To achieve gender equality in companies, it is not enough for women to speak up. They must share their stories. When they do not, it is still common to discuss women’s corporate invisibility as if they themselves, out of modesty or shyness, prefer to stay out of the spotlight. However, this phenomenon is often the result of biases or company strategies (often unconscious, fortunately) which silence, hide and objectify women’s executive talent.
Speaking up and sharing has many clear advantages: it promotes equality, breaks corporate stereotypes and encourages professionals to start thinking about their career free from preconceived cultural constructs.
Since the middle of the 20th century, women across the world have taken their place in the public sphere, an area which was, at the time, traditionally considered a man’s domain. Despite large differences and uneven progress among countries, women in most places have achieved the basic recognition of their rights. This change has been accompanied by an increase in female participation in the labor market, as well as in professional and vocational education and training. Although the gap is closing, gender equality is still far away. According to the World Economic Forum, full global gender equality will not occur until 2120.
There remains glaring inequality in the percentage of men versus women holding executive positions. In this sense, although several reasons may explain this limited representation of women in positions of high responsibility, one of the most influential factors is the scarce and stereotyped visibility of women, which is precisely the subject of this study.
“Communicating and giving visibility to female leadership achievements are one way to face this challenge”
The number of women in decision-making positions continues to increase, but why so slowly? According to sociological theory, there is a correlation between characteristics considered important for success in a given field and the frequency of exposure to characteristics of that field’s leaders. According to this theory and given the visibility of male leadership and the invisibility of female leadership, it is understood that in the collective imaginary it is men who possess by nature the aptitudes to exercise true leadership, while women seem unsuitable because they are attributed a strong emotiveness, considered as an obstacle at the time of leading.
Furthermore, any women who attempt to challenge this stereotype will face rejection and may be punished for not following people’s preconceived notions. And, out of all of them, those who manage to reach executive positions face a contradiction known as “Double Bonding”: when they adopt an authoritative attitude, they are respected, but they are considered unpleasant, and if, on the contrary, they behave in a way traditionally attributed to women, they are highly appreciated, but they arouse little respect because they are considered too emotional to make potentially difficult decisions and with too little charisma to motivate all employees. This fact is one of the greatest obstacles to the progress of women in the business world, as it generates a credibility gap in the field of leadership. Communicating and giving visibility to female leadership achievements are one way to face this challenge.
But, as with everything, there is one exception to the rule. According to “glass cliff” theory, coined in a study developed by Michelle Ryan and Alexander Haslam, both from the UK’s University of Exeter, women tend to reach positions of maximum responsibility most often during crisis situations with high chances of failure. Some examples of this are: Marissa Mayer, appointed CEO of Yahoo in 2012 shortly after the loss of a significant share of the market to Google; Anne Mulcahy, who joined Xerox in 2001 when the company was on the verge of bankruptcy; or Carly Fiorina, who was elected CEO of Hewlett Packard in 1999 after the bursting of the technology bubble.
So what can be done to ensure that women, who seem to be equal to men in executive and leadership roles, reach these positions and become more visible in order to break with the stereotyped image of leadership?
- Positive and expert media presence: according to The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), which monitors the presence of women in the media across 100 countries every five years, demonstrated that women’s presence remains very scarce in its 2015 survey. According to GMMP: Women comprise only 28 percent of subjects of and news sources for traditional media, falling to just 3.3 percent in digital media. Women are involved in 51 percent of news pieces regarding violence or crime. Only 9 percent of sources consulted by journalists are women.
- Gender approach to information and language : When applied to journalism, the concept of gendered perspectives refers not only to giving visibility to women, but also to understanding how a story might have different interpretations depending on the viewer’s gender.
- Recognition: women receive less recognition than men not only at a corporate level in their own organisations, but also in the marketplace. MERCO’s most recently published ranking of Spain’s top leaders. In a quantitative sense, women make up 31.41 percent of the country’s managers, but only 23 of the top 100 most well-liked leaders are
“What can be done to ensure that women, who seem to be equal to men in executive and leadership roles, reach these positions and become more visible in order to break with the stereotyped image of leadership?”
