The Australian release of MissRepresentation, an American documentary looking at the portrayal of women in the media, has set tongues wagging and reignited the debate about women in leadership roles.
The film challenges the media's limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, and Australian business heavyweights have noted that these representations continue to make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions.
Dr Karen Morley, co-founder of specialist gender diversity practice, Gender Worx, said the film highlights how negative depictions of women in the media has contributed to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence.
"In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman's value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader," Dr Morley said.
Dr Morley added that while she hopes the younger generations of women move more swiftly and easily into leadership roles, "the power of the media's portrayal continues to hold back young women's aspirations to lead".
A panel of Australian business identities including Michael Ullmer, former deputy CEO of NAB, Professor Amanda Sinclair, Melbourne Business School, and Janet Matton, vice president - operations, IBM Australia and New Zealand, attended the Australian premiere of MissRepresentation in Melbourne last week, hosted by InSync Surveys.
Nicholas Barnett, executive chair of Insync Surveys and co-founder of Gender Worx, said the expert panellists noted that the leadership playing field in most organisations has been tilted in favour of men for decades and they called for personal and organisational leadership to tilt the playing field in favour of women.
Speaking on a recent HCTV Big Story, Abby O'Neal from the Melbourne Business School said that even when women excel at work, studies consistently show they do not get the recognition or opportunities afforded to similarly performing male colleagues.
O'Neil said it's not just a discriminatory issue, but also a confidence one, and noted that men are often more vocal about their career aspirations, and women need to speak up.
"They don't have the confidence, they don't feel that they're good enough- they often have to prove themselves more than men do to get the same opportunities," O'Neil said.
Ullmer added that it is incumbent on every leader to draw attention to unacceptable portrayals of women, and said it is up to organisations to stand by their values and call attention to organisational practices that trivialise or sexualise women.
Barnett added that it is important for employers to be challenged about how the disparaging portrayal and regular trivialisation of women impacts, often unconsciously, society's acceptance of women as leaders and the unconscious bias that continues to exist.