Inclusive Visual Storytelling for Malaysia

Trends / Realness
Yuri Endo
Feb 7, 2023
Many global media and advertisements are struggling to portray a compelling representation of Asian and Pacific Peoples that they themselves can relate to1.  Malaysian people, too, are plagued by underrepresentation and unspoken stereotypes and experience different kinds of difficulties in their lives. Our VisualGPS research consumer survey shows that globally, only 10% feel that diversity is accurately represented in the advertising and media they see every day. In Southeast Asia, 2 in 5 agreed that seeing people like them and their life will have the most significant appeal when deciding what products to buy or companies to use.
Looking at the current visual landscape in the popular visuals downloaded from Getty Images by our Malaysian customers, we have found significant differences to other Asia Pacific regions for the following areas of diversity that are often missing in imagery, and opportunities to combat stereotypes to drive more inclusive representation. In this article, let’s explore the three outstanding areas of identity: Race and Ethnicity, Gender, and Age. The recommendations for the remaining areas of identity would be the ones mentioned in the Asia Pacific overview.1
Inclusive representation of race & ethnicity
Looking at the current visual landscape and the composition of the population visualized in the popular visuals downloaded from Getty Images, Chinese people are the most represented ethnicity followed by Thai, Malaysian and Japanese people.  Malay and Indian people are underrepresented. Chinese and Indian people are seen in both business and lifestyle settings, while Malay people are seen in business but are rarely seen within education, family, and friendship groups. Multi‑ethnic groups are seen in business and friendship groups but not in family settings. Various types of families are represented; multiple groups of families, senior parents and adult children, young parents, and young children and 3 generations. Chinese families are most represented but Indian and Malay families are less represented.

In Malaysia, 50.1% of the population are Malay, 22.6% are Chinese, 11.8% are indigenous Bumiputra groups, 6.7% are Indian, and other groups account for 0.7%. Non‑citizens account for 8.2% of Malaysia’s resident population.2 This multicultural context makes Malaysia a culturally rich society, with diverse religions, foods, cultures, and customs.
When thinking about driving authentic representation of  Malaysians, it is important to show Malay and Indian people in a variety of scenarios and roles outside of business settings. As it is a multi‑layered country, it’s also key to show them in multi‑ethnic groups and interracial families doing everyday activities and culturally specific activities and how people celebrate and experience those cultural moments.
Portraying gender equality
Malaysian women are featured 1.5 x  more than men in our most popular visuals, likely to be pictured as homemakers, in parental roles, and in business, while Malaysian men are shown slightly more in leadership roles than women.

In reality, Malaysia is 103 out of 146 countries in the global gender gap rankings.3 In Malaysia, women account for 38% of the workforce which is higher than the average in Asia‑Pacific.Beyond the traditional men's role of just providing for their family, there has been an encouraging trend where younger fathers are choosing to participate in house chores and doing basic duties like taking care of daily activities for their children.5 It is then important to represent women and men equally attributed in business as well as home settings such as women as being the leader or having authority in the room, men's home life, men as responsible for domestic activities like caring for children while working and sharing house chores.
Seeing age in diverse scenarios 
60+ years old are featured in 9 % of our most popular visuals. They are most frequently shown in healthcare settings, with their family, while young adults aged between 20‑29 years old are the most represented, accounting for close to 50 % of overall popular visuals, seen in business, leisure, and beauty concepts.

In Malaysia, more than 7 % of the population is aged 65 and above. By 2056, Malaysia will be a “super‑aged society”, with over 20 % of its population above the age of 65.  25 to 29 years old made up the largest age group in Malaysia's labor force, followed by those between 30 and 34 years old. The labor force decreases as age goes up.  45.2 % of those aged 55 to 64 are employed and older workers are more likely to be self‑employed or engaged in part‑time work. 5 It’s important to show senior adults as capable and competent in everyday life outside family and healthcare settings as well as mature to senior adults in a variety of scenarios and roles in business settings.

In summary, when choosing or creating visuals, it’s not just about featuring Malaysians, but about how we are visualizing them, and how we reflect their true selves and lifestyles. Make sure it is free of stereotypes and be aware of how diverse and multidimensional Malaysian communities and their lifestyles are. Authentic visual storytelling not only helps brands connect with their audiences, but also changes the way Malaysians are seen.
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