Increasing Visibility of Women Leaders
Role models are important to equalize opportunity.
Women leaders should be highlighted and celebrated as much as their male counterparts.
The rates of women occupying leadership roles is increasing, so it’s the perfect time to highlight accomplishments.
Greater visibility of women leaders will reduce unnecessary hurdles for young female leaders and contribute to more diverse study of leadership. In an ideal world, any leader who has positively and markedly influenced society, communities, or individuals is the leader who should be recognized and studied. But if this leader is a woman, historically, she has often gone unnoticed or under-noticed.
According to a research study cited in Leadership Perspectives (pp.208-222) by Ruth H.V. Sealy and Val Singh, “The scarcity of female role models in leadership positions plays a major part in the persistence of the gender stereotypical construction of leadership.” In other words, role models are imperative to the social identity of burgeoning women leaders.
One example of how to expand the cannon of leadership through a more inclusive lens took place in 2016. Rebecca Solnit took on the issue of lack of female representation in a project with Joshua Jelly-Schapiro called “Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas,” in which women leaders’ names were imposed on a New York City subway map in place of the street names, buildings, parks and other landmarks that are named after famous men. This project highlighted the lack of exposure and offered an education at the same time.
Women are leading in transformative ways in 2022, and they always have. At the top of Fortune Magazine’s 2021 list of The World’s Greatest Leaders, is the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. Meanwhile, when we study leadership or think about leadership in general, women’s names are less likely to appear automatically, unless the query is specific to “women leaders.” They are also less likely to appear across search engine queries for examples of great leaders. This is not surprising as there are still marked gaps in representation in politics, technology, and many aspects of business.
Women have always shown the capacity to lead effectively across a variety of industries. Meanwhile, there seem to be fewer women leaders upheld as household names or studied in classrooms. Women leaders are less likely to show up in research studies due to smaller numbers of women in positions of power, especially in previous generations. We can change this.
As Rebecca Solnit so eloquently points out: “A horde of dead men with live identities haunt New York City and almost every city in the Western world. Their names are on the streets, buildings, parks, squares, colleges, businesses, and banks, and their figures are on the monuments.” Perhaps if women were given more visibility, there would be the same level of recall when it comes to great leaders across gender.
Women’s History Month is a perfect time to create a call to action to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments of women leaders. By sharing their stories, we uplift not only the women leaders of tomorrow, but all leaders by showing the range and depth of influence that truly exists.
Solnit, Rebecca, “City of Women.” The New Yorker. 2016.
Sealy, Ruth & Singh, Val. (2008). The Importance of Role Models in the Development of Leaders’ Professional Identities. 10.1057/9780230584068_15.
UN Women. Political Facts and Figures. https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-particip…
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