How Gender Inequality Helped me Rediscover the Joy in my Career

Almost one year ago to the day, I applied to the Master of Design program at Swinburne University of Technology. At the time, my decision to head back to university felt more like me clutching at straws rather than a strategic career decision; I felt lost in my career, not even knowing where I was in the pipeline let alone where I wanted to be.

My anxiety made things worse. At times, my brain would be telling me to pull the emergency stop on my career and abandon ship while the other half was telling me to keep calm and carry on. It felt comparable to having five backseat drivers while I, the driver, just wanted to pull into the Maccas drive-through of life and veg out in the carpark. It wasn’t until my first semester back at university that I realised that it was the corporate landscape, rather than my anxiety, that was the catalyst for my career-panic.

I started my career working in manufacturing as a Marketing graduate, where, with the guidance from my boss, I was able to come into my own as a professional marketer. After two years with the company, I was offered a promotion; I was on the fast-track to the top. However, personal circumstance required that I move interstate and my career aspirations were put on hold.

Since then, my career has been in a holding pattern, with career-advancing opportunities knocking less frequently than before. I love my job and the people that I work with, but my fixed position had me asking the question “Is it me? Am I the problem”? It was at this point that my university coursework, serendipitously, provided the answer.

Every year, the Big Issue, a social enterprise that aims to provide work opportunities for the homeless, holds its Big Idea competition. The Big Idea is a national university competition where students are asked to submit a business plan for a new social enterprise that aims to support a disadvantaged community. For my business plan, I chose to look at women’s career progression and what I learned was interesting, yet troubling:

Women have been entering the workforce at the same rate as men for decades; however, women remain underrepresented in senior levels (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 474, Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2017, p.1). This lag in career progression for women, when compared to their male counterparts, has been found, in part, to be due to Second Generation Gender Bias.

Second Generation Gender Bias is the powerful yet often invisible barrier to women’s advancement which arises from cultural beliefs about gender as well as workplace structures that inadvertently favour men (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 475). Most women are unaware of having been victim to this type of discrimination, but it is what makes it harder for women to transition into leadership roles (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 475).

Transitioning into a leadership role is fundamentally a question about identity and not the position one holds within an organisation (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 765). Individuals will categorise both themselves and others based on stereotypes (Eysenck 2004, 657) making stereotypes directly linked to an individual’s identity which also applies when forming a leadership identity. “The social interactions in which people claim and grant leader identities…are shaped by culturally available ideologies about what it means to be a leader” (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p.476), and in most cases this meaning is masculine.

The lack of women in senior leadership positions emphasises this ideology. Furthermore, the social and recursive process in which one attempts to claim a leadership identity often favours men anyway, as they are more likely to receive affirmation of their behaviour due to organisational hierarchies that confirm the leadership stereotype as being masculine (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 475).

Compounding this, role models play an essential role in the successful development of young aspiring managers (Singh, Cinnicombe & James cited in Michailidis, Morphitouu & Theophylatou 2011, p. 4234) and are also critical to young female employees (Swiss cited in Michailidis, Morphitouu & Theophylatou 2011, p. 4235). Men in senior positions are less likely to take on proteges and, when combined with the lack of women leaders, this creates a significant barrier for women’s professional development as a group, globally (Michailidis, Morphitouu & Theophylatou 2011, p. 4243).

So where does this leave women? For women to progress, they must actively seek out professional development opportunities, such as leadership programs. However, current leadership “practitioners and educators lack a coherent, theoretically based, and actionable framework for designing and delivery leadership programs for women” (Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p.475) forcing them to adopt one of two approaches:

  1. “Add-women-and-stir” (Martin & Meyerson cited in Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 475) which assumes that gender does not matter for leadership development; or
  2. “Fix the women” (Ely & Meyerson cited in Ely, Ibarra & Kolb 2011, p. 475) which locates the problem with women.

Both of these approaches fail to address the male-favoured organisational hierarchies that women face in the workplace, nor do they provided women with the facility to develop leadership identities. Ely, Ibarra & Kolb (2011 pp.486-8) identified three fundamental principles for designing and delivering women’s leadership programs, and these are:

  1. Situate Topics and Tools in an Analysis of Second Generation Gender Bias
  2. Create a Holding Environment to Support Women’s Identity Work
  3. Anchor Participants on their Leadership Purpose.

It was this third and final point that truly resonated with me and, through personal brand work, I was able to solidify my personal brand values. It was from here that I was able to identify my career purpose which is ultimately to learn and create.

