ASA upholds complaints about PeoplePerHour ‘girl boss’ ad

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against an ad placed by freelancer platform PeoplePerHour for perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes.

The ad, seen on the London Underground in November last year, featured an image of a woman and text that stated: ‘YOU DO THE GIRL BOSS THING. WE’LL DO THE SEO THING’. The ad attracted 19 complainants, who believed that it perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by depicting a woman running a business in a patronising way, and by implying that women were not technologically skilled, challenged whether it breached the Code.

Further text stated: ‘Hire expert freelancers by the hour to help your business grow. With everything from coding to video editing, it’s easy to see why over 2 million people have trusted PeoplePerHour to help build their dream business.’

For its part, PeoplePerHour claimed the main intention of the campaign was to celebrate entrepreneurs and business owners, highlighting the fact they often walked a tightrope between driving their business forward and being weighed down by small day-to-day tasks.

It added the term ‘girl boss’ referenced a book, popular culture movement and professional network, adding they had not considered that the pairing of the term ‘girl boss’ with the word ‘thing’ could come across as patronising and reductive.

However, PeoplePerHour acknowledged that the ad might unintentionally come across as sexist and demeaning to women and had taken steps to rectify that by removing the word ‘girl’ from the ad and issued a public apology on its website. However, it added that when reviewing the ad, media company Global’s ad copy team (who created the ad for PeoplePerHour) did not feel that the ad was likely to cause offence.

Following the complaint, Global carried out training with the team to ensure they considered wording, such as that in the ad, which could be misinterpreted or cause offence, and had informed PeoplePerHour it would not run this particular ad in future.

In its ruling, the ASA said it considered that using the gendered term ‘girl boss’, as opposed to just ‘boss’, implied that the gender of the person depicted in the ad was relevant to their performance in a managerial or entrepreneurial role. It was also likely to be interpreted as indicating that a female ‘boss’ was an exception to the norm. They added in the context of ‘the girl boss thing’, use of the word ‘girl’ to refer to an adult woman reinforced the impression that a female ‘boss’ was a novelty, playing at their role and somehow less serious than a man in the same position. 

While the ASA conceded that the term ‘girl boss’ made reference to a book and TV show about a female entrepreneur and resulting use of that term more widely in popular culture, it considered that many people viewing the ad were unlikely to be familiar with that reference.

While acknowledging the steps taken to rectify those issues by removing the word ‘girl’ from the ad and issuing an apology, the ASA also found that ‘We’ll do the SEO thing’ (referring to search engine optimisation) was likely to be understood to mean that female ‘bosses’ in particular needed outside help with IT matters.

Consequently, the ASA ruled the ad must not appear again in the form complained about and told PeoplePerHour to ensure their advertising did not perpetuate gender stereotypes in a harmful way.

When contacted by Recruiter this morning, a PeoplePerHour spokesperson said they had nothing to add further to their response to the ASA and the statement they made on social media at the time.

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