Furthermore, invisibility undermines democracy, so working on it means focusing on the range of benefits for all of society:
- Several studies found a direct correlation between the percentage of executive positions held by women, infrastructure quality and the prevalence of gender equality promotion policies.
- Since 2001, 52 percent of Fortune 500 companies have disappeared or been bought out because they failed to adapt to the new digital environment to remain competitive. According to a 2019 Accenture study carried out in 40 countries, in general, first quartile companies showed six times more gender equality and motivation to innovate among employees than fourth quartile companies did.
- A report by Catalyst shows that companies with more female board members have a 42 percent higher ROS, 66 percent higher ROIC and 53 percent higher ROE than their competitors.
- In 2013, Matsa and Miller studied the impact of gender quotas on Norwegian companies. They discovered that the most diverse companies had less employee turnover, resulting in lower labor costs.
At LLYC, we firmly believe that bringing female talent and leadership to the forefront is an important and necessary step to strengthen its commitment to equality and diversity. This paper proposes potential courses of action to promote the visibility of executive women.
Best practices proposals
As the benefits of gender equality have increasingly become a matter of common consensus among the public and researchers, we have seen the development best practices in this field.
Some measures, such as gender quotas for boards of directors, remain subjects of debate, while others, such as “blind” recruitment and promotion policies, have become a recommended standard.
“Bringing female talent and leadership to the forefront is an important and necessary step to strengthen each organization’s commitment to equality and diversity“
At LLYC, we aim to combat stereotypes and contribute to awareness of the importance of women’s visibility, but in addition, we intend to make specific commitments with the express goal of giving appropriate opportunities and credit to our female talent. There are many policies we have adopted and that we recommend our clients do so as well, but some particularly notable ones include:
- Enhancing the visibility of female managers, providing them with sufficient resources and support to boost their participation in media, events, professional networks and the digital realm.
- Ensuring this activity is included in the work schedule and job description, not tacked on as an additional task or an “extra work day,” which penalizes those with more household obligations.
- Continuing to support events that promote gender-equality and intentionally not participating in events lacking female panel representation.
- Acknowledging that unconscious biases may be affecting our professional activity, then giving trainings on this effect to the greatest possible number of collaborators, especially those in senior positions.
- Exposing our teams to examples of female leadership in different fields and professions close to ours, regularly sharing and considering inspiring stories regarding our role in promoting equality.
- Fostering collaboration with women
correspondents in the media.
- Allowing our talent teams to adopt these best practices in team recruitment, promotion and development.
Some additional initiatives we intend to implement soon include:
- As communicators, increasing our awareness of the importance and nuances of truly inclusive language.
- Allowing LLYC to support other organizations willing to contribute to women’s visibility.
When developing of our client’s communication strategies, we recommend:
- Fostering true gender equality through action, not simply applying a facade of visibility (which is still unfortunately
- Facilitating access to women influencers and experts in various fields, increasing source diversity.
- Establishing concrete and quantitative KPIs regarding improved visibility of the organization’s female talent.
- Sharing not only successful initiatives, but also those that were less successful to demonstrate a commitment to being an agent of change through both the good and the bad.
- Training women managers in communication skills to help prevent their own biases from diminishing their effectiveness at transmitting key messages.
- Designing both internal and external positioning programs for both women in management positions and those who have the potential to lead. Positively reinforce those women who succeed at these initiatives, incorporating them into the company’s highly valued talent, with the accompanying expectations.
- Offering women opportunities to lead highvisibility projects and fully recognizing their roles. Take advantage of associations’ and unions’ desire to project a more diverse image to allow high-potential women directors to hold important positions, giving them more visibility and access to highquality networking opportunities.
- Encouraging women from all areas (directors, professionals, scientists, artists, etc.) to apply for awards and recognitions, and urging award committees to include women on juries and judging panels.
- Auditing the company’s brand and communications with respect to all stakeholders to ensure the organization is truly inclusive and does not encourage or reinforce existing stereotypes.
This report has been drafted in collaboration with Juan Carlos Burgos, Manager of the Financial Communication area at LLYC in Madrid