Getty Images’ LeanIn Collection Strives to Change Portrayal of Women

Yuri Arcurs / iStock by Getty Images

What is the role that stock images play when it comes to depicting perceptions of women? Deputy Editor Liyana Stuart interviews Kumiko Shimamoto, Vice President of Getty Images Asia to learn about its LeanIn Collection.

Here at LadyBoss, we’re always on the lookout for images of “businesswomen” to portray in our articles — yet we find that these images are outnumbered by those of “businessmen”. We were delighted to learn about Getty Images’ LeanIn Collection which seeks to change that.

 Kumiko Shimamoto, Vice President of Getty Images Asia
Kumiko Shimamoto, Vice President of Getty Images Asia

This is a transcript of our Q & A with Kumiko Shimamoto. The stock images used below are also part of this collection.

Q: Tell us about the LeanIn Collection by Getty. What was the inspiration behind this collection, and why was it started?

A: The LeanIn collection features a library of creative images devoted to the powerful depiction of women and girls, families of all kinds, and men as caretakers as well as earners. It was launched in February 2014 in partnership with, the female empowerment nonprofit organisation founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Led by Getty Images’ director of visual trends, Pamela Grossman, and LeanIn.Org contributing editor Jessica Bennett, the collection demonstrates a modern, realistic view of gender: women as leaders; men as nurturers and collaborators; and girls as strong, smart, and ambitious. Its aim is to shift perceptions, overturn clichés, and incorporate authentic images of women and men into the mass media.

Photos in the collection are crowd sourced from iStock’s global contributor community of over 130,000 photographers and comprises images licensed in over 72 countries, including the US, UK, and many countries across Europe and Asia, including Qatar, Kuwait, China, and Russia. Part of the proceeds from the licensing of these images going towards LeanIn.Org.

Johnny Greig / iStock by Getty Images
Johnny Greig / iStock by Getty Images

Q: What has been the response of the public and community so far to this collection?

A: We have seen the demand for this collection growing significantly, in terms of image numbers as well as the countries in which images are licensed. We started with 2,500 images when the collection was first launched. In October 2014, the Lean In Collection was expanded to be available on iStock by Getty Images in order to provide premium creative imagery to suit all budgets.

What is interesting is we are observing an increase in the usage of photos depicting women in leadership roles across multiple industries, with two of the biggest sectors being finance and technology. These industries are also taking increasingly active steps in attracting more female employees and management.

Over the past two years, the search term “female business executive” has increased by 350%, and searches for ‘empowered woman’ rose by 722%. These statistics represent a growing trend by marketers, advertisers and media to address female leadership in their campaigns and communications.

Q: How will having these images impact the portrayal of women in business?

A: Gender equality and female empowerment is not a new topic but building a library of strong visuals which deliver the message that females can thrive, lead and manage as well as males in any field, particularly ones that are traditionally thought to be dominated by men like STEM and military, takes time. We are also seeing more organisations and businesses dedicate effort in embracing female diversity and depicting them in different roles so this is encouraging.

However, as the depiction of women in the media changes, so too has the portrayal of men. Eight years ago, it was common to see visual representations of fatherhood stereotyped in masculine clichés – fishing, bottles of beer or sport. Over the past three years, sales of images associated with “modern dad” and “stay at home dad” on Getty Images are up by 450%. During the same period of time, searches for “dad changing diaper” are up by seven times.

Andrejs Zemdega / iStock by Getty Images
Andrejs Zemdega / iStock by Getty Images

Q: What is Getty’s mission in portraying the female leadership?

A: I’m very fortunate to work at Getty Images, an organisation that supports diversity in the workplace and functions on the belief that everyone has equal opportunity to lead. Our CEO, CFO, SVP of General Counsel, CMO and SVP of HR are all females. Last year, Getty’s CMO, Susan Smith Ellis, initiated our founding visual partnership with Global Goals by the United Nations. One of the 19 Global Goals to be achieved by 2030 is gender equality. Our mission in portraying the female empowerment is a shared commitment with to shift the visual representation of women in media. It’s not just about leadership but also about the essence of women achieving whatever they aspire to be. As Sheryl Sandberg once said, “You can’t be what you can’t see and in an age where media are all around us, it is critical that images provide examples that both women and men can emulate.”

Q: Over the last two years, sales from the search term “female business executive” increased by 350%, and searches for ‘empowered woman’ rose by 722%. Tell us why you think this has happened — do these search results indicate a paradigm shift in the way women are perceived?

A: A lot of this has got to do not just with increasing gender equality in business leadership but how women’s roles now encompass anything from working mothers, to ambitious young women and their relationships with each other, to a young girl building a robot. It’s about showcasing how females can achieve what they aspire to be.

It is also important to note that to holistically capture this shift, it is important to document how the role of men has changed too. For example, in 2007, the most downloaded image of a father was a dad and his son playing football but in 2015 it became a dad reading a tablet with his daughter. Only by changing the representation of both women and men can a more balanced gender perception be built.


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