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Why are women underrepresented within the media and leadership roles?

As more women become high profile leaders throughout the world, this research looks at just how underrepresented women are within leadership roles and the media

Bingley, United Kingdom, 19 July 2016 –The United Kingdom has a new female Prime Minister and the United States may have a female president by the end of 2016. So why, when equality is at the forefront of our minds, are women underrepresented within the media and leadership roles? 

In the newly published research article ‘Representing Women? Leadership roles and women in Canadian broadcast news’ from Gender in Management: An International Journal published by Emerald Group Publishing, the authors look at how women who are underrepresented within the media; are: less likely to be framed as leaders or experts; less likely to hold a news anchor position; rarely portrayed positively within leadership or expert positions; often represented as victims; and less likely to appear on screen and more likely to be referred to off screen, paraphrased and cited rather than being able to speak for themselves.  

As is suggested within the research, the media is one of the most influential causes of the underrepresentation of women, as it has the ability to reflect and shape social opinion.  The study explains how the media reproduces stereotypes of what a leader looks like and encourages the appraisal of women leaders based on their appearance.  It is well known that women leaders often run the risk of being portrayed as too feminine, too masculine or too assertive – stereotypes the business sector is also guilty of creating.  

As Cukier et al explain within the article: “The representations of women in both news and entertainment media reinforce the popular stereotypes about what constitutes a ‘leader’ and women’s suitability for positions of power.

“Critically, in the United Kingdom, women from racialized communities are depicted as ‘leaders’ even less often than non-racialized women in both English and French programming. 

“Women politicians are often infantilized by repeated reference to their first names (e.g. Hillary [Clinton], Olivia [Chow]) and by having their contributions trivialized by news media or by focusing on their appearance and dress.”

The study concludes that women are less likely to be portrayed positively and to be quoted directly and on-screen - and that more research is needed to examine the issues related to substantive representation and intersectionality and how society/audiences react to these.

The full research article ‘Representing Women? Leadership roles and women in Canadian broadcast news’ is free to access until 26 July and can be accessed here: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1108/GM-04-2015-0035 

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