Own Your Thought Leadership to Advance Your Career

Businesswoman Giving a PresentationBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Recently the Women’s Media Center released its latest report, and whether or not you work in the media, the report’s data is alarming.

The study, “The Status of Women in the US Media 2012,” refers to a number of studies, revealing how few stories are being told about women in the news, and how few women are being positioned as experts.

For example, it mention’s last year’s Media and Gender Monitor study, which says only 24% of news stories are about women. And it discusses American University School of Public Affairs Women and Politics Institute statistics that say women were only one-fifth (21.7%) of guests on Sunday morning talk shows. Women were only 26% of sources at National Public Radio, which is considered an “industry leader in engaging female correspondents and hosts.”

Who we see and hear from in the news goes a long way in shaping our view, as a society, of whose voice matters. As the report says, “By deciding who gets to talk, what shapes the debate, who writes, and what is important enough to report, media shape our understanding of who we are and what we can be.”

The dearth of women in the news can influence opinions about what an expert or leader looks like – which can impact women’s career advancement and opportunities as well. Fortunately, this situation can be changed.

Jamia Wilson, Vice President of Programs at the Women’s Media Center, leads training programs for women and girls, so they can be prepared to speak publicly to the media. She said, “It’s very important for women to amplify their voices to change the volume in the media. Right now our voices are underrepresented.”

And she says, preparing to speak out as a thought leader can change the conversation on the air and at the table of power in your own organization.

Developing Your Thought Leadership Skills

“Today especially, it’s really important for an executive to offer thought leadership,” Wilson explained.

Media training can help women portray themselves as thought leaders in a room that is often crowded with male voices. “And it can make you more confident and prepared to own your expertise,” she added.

She was quick to point out that women already have the technical skills and capability for leadership – but preparing to speak up can make a big difference in your confidence and ability to influence others. Wilson explained, “Truthfully, women already have what it takes – we have the qualifications. It’s more about honing the skills you already have and building on that expertise.”

She also pointed out that speaking as a thought leader in public can inspire colleagues as well as the next generation of leaders. “It moves others to take action and it moves others to expand their own ambitions.”

In fact, the WMC has also partnered with the Girl Scouts to provide media classes to girls. “We encourage women to get involved – it keeps the pipeline moving, and in terms of mentoring the next generation.”

Changing the Conversation

More broadly, Wilson said, the WMC’s new research on women’s presence in the media is concerning. “I think the research implies that we have a long way to go,” she said.

“We want to see equal representation of the genders and we are actively working to change the face of media. We want to see women pundits talking on the news – and not just during Women’s History Month.”

“When only half of the story is told, then all of us lose – we lose the richness of that discourse. All of us – not just women and our male allies – should be worried about this. We’re working to change this and provide a greater perspective on issues where we’ve been left out of the conversation.”

The WMC provides media training for women in corporate and financial space as well as in communities by partnering with non-profit organizations.

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    Two excellent examples of non-dearth of women in media are BlogHer and If women want better coverage of women in the news and journals, they have to recognize that the days of waiting to be invited onto the team are long gone. It’s time women took matters into their own hands and start media enterprises themselves to present women and their accomplishments as the primary feature, rather than simply objectify women as cheesecake. Don’t wait for “culture or society” to change. You are the change you seek.