When The Bodyguard first hit our TV screens I was interested to watch, not just another great drama, but how the dynamics played out. At last! A TV programme depicting a cast of strong female leads in high-powered positions. And they’re in Westminster! Fabulous. Feminism seems to be working after all.
Does it though? The Bodyguard was a lot of fun but do we really need another ball-breaking female who uses her undeniable sexual wiles to wield power? Should we also be celebrating a supporting cast of females who do everything possible to undermine her position and discredit her?
Give me a break.
Is there a need for more screen time for senior female leaders? Absolutely. But can we break some of the outdated stereotypes please? Isn’t it about time we moved on? Can we have more nuanced portrayals of different personality types at a senior level?
In the PR industry we see this reliance on outdated personality types a little too frequently.
Certain expectations still exist. If you are in brand / consumer then naturally you are female, bubbly, creative, and energetic. If you are in corporate then you should be serious, ‘suited and booted’, smart, and ideally male with grey hair.
I am Managing Director of a Corporate Practice. Well done me. I don’t have ‘grey hair’ (it’s dyed an aggressive blonde). I am definitely not male. And yet despite all these ‘failings’ my practice is successful. On my way up to my current position I have fought against certain outdated expectations. I have been told I need to tone down my enthusiasm, demonstrate greater gravitas, smarten up.
None of these remarks are connected to my work. Rather it is personality and long-held perceptions that impact the opinion we form when we first meet someone. Flicking through the latest edition of our trade publication you can see how this perception of corporate is reinforced by those we choose to give their opinion. The ones also at the speaker platforms are predominantly the Alpha male personality types. This needs to change.
I have personally made an effort to not hire people like me. Every single one of my team brings something different. Personality differences are just as important as background differences and often undervalued in a company. We need different personalities around the Board. We need to recognise the introverts, the considered thinkers, and those that are slightly different because our society is not one homogenous mass. Our clients and their audiences are excitingly different and we need teams that reflect this.
To change our industry, we have to remove unconscious bias within our sector. This is not simply about men against women but much wider than that. We have to stop thinking that certain personality types are necessarily better at their jobs than others and it is those people that should be leading our accounts and our businesses. As we potentially head into another financial crisis, surely it is time to reflect on what leadership should look like in the future and whether our outdated perceptions are stopping us having the right people at the top.
Perhaps then we could stop repeating the same old mistakes.
Stephanie Bailey is MD of Corporate Communications at FleishmanHillard Fishburn. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.