Visibility, vulnerability & vitriol - when visibility makes you vulnerable

The flipside of lack of visibility is too much scrutiny. There is definitely a downside for those who do become more visible, in that it makes you vulnerable. The higher up the food chain you go, the more visible you become, in particular if you are unique or can identify as a minority in some way. In an ideal world that truly valued diversity, that difference would be seen as a unique value proposition. Obviously we're not quite there yet.
 
The more visible you are, the more vulnerable you become. And because we still have so few women in leadership, it is seen as unfeminine in some way at best and as taking jobs away from the blokes at worse, which opens us up to criticism. Unfortunately these criticisms are rarely about our leadership, what we say or even our results, but frequently about:        

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  • Our appearance, hair and wardrobe choices
  • Our speech mannerisms
  • Whether or not we are nice enough
  • The way we manage our family obligations
  • How we articulate ambition
  • How we express our femininity  

And because female leaders are so few and far between, if a woman leader makes a mistake it’s as though she makes it on behalf of all women every where – which I'm sure is a deterrent for many and would definitely increase the sense of vulnerability.
 
In Australia we have a long history of personal attacks against senior female political figures. In recent years we saw the extremely personal nature of the attacks against former Prime Minister Julia Gillard by men and women alike – which prompted her world famous misogyny speech as a response.
 
Currently we are witnessing the on-going attacks of a personal nature against Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs. Despite your political view point, the extremely personal nature and the vitriol directed at her is enough to put to put anyone off becoming more visible including younger ambitious women who may have been considering a life in public office.  

Additionally, unless you've been off the grid or hiding under a rock, it's been very difficult to ignore the overtly personal criticisms and attacks of Hilary Clinton during the USA presidential campaign. In fact, I'm still feeling somewhat traumatised by the seemingly sanctioned overt acts of aggression.
 
This is not limited to female politicians or office bearers, but anyone in the public eye. You may remember the producers of Q&A on ABC in February 2016 discussing some of the challenges they experienced in getting women to appear on the show which included the adversarial nature of the show, plus the social media bullying and trolling that was highly likely to eventuate as a result of being visible on the show.
 
While most of my clients don’t work in public office, several do work in the rarefied air of C-suite executive offices or in masculine working environments where women are still few and far between. They are extremely visible and therefore somewhat vulnerable, unless adequately prepared.

And there in lies the rub.  How do you adequately prepare?

My clients tell stories of being accused, by men and women, of being aggressive, unfeminine and worse, when they are trying to impose tighter safety measures, transformational change programs or tighten risk management frameworks. I hear stories of Boardroom bullying behaviours that make me cringe where once again, the person, not the policy is under attack.

However, I also hear stories of both men and women calling out these tactics for what they are.  These issues shouldn't be swept under the table and ignored. Bullying tactics and personal verbal attacks need to be identified, called out and stopped. Easier said than done, but perhaps right now is the time to do something about it.

Remember the rule of thumb - critique the plan, the play or the policy, not the person, and certainly not for anything unrelated to the issue at hand.


There is an upside to recent political events - and that's the increase in awareness by men and women everywhere who have been horrified to see female leaders bullied so intensely and very differently from male leaders. Men have been equally as horrified as women.

My hope is that there is a newer understanding of some of the challenges that women experience in their quest to lead.  I am also inspired to think that a newer breed of courageous female leaders, and male champions of change will endorse and champion leadership talent, no matter how it expresses itself.

Gender equality will be achieved when we have as many incompetent women in senior leadership roles as we do incompetent men.
— Jane Caro


Vive la révolution!
#ambitionrevolution #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes #feminineambition #careerfutureproofing #visibility

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PS: I help women future proof their future leadership goals and ambitions! Call or email if you want to get started on yours.

 

 

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