What I truly love about working in marketing, regardless of the industry, is testing hypotheses; taking customer data and working out what type of content resonates with customers and what doesn’t. It is from here that I realised that, as long as I am learning and making those dataful connections, this is what gets me out of bed in the morning and not the position I hold within an organisation. Although, Marketing Manager does have a nice ring to it.

Learn more about gender equality


  • Australian Government & Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2017, Australia’s gender equality scorecard: Key findings from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s 2016-2017 reporting data, Workplace Gender Equality Agency, viewed 16 August 2018, <;.
  • Ely, R.J, Ibarra, H & Kolb, D.m 2011, ‘Taking Gender into Account: Theory and Design for Women’s Leadership Development Programs’, Academy of Management Learning & Education, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 474-493.
  • Eysenck, M. W 2004. Psychology: An international Perspective. New York: Psychology Press Ltd.\
  • Michalidis, M.P, Morphitou, R.N & Theophylatou, I 2012 ‘ Women at workequality versus inequality: barriers for advancing in the workplace’, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol. 23, no. 20 pp. 4231-4252.

Research Paper: AIDes Campaign

The purpose of this essay is to critically analyse a contemporary social marketing campaign, by the AIDeS foundation, in order to demonstrate how the relationship between the key message and the intended audience is successful in delivering persuasive ideals. This will be achieved through the deconstruction of the campaign using Saussure’s definition of semiotics, ideologies, intertextuality, connotations and denotations.

This deconstruction will provide insight into the campaigns key message, its intended audience and the ways in which it persuades the audience to accept those messages.

AIDeS is a French, non-government, non-profit, community based organisation designed to provide support for those directly and indirectly affected by AIDS.

The organisation; founded in 1984 by Daniel Defert after the death, from AIDS, of his philosopher friend, Michael Foucault; is “independent of all religious, moral, political or scientific groups” (

The name AIDeS is derived from the French word for support, aides, and the acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, AIDS. In 2005 France recorded 130,000 young adults living with AIDS. World-wide, the number of people living with AIDS is 39.5 million of which 37.2 of these, are young adults. AIDS has long been referred to as an epidemic and it is obvious by the numbers, that it can be so considered. France with its ever increasing AIDS numbers developed a rather, robust and aggressive marketing campaign to educate its people, particularly young adults, into behaving with more responsibility regarding sexual intimacy, as evidenced by the appendices.

In the deconstructed appendices mentioned, the social marketing principles applied, meet Kotler and Zaltinan (1971) definition on that subject, ‘the application of the principles and tools of marketing to achieve socially desirable goals, that is, benefits for society as a whole rather than for profit’ (Quoted in Donovan, R and Henley, N 2003). The appendices target a particular group in society with the objective of specifically changing an express pattern of behaviour for the betterment of the whole of society. As we will see, this is accomplished through visual appendices and texts using the tools of marketing to benefit society and without the motive of profit making or the selling of a product.

As mentioned the appendices target a particular group of young adults specifically because of their age and all that that entails. Young adults can change partners often before committing to one person and it is the exchange of body fluids in multiple partner sex that can and does further the AIDS virus. Also, children born of a young adult AIDS parent can often prove to be AIDS positive, themselves. The visuals can be seen to be ‘attacks’ on two fronts.

Because of this the AIDeS organisation uses several types of medium for their social campaigns. However the campaign that this essay will focus on consists of two visual elements, appendix A and appendix B.

The campaign surprises and startles one until one realises exactly what it is that is being shown. It is then that the surprise turns to fear, shock and shame. Shame of bestiality besets our emotions and the struggle to come to terms with the shock and the reason behind the usage of such images is apparent. However, it is the wanton use of fear and our mesmerization by it that draws us into the campaign and the reasoning used behind such a campaign. Even in today’s society images of this calibre are not seen unless in relation to the release of an R rated movie or book. However, in 1987 the Australian Government released the ‘Grim Reaper’ social marketing campaign (appendix c) which was based solely on horror and fear. History shows us that this campaign enjoyed a significant amount of success and that AIDS numbers decreased.

The appendices characters of a grotesquely large spider and scorpion are symbolic of the great danger that the human characters face in having unprotected sex. Poisonous creatures such as those shown bring out a primal fear and disgust in all as we know their sting is deadly and that the death will long and painful. The choice to use them in these appendices makes us aware of not only that fear but directly and poignantly ties that fear to AIDS. Script writers and film directors have long realised that the enlarging of these fearsome creatures arouses in us a need to protect and defend. The clever placement of these loathsome creatures intertwined with the human characters, in what is definitely an attack position, truly is an abomination to us, until we identify the key message; the need for safe sex.

