February 1, 2010 by Ilene H. Lang
Clicking through the news last night on my laptop I was struck again by the obvious. Despite the gains women have made over the past 50 years, I realized it still looks very much like a man’s world.
One need look no further than images of captains of finance testifying on Capitol Hill, senators sparring over the health care bill, world leaders at G20, front page photos from our nation’s (remaining) daily papers and the many company spokespeople and “talking heads” that fill our airwaves.
What’s wrong with these pictures? They’re mostly guys!
These powerful images reinforce the perception that men rule the world— that it’s the natural state of things. Here’s a quick test: close your eyes and picture the image of a leader? Who do you see: a male or female? For Alan Murray of The Wall Street Journal, only men come to mind. Have countless images of men in power created a self-fulfilling prophecy by making it seem normal— to both women and men— that only men should lead?
In 2010, of course, that’s no longer true. Today, women comprise close to 50% of the US labor force and control or influence over 70% of the consumer purchasing decisions in America. That includes choices about spending on cars, financial services, health care and so on. Clearly, women rule in the marketplace. So why shouldn’t they rule in companies that produce the goods and services they buy?
Frankly, pictures with no (or very few) women should strike us as just as out of step with the times as the linebacker shoulder pads worn by Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver in the 80's classic, Working Girl. Or floppy bow ties. Or floppy disks.
One time I spoke at a technology conference in Beijing where I was the only woman of 13 speakers. The majority of the audience—several hundred—were male. I opened my speech with a famous quote from Mao’s Little Red Book, “Women hold up half the sky!” Then I asked, “What’s wrong with this picture?”
The audience laughed. But they got it. And I guess that’s the point. There are men who get it— in part, because we show them— but real progress is when they see it unprompted.
Only 15% of board seats and 3% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are women. And women make up only 17% of the House and Senate. Perhaps more diverse imagery online, on TV and in our nation’s newspapers could lead to more diverse workplaces, boardrooms, and even governments. After all, if you don’t see diversity— if you don’t see women included and leading, too— what do you really see?