Gender equality on boards and in the media: two sides of the same coin

Demand for senior female executives in large corporates should be on the up. Women hold more and more economic power, being increasingly the key decision-makers on consumer purchases,  the main breadwinners in households, and representing the majority of highly qualified graduates. The tide is also turning in terms of the feminisation of stakeholder influence on large corporates.

But things don't seem to be playing out as the simple law of supply and demand would suggest. The majority of organisations seem to be anchored in the belief that 25 to 30% female representation will provide sufficient diversity in the boardroom to sustain corporate success. 

Why is that so? Significant research from the European Institute for Gender Equality in Vilnius (2013) suggests that lack of exposure of women as subject matter experts to the media contributes to perpetuating stereotypes about their competencies in decision-making roles and in economic governance. In turn, the 'stereotype threat' is responsible for knocking the self-confidence of women, damaging their ambition.

Role models could turn the trend on its head. And information media have a part to play by putting women in the frame: as panellists in policy debates, or experts in news on-air, online, and in print. In the 21st century women are represented in a wide variety of disciplines and industries, including the traditionally male-dominated ones.

We want to challenge what we mean when we say “expert” – a term over-used which ends up perpetuating power imbalances amongst genders, races, classes, and abilities. We want experience to be considered as valid as traditional “expertise”. We want to question what knowledge is valued in our society – and why.

Women have far more power than they – or the media – currently realise. Identifying female experts and panellists, encouraging them to speak, giving them exposure to programme and newspaper editors, is not just a matter of equality. It will bring fresh perspectives and new voices to our increasingly complex societal, political, and scientific debates, and help the media to remain relevant for their multiple audiences.

On-screen and off-screen diversity go together. More senior women in strategic positions in the media – not the current appalling 16% across Europe’s public and private newspapers and media broadcasts - will change the representation of women on screen and in print.

Discussing the issue within Europe’s newsrooms, finding good – often informal – metrics to measure female representation, challenging existing practices, and highlighting the potential adverse effects, can lead to subsequent changes in policy or behaviour. We would thus come full circle: more women in the media will impact on the perception of women as experts, help overturn persisting stereotypes, and ultimately increase the number of women on boards.

The result: Diversification of economic governance with better decision-making of benefit for all.

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