Blazing a trail

Approaches to leadership evolve, and one man's vision for an art centre enriches the whole community

In recent weeks there has been a series of meetings organised by the Foundation and the New Findhorn Association (NFA), on community building. The theme of the latest was Leadership. I did not go to this meeting, so I will not write about it - but it has got me thinking about leadership in the community and how it’s perceived.

Leadership is a word that comes up often here. It features in the titles of workshops and meetings - and is generally a topic of interest. This is perhaps not surprising as we don‘t have really have leaders in the generally understood sense of the word. The Foundation has a management group who make decisions about budgets and policy and so on. Their function is basically administrative which is not the same thing as leadership. This is not to say that members of Management aren’t leaders, but it doesn’t necessarily go with the territory. In any case, Management’s writ does not run outside the Foundation and the majority in the community are not Foundation staff members.

In the early days, leadership was very straightforward. Peter and Eileen Caddy with Dorothy Maclean founded the community through following divine guidance. Eileen got the guidance from a higher source and Peter, to whom God did not speak but who had utter faith in the validity of what came through Eileen, carried out whatever that guidance suggested. The style was autocratic but appropriate for the time. Without Peter’s intense focus, the community might never have been built.

This changed when Eileen received guidance that she should no longer give guidance to the community. Her inspirational messages could be found in her books but she no longer gave practical directions to the community. It was now on its own and had to experiment with new forms of leadership.

Today the concept of leadership has evolved into the idea that anyone can be a leader. It is not dependant on position or popularity or divine authority although inner authority is a necessary part. For me, leadership is demonstrated when someone has a clear vision that they firmly believe in and then take the necessary steps to bring it into being. If the vision is a good one and the timing is right, support will naturally follow.

A good example of this is the Moray Art Centre. Until very recently the arts at Findhorn were housed in a few shabby pre-fabricated bungalows, which apart from the pottery, were little used. Randy Klinger, a painter who lives here had a vision for a proper art centre, one that would serve not only the Findhorn community but also all of Moray. There would be studios, exhibition space and room for craft shows, classes and lectures. It would be a focal point for the arts in the area. It would not be cheap.

Randy had no money himself and the Foundation were unable to help, but he held to his vision even through times when support was lukewarm, found supporters and funding and the Art Centre is now a reality. Not yet completed nor totally paid for, it is already active and providing a venue for the arts at Findhorn.

I find it very inspiring to see how one person, without financial resources, without sanction from any other ‘authority’ has a vision and makes it happen. That is real leadership.

An inspired individual is one thing but the question that comes up for the community is, how do we, as a collective, demonstrate leadership. Guidance, group process, being the change we want to see—these are among the elements that go into the ongoing work of defining and embodying that elusive quality known as leadership.

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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