- BRW Lists
Published 29 October 2013 11:25, Updated 26 November 2013 18:35
Women business leaders are much more wary of any potential fallout from media exposure than their male counterparts. Photo: Rob Homer
In a room full of company directors, the difference between the sole male and the powerful women who came to listen to him could not have been more pronounced.
The man, a partner in a major law firm, was talking about how he manages his relationship with journalists to make sure he and his clients have a voice in coverage that affects them.
He made it clear he enjoys interactions with the media and the ability it gives him to help shape debate.
The talk was under the “Chatham House Rule” (meaning the media can report what’s said but not attribute the remarks to any individual), so that participants could speak freely in front of the journalists present. Some of the female directors let fly.
“There's nothing in it for me, personally,” said one of the most powerful women in Australian business.
Another added: “I don’t like publicity.”
One was still blanching about an awful photograph that drew commiserating phone calls from clients.
There was a murmur of agreement when one said: “Why would I risk trashing my brand?”
I can’t emphasise enough that, while I am obliged not to name them, these are powerful, mature women who run, and own, some of our best-known companies.
Those around the table who were more open to engaging with journalists said it was because they felt a responsibility to be a role model to other women, to help encourage other women to aim high.
That’s lovely, but when did it become a crime for women to “own” their ambition? To admit they want a voice, and they want a say?
The male lawyer had no problem with it. He said media coverage influenced the judiciary and it would be naive not to advocate for clients through the media.
As a journalist, I know the people who most assiduously keep in contact tend to be male, although I have some warm professional relationships with women.
More than 120 senior female business leaders have joined womenformedia.com.au, indicating their willingness to be interviewed.
A study by the Women in the Media group has found that business people quoted in stories are more than 90 per cent male, dominating coverage of politics, business and international news.
It also found female journalists were more likely to use female sources than male journalists.
There are a number of issues that need to be tackled to give women a greater voice in the media. One is for journalists to try harder to find and use great female sources, another is for women in business to get over their reluctance to engage.
The third issue is not going to go away in a hurry and needs to be acknowledged. The women at the lunch all agreed that women pay a far higher penalty for negative coverage in the media. Missteps that men often can shrug off become a permanent disability for women who are expected to be “clean skins”.
It is probably only when we can get a critical mass of enough women at senior levels of business that they will be allowed to make as many mistakes as their male counterparts.