Why female leaders need to be seen and heard


With #BalanceforBetter leading the International Women’s Day campaign in 2019, Helen Sharpe remains struck by the imbalance in narratives when it comes to business.

Business publications and business sections of newspapers appear to remain heavily dominated by male stories, from profile pieces to opinion pieces and news stories, male business narratives are alive and well. Whilst flicking through a few business publications the other day, I grew concerned that whilst publications might be trying to ensure diversity, the presentation of female narratives felt comparatively weak.

Studies have shown that men will apply for a job if they consider they meet 60% of the role criteria, whereas women often only apply if they consider they can fulfil 100% of the role criteria.  I think that a similar state is at play in the world of the business profile.

Women appear to believe that they must do more and have achieved more (than men) to be worthy of profile, recognition and voice, whereas men appear to be more inclined to seek profile and assert their voice much more readily.

It’s arguable that these behaviours are rooted in our institutionalised understandings of worth (and thus confidence) as well as being related to risk taking. In the example of applying for a job, perhaps it is more that the women stick by the ‘rules’ of the application process, whereas most male applicants take the risk as they see they have gains to make.

In the context of PR and public profile for female leaders, whatever the sector, if you put yourself out there you can risk rejection, judgement and even perhaps criticism.

Since I founded herStory PR (an PR agency established to champion female entrepreneurs and initiatives for social good) I have met and worked with a number of women doing important, exciting and incredible things with stories to inspire and motivate and with opinions to challenge and create change but who are still reticent to be seen and heard in a way that might benefit their business and promote their mission and cause as well benefit society.

In the UK women make up only a third of all entrepreneurs, so perhaps this has something to do with why there are fewer narratives around female entrepreneurship in mainstream business publications or indeed in mainstream media. A report published by the Unilever Foundary in 2018 found that many women had to overcome unhelpful stereotypes in order to (succeed) as entrepreneurs, and lack of role models was also cited as a cultural barrier.

The slightly sad truth is, as women we have to shout louder. This is for two reasons. The first is that there are fewer of us and two because sometimes what we’re saying or doing doesn’t fit the status quo.

My business is founded on the belief that a strong female workforce is good for the economy but primarily that it is good for society. Increasing narratives about female entrepreneurs, their achievements, motivations and real life experience in the public domain will breakdown outdated stereotypes and provide future generations (of girls and young women) with role models.

Female role models who take risks, who back themselves, their experience and their beliefs and who see that to get better balance we must show better balance.