When I started hunting for examples of how female leaders are currently treated in the media for a session with Hall & Wilcox recently, I didn’t have to look very far.
That’s because I was presenting a couple of days after the now infamous 60 Minutes interview with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in which journalist Charles Wooley opened his story with the comment that he’d met a lot of world leaders in his time, but “never one so attractive” as Ardern.
It’s one example of the questions, descriptions and comments women in leadership face in the media.
Then there’s the issue of women not getting quoted or included in the media at all, or getting anywhere close to the same opportunities as men to appear as expert sources in stories, particularly in the business sections of traditional newspapers.
According to a recent study of 6000 news print articles by the Women’s Leadership Institute of Australia in 2016, just one in five sources quoted were female – and the rates of women being included varied dramatically across different news categories. In politics, women accounted for 20% of sources quoted. In business, it was 15% and in finance, just 13%.
So what can we do?
The presentation I was preparing was for a series of ‘Disrupt The Status Quo’ roundtables in Melbourne and Sydney that Women’s Agenda kickstarted with Hall & Wilcox last month.
We decided to kick off with a focus on the representation (or lack thereof) of female leaders and businesswomen in the media, inviting a number of people with an interest in the area to discuss their concerns, ideas and desires for being more visible in both traditional media and across digital platforms.
We also had Amanda Gome and Marina Go available to share their own experiences of working in and outside of the media – as both journalists, and as sources. Former BRW publisher Amanda, who now runs Notable Women, shared how difficult it is to break through to the senior leaders and editors of large, traditional media organisations, but also how she’s seeing women in business ramping up their profiles online, which has made them more visible. Marina offered personal examples about the negative comments she’d come up against in the media, particularly in making the move from magazines to CEO of Private Media and now into a board portfolio career, which includes being Chair of NRL team the Wests Tigers.
Through these conversations, a number of key strategies came up for becoming more visible online and getting quoted in the media:
Initiate that breakthrough moment, or find a time to say yes. Some women during the roundtable sessions shared how speaking at one event, or writing one piece, or getting quoted in one particular article, ultimately led to more opportunities. Journalists and event producers will go back to the same people, or often simply ‘google’ previous events, topics and stories in order to find relevant stories for an issue they’re covering, or event they’re producing.
Have purpose and conviction. If things get negative across social media or when you’re quoted in the media, it helps to know you’re holding true to what you believe in. It also helps to know your purpose for being visible in the first place. If anything else, that purpose could be about being a role model for women and girls behind you — for being part of the growing push to make more women visible.
Look for opportunities outside of ‘women’s events’ and ‘women’s media’. This one came from me, (a little strange I know, given I own a ‘women’s publication’), but it’s important to search wider than women’s media alone when seeking opportunities. The ‘women’s publications’ (like us) will find you!
We need momentum. #MeToo had such a significant impact because thousands of people got involved at the same time, noted Marina Go. She said she understands that not everyone wants to stick their neck out on an issue, especially if they’re the only woman on a board, but she added that offering support to other women who do so, or allowing yourself to be supporting, can be the catalyst for the momentum required.
Set deadlines and stick to them, just like a journalist. Increasing your visibility does take time, but more importantly it requires motivation. Decide if it’s what you really want to do and establish your purpose for doing it. Outline how you want to approach your social media platforms, or what areas you want to write or speak on. Setting and diarising deadlines can help make it happen. Set a date in which you want to personally have your LinkedIn profile sorted, your personal social media strategy determined and/or certain blogposts or opinion pieces you want to write written.
You can be more charismatic on social media. You can create a level of confidence or profile that may not match your offline personality, while still being authentic and true to yourself. “I’ve watched who you might consider to be introverted women who had absolutely no profile a year ago, but have built something extraordinary within a short amount of time,” said Amanda Gome.
Take a place as a role model. You have the opportunity to be a role model for other women coming up the ladder behind you, even if you’re still climbing that ladder yourself. As the saying goes, you can’t be what you can’t see; and if you can’t see what you can be across social media, then it’s difficult to appreciate such opportunities exist. Start now, no matter how ‘junior’ you feel. Building a profile takes times, taking the actions now will either lead to it happening immediately, or at some point in the near future.
Want to build a network but you’re time poor? Use Twitter. You don’t have to start by sharing your opinions on every issue in your industry. You can simply curate interesting articles and pieces you find that are relevant to the type of audience you want to get in front of. You can reply and thank people, or simply acknowledge their work. You can share ideas and initiate small talk on social media that can lead to bigger networks, and having a shared idea of what each other is about should you ever meet in person.
Send public and private messages of support to other women. Like, retweet and share some of the successes of other women, or where you see them sharing great ideas and quotes in the media. Reach out to women who are being unfairly attacked in the media, even if only privately. They’ll appreciate the support. “Supporting other women is one of the best strategies we have for disrupting the media,” said Marina Go.
Build visibility to be found quickly. This means working on your digital assets (especially LinkedIn and Twitter) which can be time-consuming, but ultimately very beneficial. Even if it’s only to connect you with other women in your sector. Get your header bios right, relevant and linked to what you want to be searched for. You don’t need to be everything at once, so determine your best avenue for sharing your expertise and use related key words across your bios.
After your breakthrough moment, pass it on. I happened to interview Envato Co-founder Cyan Ta’eed on the morning of our Melbourne roundtable, so used the opportunity to share something she’d said that resonated with me. She told me she went through a period of saying yes to as many opportunities as she could, which was necessary at the time, in order to build her profile as a woman in tech. She then found she was getting more opportunities than she could handle, so started saying ‘no’ and suggesting other people. You can’t do or have it all. If you’re fortunate to have your breakthrough moment and find yourself regularly offered opportunities, consider how you can use such opportunities to elevate another woman.
Name and shame those that don’t include women, but do it proactively. Take photographs of ‘manels’ (all male panels) or extensive business feature stories that fail to include women, and put them on social media. Tell event organisers to improve their game. Tell newspapers why you’re not subscribing. But also suggest what they can do differently. Let them know you’re available and/or offer a list of women you believe would be great for them to include.
Get on speaker lists! A number of speaker lists are available that aim to aid event organisers in ‘finding’ more women – these lists may also be used by journalists to find experts for features or stories they’re writing. A few suggestions include The Click List, Here She Is by The Victorian Women’s Trust, Peggy’s List for those in advertising, media and marketing, and the recently launched The Prominenti Society.
Social media is an opportunity. As Marina Go said, other than challenging newspapers and event organisers to do better, one of the best ways for disrupting the media is to use social media as am opportunity to change the rules. “It’s the one way you can go direct, you can circumnavigate the mass media, where most of the gatekeepers are men.”