per cent worked remotely during the games. Replicated here, businesses can create a meaningful green Olympic legacy, not just in London but throughout the UK.

Have london businesses dropped the ball? Photograph, Getty Images

Trewin Restorik is the CEO of Global Action Plan.

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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA