Corporate Social Responsibility – and the occasional lack of

Today, I think I will start with a one question quiz that you won’t be able to answer.

What do these people have in common? Ari Mervis, Mike Walsh, Anton Van Heerden, Dan Last, Grant Peck, Tanya Southey, Peter Filipovic, Dean Matthews, Jeremy Griffith and Andy Gibson. That’s probably too hard so I will give the answer straight away. They are, according to their own website, the current senior management team of Fosters Group Ltd.; the ones who brew Fosters Beer.

Looking at their website, this company is full of big statements. They have a “commitment to lead innovation, invest in our brands and maintain the highest quality standards remains steadfast”. I notice they are keen to present a positive image about alcohol responsibility and detail their involvement in sustainability and have invested $7.1m in community programmes – all highly commendable.

However, it’s not all positive. Today I have been sent a link to one of their recent TV advertisements in the Brad and Dan series. Over the years, I am sure we have seen many of these and question their overtly sexist content. This one comes with a difference – their telephone subject in the UK is a woman. I’ve not seen one like this before.


It has highlighted to me the issue of corporate communication through advertising media. Laudable it may be for a company to support its communities and be aware of sustainability issues, but corporate social responsibility has to go further. Perhaps it is time for a company to be accountable for the message it puts out and maybe this series of adverts, which has an element of tongue-in-cheek about them, have gone a bit far this time.

Sexism exists and impacts heavily on women in the workplace and society at large. If the subject of the adverts was race and racism, it would never be made. Why is sexism allowed? I intend making a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority and recommend that others do the same. It is time to challenge overt sexism in the media and in advertising in particular.

Perhaps this blog is also a little reminder for us to take a look at our own services. How would they fare is the gender equality stakes?

As a post script, I wonder what Tanya Southey, as the only woman among nine men on the senior management team at Fosters Group Ltd makes of Brad and Dan and their continuing sexist outbursts?

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
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14 Responses to Corporate Social Responsibility – and the occasional lack of

  1. Mark Nolan says:

    Absolutely right. We all like a good laugh but when is it going to be the case that commercial enterprise takes on board the fact that the way in which business conducts itself can shape and inform attitudes……

    Mark Nolan, Discrimination lawyer, Orbis Solicitors.

  2. MIchael, thanks for reminding me of a very funny ad. This said, the sexism in the add is anti-male, not anti-female, given that the hapless character is the woman’s partner at the end, who would be criticised by viewers for not listening to her. Are you going to complain about THIS sexist stereotyping to the ASA, or is it only anti-female stereotyping which bothers you?

    Can you really not see that the overwhelming portrayal of MEN on TV is sexist? Men are constantly being portrayed as dysfunctional, with women constantly being portrayed as praiseworthy. This even extends to programmes written and produced by men. Every male character in ‘The Simpsons’ is dysfunctional, every female character commendable. Ditto ‘Family Guy’, in which even the male DOG is dysfunctional.

    Mike Buchanan

  3. Chris Markiewicz says:

    Yes, Mike. All too often men are portrayed as buffoons in advertising, sitcoms and so on. Steve Biddulph’s excellent book “Manhood” makes this point very powerfully. Whilst we all obsess and fly flags about sexism against women, we overlook the preponderence of men being portrayed as idiots in the entertainment media.

    Even, dare I mention the Benny Hill Show from years back – whilst complaints may have poured in about scantily clad women running around, little mention (if any) is made of the men in the show and how they were portrayed.

    Balance needed, methinks! Us guys need an even break as well.

    • Chris, thanks for your good points. Society has been brainwashed to see (or suspect) anti-female sexism everywhere, while anti-MALE sexism is rife and positively celebrated. Bernard Manning, Jim Davidson etc were banned from our TV screens many years ago, while Jo Brand and her ilk (‘Guardian’ feministas such as Caitlin Moran come inevitably to mind) can utter the nastiest anti-male sentiments and it’s regarded as ‘fair comment’.

      Mike Buchanan

  4. Nona says:

    The males and female in this ad are caricatures and I am sympathetic to both viewpoints made above. The advert makes fun of both sexes and in doing so perpetuates stereotypes – which maybe funny, but only to some people.

    Having said this – the female does come off worse and this is where the advert is at odds with the company’s social responsibility mission. Why? because overall, gender inequality in the workplace is a fact, women are under represented in senior roles and particularly on Boards where impactful decisions are taken – decisions which shape the tone and character of an organisation and its footprint on society.

    Organisations claiming ethical behaviour do actually need to behave ethically. Making women look gullible and foolish is not ethical behaviour. And for those who think ‘what’s all the fuss about, it’s only an ad’ – life is a little more complex than that. Inequality is caused by multiple factors and The portrayal of women in the media is one of them. Advertising is a ‘billion dollar’ industry because it has impact; it is influential, it not only creates sales – it also shapes attitudes and behaviour.

