Rising stars and female CEOs
Unconscious bias in interviews with female executives
BY:Brigitte von Haacke, Managing Partner; Susanne Arnold, Director; Anna-Lena Lämmle, Senior Associate; Maximilian Hofmann, Senior Associate; Fiona Erbacher, Associate
The debate on equal rights and equal treatment of men and women is too vast for any of us to be able to completely cover it. And it is far from settled. That is why in our publication, we analyze what questions female executives and founders are asked in interviews. We also wanted to find out how the experiences of female founders in dealing with the media compared to those of female executives from established companies. Our research is based on data and interviews conducted in Germany and gives a perspective of this market - for this reason the study is only available in German. If you need more information or insights, please do not hesitate to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.
Our results illustrate that unconscious preconceptions – or biases – often shape the media portrayal of both genders. Women and men in leadership positions are systematically asked different questions in interview situations.
Differences in the portrayal of female and male top executives are not problematic per se, it all depends on the tone and the judgment that journalists use. Our main objective is to highlight differences and raise awareness for unconscious bias in the media.
Unconscious bias—or (gender) stereotypes that shape expectations of another social group—is evident in the media coverage and particularly in interview questions.
Depending on the gender of the person being interviewed, the focus of the questions that journalists ask differs greatly. While interviews with men focus on professional aspects, those with women tend to be more concerned with private matters.
In interviews, female journalists address private topics such as a manager's family or childhood more often than male journalists.
Our conversations with female founders revealed that, in terms of public appearance, they are judged less harshly and less critically by the media than female executives in established companies.
The unconscious bias in the media portrayal of female managers is increasingly being called out and discussed as a problem. Women often share their experiences on social media, creating awareness for the issue.
Women in leadership positions should turn the attention into an opportunity and take advantage of it. This great interest can be used to increase the visibility of your own topics.
As far as content is concerned, anything is allowed—as long as it’s about the topics on your own agenda. The only rule is that the content you wish to communicate should promote the (business) goals you have set for yourself.
Apart from the content, it’s also important to note that the choice of format or channel sends a message of its own: women’s or business magazine, Instagram or LinkedIn—the channel is the message!
Details about personal life can generate sympathy—for you as well as for the company. But you should consider this carefully: once the information is out there, it can never be taken back.
Dealing with the media has to be learned. The basic principle is similar to all other relationships: what matters is long-term relationships and mutual respect while maintaining a professional distance.
Many thanks to Julia Bösch, Lea-Sophie Cramer, Katharina Jünger, Verena Pausder and Miriam Wohlfarth for their personal views and experiences.
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