Elevating women to leadership positions is a key priority for government and business. But in order to build influence, women must first build visibility, writes Kath Walters.
Both men and women are somewhat baffled by the difficulty of elevating more women into leadership roles. But there is a solution that is low-cost and within the power of both men and women to deploy immediately.
It is visibility. Visibility is a vital element for all modern leaders – both men and women. The more visible the leader, the greater their influence within their team, their company, their industry and, for some, the world.
Women hold back
Most men understand that a visible presence in mainstream media is a business benefit, as well as a personal one. They know it is an essential leadership skill. And it is.
Think of the influence that Professor Allan Fels AO, the former chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), wielded with the skilful use of his public profile (whether you agree with him or not).
As a business journalist, however, I have often found it very difficult to get women to speak to me. My fellow journalists all say the same thing. Women often see mainstream media visibility as optional at best; undesirable at worst. And they have lumped social media in the same basket.
They have a million excuses for their choice to stay behind the scenes. Women are worried about being stereotyped and limited to talking about work/life balance or to comments on childcare, rather than leadership or their area of expertise.
I understand that frustration. But in today’s socially connected world, social media visibility is no longer optional – not if women want to join the conversations that are influencing the future of business and of our world. Women today have an unprecedented ability to build their own visibility as leaders, to redefine their public profiles and to build their influence in the business world.
Women of influence
Today, women can simply take control of their portrayal in both social media and mainstream media. There are no barriers to creating social media profiles – once they understand the rules and etiquette – and it has never been easier to reach out to journalists and build credibility as an expert in your industry.
Women who are already active on social media have found that they can define their areas of expertise, debunk stereotypes and redefine how they are portrayed.
As they become more visible, they are asked to speak at events – where they can spread their ideas and influence.They are sought for comment by the best journalists benefiting their employers as well as themselves.They are more likely to be headhunted, promoted, and invited onto boards. They also deliver more value to their clients and their teams and build a community around the value they have to offer.
These are the kinds of results that have been achieved by the women who have participated in the ANZ Bank’s program, Notable Women, developed by the ANZ’s head of social and digital media, Amanda Gome, which started last year.
Supported by the bank’s chief executive officer (CEO), Mike Smith, the ANZ’s Notable Women have found their influence rise with their visibility. It’s partly a numbers game: as they connect 30,000 people via LinkedIn their influence rises, their message spreads and their value as leaders increases.
Other CEOs who are truly committed to gender equity could follow Smith’s lead.
Advantage to women?
Today, directors and executives of both genders are behind the eight ball regarding social media and digital literacy. Many just don’t know where to start. For the next short while, women could take the lead in mastering the art of social media and visibility. Women are adept at building communities – the whole purpose of social media – and at home with making connections, and sharing knowledge.
In fact, when women reframe the idea of building visibility to building community, they feel more comfortable with the idea. Men will not be left behind for long. Those who begin to see the opportunity for influence that social media affords will want to master the risks and learn the rules.
Women have the opportunity to inspire all our leaders to build their social media literacy and to influence the future of business along the way.
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