    Oh and Fosters – you not only just lost my ‘dollar’ but you will probably lose the ‘dollar’ of all my male and female friends…. Word of mouth goes global in seconds these days.

  5. Ken McDougall says:

    Interesting article Michael. I’ll confess I’ve seen the advert before and something about the mindless way we sit in front of TVs meant I just saw the joke, and not the sexism. Which is a very good illustration of why you and Nona have a point, television and the media have an insidious way of communicating and reinforcing prejudice. Ultimately even if both sexes are being made fun of in the advert, the woman comes off worse because she is being patronised, And women are underrepresented in senior roles, so perhaps we’re patronising them there too? Unless someone would like to argue that there’s some other very good reason why that underrepresentation exists (I’d be very careful about that…)

    I have been at the sharp end of anti-male sexism so I do understand that perspective, and it bothered me, but, I’d have to say, it never prevented me from getting a job. From a broader perspective, men hold more of the cards in society than women do and this has been an issue for such a long time, really we should be a bit further ahead than this by now.

    • Ken, you’re killing me. Female under-representation in senior roles? Dear God, how many more times do I have to refer to Catherine Hakim’s Preference Theory on this blog? And why, precisely, should anyone be ‘very careful’ about providing a ‘very good reason’? Has political correctness stopped otherwise intelligent people from denying what’s staring them in the face? Seems so.

      MIke Buchanan

  6. equalityedge says:


    That is my message too. With over 40 years of legislation and modernising social policy, we should be more equal in our society. I do not believe change will by fully accomplished until such time that more men learn to give ground and more women demand they take it.

    Let the challenge continue.

    • ‘… more men learn to give ground and more women demand they take it.’ Priceless. This recipe for mediocrity has for many years run through the public sector, most notably education and the NHS. It’s no accident that the proportion of senior positions going to women is much higher in the public sector than in the private sector. And it applies to the professions, of course. The GP service is in crisis because female GPs (now 50% of GPs) are FAR more likely than male GPs to quit the profession (they’re more likely than men to have partners willing to finance their absence from paid employment), or only work p/t (whether or not they have kids), and refuse to work unsocial hours. So the taxpayer spends ever more money training ever more female doctors and gets a worse GP service. For every woman who benefits from this social engineering, thousands of tax-paying citizens suffer. And you want MORE of this sort of thing? Unbelievable. Truly unbelievable.

      The Men’s Rights Movement has terms for male collaborators of feminists. ‘White knights’ is the only one I feel able to share with you.

      Mike Buchanan

  7. Bernadette Nagy says:

    sorry the the australian-ness it also implies (another stereotype/prejudice…lol)
    Thanks Ken and Nona – I think you have the subtleties exactly right. We must continually guard against prejudice etc, even our own inbuilt ones!

  8. Michael, as usual yopu woul;d not expect me to ave a conventional response!

    This is a debate which often comes up around both jokes and advertisements, often polarised between ‘it’s just a bit of fun’ and ‘it’s sexist and should be banned’. I take quite a (hopefully practical) fence sitting approach. On the one hand I know and promote the position that the science tells us that such images do reinforce stereotypes and lead to behaviour changing, even if they are ‘a bit of fun’. On the other hand I think we need to take a step back and recognise that there is a real world out there and that if the aim of the D&I community is to better manage or even reduce biased behaviour, thrashing people with the ‘ism and ist’ stick is not the guaranteed way to do that. We may disagree with the sentiment but we have to understand the position of dominant group members if we are to enlist their support. Debates like this rarely do that.

    I advocate pointing out the evidence as to the effect that jokes and adverts have and equipping people to recognise when a stereotype is being used and how to counter it. The hard evidence is showing this has an effect. We all know that all blonde girlfriends are not all dippy, over sensitive and self obsessed in the same way that we know all husbands are not the ‘man-flu’, hapless, socially inept blokes the ads would have us believe. We are not going to stop such ads and jokes just because we want them to stop. People should know for example that the science shows us that these ads do affect the way they and their loved ones are unconsciously viewed and treated, but no more so than the myriad of other influences in a day. The problem with ads and jokes is they often slip below the radar because we watch and listen on auto-pilot when we are most vulnerable.

    I have already worked with one TV production company looking at how implicit images affect behaviour and I think working with rather than against advertisers, people and our nature is the way forward.

    I advocate balance not ban.

  9. Jeremy Griffith says:

    Hi, just for a quick clarification (and it is confusing). Foster’s is owned by Heineken in the UK and who is responsible for the ads. Foster’s in Australia is owned by SABMiller. Appreciate your blog but the comments would be best directed towards our counterparts in the UK. All the best Jeremy Griffith (one of the named executives).

    • equalityedge says:

      Many thanks for the clarification about Foster’s ownership. The comments will be made in the right place.
      It is interesting that the European company that brew Foster’s here, use Australian chauvinistic men as their subject. What do your advertisements look like?

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