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Women Visible

Maya Brahmam's picture

As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8th, I was moved to write about the visibility of women. Women visible – or not – conjure up many images. Think about it.

Women in business.

We’ve heard about women not being sufficiently represented on the boards of major corporations. According to new polls of Fortune 500 companies reported by Anne Fisher on CNN, the numbers of women in leadership haven’t shifted much: “Women's share of corporate board seats, at 16.6%, hasn't grown at all since 2004. The percentage of female executive officers at Fortune 500 companies is even smaller -- 14.3% -- and has remained flat for three straight years…” Why’s that? It’s linked to women’s visibility: "Being visible and making your accomplishments known is essential to getting the kinds of experience that can move you up into senior management, but some corporate cultures penalize women for that.”

Women in the media

The issue of visibility also exists in the media. In her thought-provoking TEDx talk, Megan Kamerick explains how the news media underrepresents women as reporters and news sources, and because of that tells an incomplete story. Women’s lack of visibility is also prevalent in opinion pages. In the Guardian’s datablog on the presence of women online and in the news, J. Nathan Mathias of the MIT Media Lab reports that “We have found women are more prominent in UK opinion pages than they are in American newspapers….” And although the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) has charted significant gains since its first study in 1995, their 2010 survey of women in the media in 108 countries notes that women’s visibility in the news was extremely and uniformly low.

Women in economics

The Oped Project conducts a Byline Survey every year to get a sense of who is being heard in public discourse online (new media) and in print (legacy media) and they had this to say about women in economics in their Byline Survey Report 2012: “Just 11% of economics articles in legacy media were written, or co-written, by a woman. In new media, that number was a less grim, but still sad, 19%. It’s true that this number is, at least in part, a result of a higher number of men in economics. In fact, only 9% of economics doctorates were awarded to women in 1974, but the number has been steadily on the rise, reaching 32% in 2003. Not only is this 11% figure not representative of women in general, but it is not representative of women in the field of economics.”  

Becoming visible

Here are some projects that attempt to encourage women to become more visible. One example is The Story Exchange, a nonprofit media organization designed to share the personal and professional stories of women business owners around the world who are contributing to their communities and collectively making an impact on the global economy. Another example is the Nobel Women’s Initiative, which uses the prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize and courageous women Peace Laureates to increase the power and visibility of women's groups working globally for peace, justice and equality. Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate, gives a simple piece of advice: Speak up! She says, “If you don’t speak up and fight for your point of view, the other guy’s going to walk away with the power.”

Photograph courtesy of the World Bank's Flickr Collection, available here.
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