Interview: Jessica Bennett – Contributing Editor,

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Jessica Bennett is a New York-based writer, editor and journalist with a decade of experience in magazines and online media. She is currently the Contributing Editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In, and has worked together with Getty Images to co-curate the Lean In collection of images.

We spoke to Jessica about the objectives of Lean In and why influencing the visual conversation around women matters.

Curve: What is the focus for Lean In – what are your goals?

JB: The goal of Lean In as an organization is to encourage all women to achieve their goals and men to be active participants as well. The nonprofit does this via a variety of programs, from helping people start peer support groups to providing free educational lectures on topics like negotiation to working with students on university campuses.


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I'm a journalist myself, so I have written for many years on women and gender. My role with Lean In is as a contributing editor, which means I work with editors and journalists to produce special projects and creative campaigns like this one. We've partnered with print outlets like Time, ESPN, the Tribune Company and Cosmopolitan in the past, but this is the first project we've done that has been visually focused.

Curve: You come from a writing background. What interested you about a visual project like this?

JB: I've always worked in a variety of platforms even though my primary job has been as a writer and editor. At Newsweek, where I was a staffer for a number of years, I frequently worked closely with our photography and design teams. I later worked as the executive editor of Tumblr, where imagery rules.

I often helped pull photos for stories I was working on, and I can't tell you how many times I'd accidentally turn up images that were utterly stereotypical or just plain absurd. You know, you search something like "boss" and 99 percent of the images that show up are men, or you search "bossy" and you get all women. Or maybe you type in "female plumber" - this happened to a friend of ours, the executive director of the gender institute at Stanford - and you end up with women in lingerie and high heels, holding wrenches.

Just like media outlets need to watch their language when it comes to women (why are female leaders called "aggressive" while male leaders are simply "bold"?), we need to evaluate our image choices for gender bias. These things are subtle, but they can be insidious.


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Curve: “You can’t be what you can’t see” - what do you mean by that in terms of stock photography and representations of women across the media in general? 

JB: Think about how many images we see each day, online and on billboards, on television and film, in newspapers, magazines, on the subway - everywhere we turn we are surrounded by imagery. Now think about what you see in those images and what message they send. Studies have found that women on television and in film are less likely to hold speaking roles - that girls in all kinds of media are highly sexualized and less likely to be portrayed holding jobs. What does that tell a young girl about what she can be in the world?

The research shows that the more media a girl consumes - according to one study girls aged 11-14 view 500 advertisements a day - the less options she thinks she has in life. This is not an accident. We need to provide images that girls can aspire to.


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Curve: Lean In is focused on ‘changing the conversation’ - how do you see this partnership with Getty Images and the curated collection of images contributing to this?

JB: We want change the visual landscape. We want to put images out into the world that are inspirational and aspirational. The reality is that women are rising up in their careers, and men are being supportive fathers and caretakers at home. The current imagery does not accurately present this picture so we're working to change it.

Curve: Apart from the focus on women depicted in a variety of roles, what else is important in the way women (and men) are depicted in this collection of images?

JB: We wanted to show ethnic diversity, family diversity and same-sex couples, bodies that were not all stick thin, pregnant bellies, wrinkles, grey hair, women in uniform, female athletes, and men being supportive caretakers, too. We wanted the images to feel authentic, and the body language was important, too. These women are not props - they have agency.


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Curve: Where would you like to see these images being used – how would they influence visual content (advertising etc)? How can we continue to push this message forward?

JB: We hope they'll be used everywhere - from magazine covers to online advertising to major creative campaigns to television and film. The thing about these images is that now that they're out there, there's no excuse for art directors or photo editors to not to at least try to use them.

I think the collection will also draw attention to the gender breakdown when it comes to the people making decisions about these photos. One recent study found that only 3 percent of creative directors are women. In journalism, men continue to fill the vast majority of top editor roles. And the advertising industry is not exactly a model for gender equality. None of this is to say that men can't accurately and fairly depict women, but if we've learned anything from the research, it's that gender equality in every industry leads to better and more representative outcomes.
Curve: Stock imagery is only one facet of visual communication – what other types of visual content would you like to see changed or influenced to support the goals of Lean In? 

JB: I'd love to extend this idea to editorial photography and video; to portraiture, to the campaign trail, to news photography. It's important to recognize that each visual angle, each snapshot, sends a message.

Via Huff Post Live - Watch Jessica Bennett from Lean In and Getty Images Director of Visual Trends, Pam Grossman, discuss the curation of the Lean In collection, and why LeanIn.Org has partnered with Getty Images to change the portrayals of women in stock photos to keep up with women's rise in the workplace.

Browse the Lean In collection here

Jessica Bennett - Journalist & Contributing Editor, Lean In

Jessica Bennett is a New York-based writer, editor and journalist with a decade of experience in magazines and online media. She writes features on women, culture, social issues, sex, crime, teens and trends for the New York Times, the Atlantic, Time, Cosmopolitan, The Daily Beast and Newsweek, where she was a senior staff writer and editor for seven years. She also edits and produces special projects as a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In.

Jessica’s writing, multimedia and video work have been honored by the Society for Professional Journalists, the Newswomen’s Club of New York, GLAAD, the Webbys and the New York Press Club, which once named Jessica the city’s best young journalist.

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