The layout of both images, are parallel to that of furniture/décor advertisements. The centre of focus in both appendix A and appendix B are the characters. The over-sized and menacing arachnids, as characters other than those of the humans, are so grotesquely and prominently placed as to dominate our focus and the layout.

The overwhelming message in both appendicis is the danger of AIDS transmitted sexual intercourse. The ‘blindness’ of both characters, to this virus, is cleverly represented in both layouts. In appendix A the woman (with the spider) has her eyes closed to the danger of contracting AIDS. The same can be said for appendix B where the ‘blindness’ of the man (with the scorpion) is shown as a picture of a blind-folded man positioned directly above the bed. The ‘blindness’ of the human characters in both appendicis may be seen as “Love is Blind” and so no care is taken or the scarier truth, that the ‘blindness’ represents the absence of information and knowledge on how the AIDS virus is transmitted.

All characters have been strategically placed in the foreground and when removed, the focal point changes to the lounge suite in appendix A and the bed in appendix B. The layout of furniture or décor in advertisements are often manipulated to privilege the discourse of lifestyle and, sometimes, family. The use of furniture as the secondary focal point does just that. This discourse of lifestyle promotes the ideology of living with AIDS.

In whole, the simplicity and elegance of the layout, privileges the discourse of class, specifically the upper class through the use of contemporary designer possessions such as furniture, clothing, art, jewellery etc. This ideology of wealth and lifestyle argues that AIDS, unlike other diseases, is classless and involves all lifestyles even the privileged and affluent.

The genre of minimalism is achieved through the barest use of furniture etc, which serves two purposes. Firstly, it removes clutter from the layout which enables the images to have their greatest impact upon us. Secondly, it effectively symbolises the isolation that AIDS suffers experience as a result of unprotected sex.

The use of minimalism targets young, sexually active, single adults who are considered to be “Yuppies”; employed, with disposable incomes. This young demographic has the highest incidence of AIDS and these advertisements are aimed at this younger sexually active group in the hope that they will realise their responsibility.

These advertisements are powerful and disturbing in the delivery of their message. The use of poisonous, feared creatures, such as spiders and scorpions performing sexual intercourse with young, attractive adult humans, is horrific and obscene. However, it is clear through the known fatality of the disease and the horror of death by AIDS, that having unprotected sex can, in deed, be deadly, just as the represented arachnids portray.

“Sans preservatif. C’est avec le sida que vous faites l’amour. Protégez-vous.” Translates to Without a Condom. It is aids that you make love to. Protect yourself.

This blurb is diminutive in comparison to the rest of the layout and is marked by the AIDeS logo in the lower right hand corner.

The word size and choice of font are difficult to locate, which is precisely the objective of the advertiser. The shock value of the visuals, forces one to seek an explanation for such outrageous images. This method of ‘shock first’ and then supply an, almost hidden, explanation is effective in making the audience recognise the theme. However, most importantly, the audience is required to ‘think’ on what they are taking in with the words; ‘it is AIDS that you make love to’. These are methods often used in social marketing.

The predominant use of white has several connotations. An obvious representation is its association with hospitals and isolation. The use of the white room and furniture provides deeper meaning to the layout discourse of lifestyle, suggesting that living with AIDS means incorporating a medical discourse into one’s lifestyle. The over use of white also denotes segregation through the medical discourse of the hospital sterility and isolation. This is appropriate as one of AIDeS’ primary objectives is to confront the segregation of AIDS sufferers and to reject the prejudice that AIDS sufferers face. This is reflected in the organisation’s name, AIDeS.

The wholly white décor emphasises the black of the arachnids and brings our attention to their size and the unwholesome act that they are preforming. Absence of colour except for the AIDeS logo is compelling and significant in the choice we all face – sex with or without protection (the difference between black and white).

Also, the use of white can denote the lack of thought – an emptiness of mind. An act carried out with-out consideration is often tied visually to the colour white as it transmits a nothingness which is evident in both appendices.

From the deconstruction of this social marketing campaign it can be seen that the AIDeS organisation in their arachnid campaign has used primal fear, loathing and disgust as a means of transport for their social marketing campaign’s message. The target audience, of youth, has been reached through the campaigns greatest motivator, fear and dread. It is the successful manipulation of these negative emotions, which persuades the target audience into accepting the campaigns message, that of promoting safe sex. The campaign is a successful one from this point of view.  AIDS can not be contained or controlled until we fear the disease as we would the thought of making love to a giant scorpion or spider. Only then can we take the necessary action to protect, defend and finally, slow and perhaps, halt the disease AIDS’ progress.


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Appendix A
Appendix B