Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Is thought leadership only suitable for men?

If you’ve got an opinion to share about our industry, it’s best if you’re a man.

Male voices are just a bit more authoritative, they hold a bit more weight. 

Especially when it comes to representing your company. Thought leadership just sounds better coming from a man.

Of course this isn’t my real point of view. But it does sadly seem to be the view of the industry NDA covers. 

Like any editor, I receive a vast number of submitted opinion articles from an equally wide variety of companies. 

And something around 80% of these submissions are bylined to men. And we’re not alone, a quick check with other titles paints a similar picture.

Now, I know full well that the companies represented are, in the main, fully signed up to diversity agendas. That the PRs sending in the articles, the person that article is bylined to, all deeply understand the issues around a lack of diversity in our industry and the negative impact it has.

And yet. 80%?

There’s no starker illustration of how deeply ingrained the problem is. 

Of course, there are both societal and structural issues in our industry that are deeper than a few opinion articles on NDA. 

As the brilliant Harriet Kingaby, Co-chair of The Conscious Advertising Network, points out, the problem is multilayered, from imposter syndrome to vicious online criticism, and unbalanced dometic workload.

”Women are made to feel excluded and uncomfortable often in the workplace, to the point where it impacts our self belief. It takes confidence to back your ideas and put them out there,” she says. “Many women also do more housework than their male partners, and have shouldered the burden of childcare. If those 30 mins where you could be thinking of what to pitch are spent washing up, then you cut away at the time that person has in the day to think about this.”

As well, NDA may be an industry publication for an aware and informed audience but the internet can be a threatening place for anyone with an opinion, as Amelia Torode, Co-Founder, The Fawnbrake Collective, highlights:

“It takes enormous bravery to stand up and stand out these days. You need to have a sense of fearlessness as fear of the Twitter mob can be paralysing. The issue is that when it comes to women online these attacks can turn personal very quickly in a way that it does not seem that it does for men.”

So it’s not easy. And we’re all part of the problem.

I know from talking to PR colleagues in the industry that many strive to offer a diverse range of voices to the media but more often than not clients prefer male spokespeople to be quoted. So we all need to try harder.  

As for us, on any one day NDA will endeavour to never publish more than 50% of its articles by men. It’s not easy. Just before writing this, I tried and failed to find any of the multiple edited opinion articles ready to go that hadn’t been authored by a man. But we too will try harder.

One of the things I have loved most about interviewing participants of our Pratice Makes Unperfect course for their podcast is the chance to hear the thoughts of such an incredibly wide range of brilliant people. Not solely the normally male and heavily media trained MD or CEO that is normally ‘allowed’ to take part in media interviews. And the results have been forthright, truly authentic and fascinating viewpoints.

I’ve been talking to people across the industry about this particular issue of a lack of female voices in thought leadership and we’ll be running a series of their thoughts in the coming weeks. 

At NDA we do our utmost to ensure the variety of voices on our platform is diverse and we’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can all fix the problem of thought leadership being reserved for male voices.

And get that crazy 80% down to a more appropriate level.