By Davia B. Temin, President and CEO, Temin and Company
As we all honor International Women’s Day in our own way, I’d like to turn for a moment to the topic of the growing power of women around the world, especially as communications becomes a core component of leadership, not just an add-on.
For so long, women both in the US and globally, if they chose to or had to work, only found jobs in “women-acceptable” professions, such as teaching, nursing, assisting, events, HR, PR, and communications. Far from being at the nexus of power, acclaim and remuneration, women were related to supporting, or decorative, roles.
Women have always been seen as strong — and academic research bears this out — in communications skills. Thus women have entered the field in large numbers. But unfortunately communications historically has been seen as one of those ancillary professions that supported power, but did not exert it. And even within the field, the heads of large communications firms were almost always men; it was just the lower-paid professionals who were women. And this has been true worldwide.
Women may have run “publicity” firms, hired by product managers to drive product placement, but they rarely ran the strategy firms that were hired by CEOs or boards to advise on crisis, reputation, or future direction of organizations. Certainly that was true 20 years ago when, as head of corporate marketing, I was looking for strategic advice worldwide for GE Capital. As I searched each continent for top strategic crisis and reputation advisors, I could find far less than a handful of powerful strategy firms run by a woman. And that was equally true 19 years ago, when I therefore decided to start my own. We were almost a category of one.
But since then, a strange joint ascendency has occurred: just as women have been pushing themselves into positions of power and leadership — onto governing boards, and into corporate CEO and university President roles, etc. — the field of communications has moved from being only the means of displaying leadership, to the best way of exerting it.
As the Internet has democratized access to information and opinion, thought leadership has become a distinguishing attribute of leadership. And social media has become a driver of influence, wealth, and value. Today the medium is not only the message, it’s the power.
Being a master communicator is no longer “good to have” in a leader, it is a critical leadership component. And this fact is helping women accede to leadership roles around the world.
So, today, as we celebrate International Woman’s Day, both women and communications are emerging from the background to the forefront. We may even be on the cusp of electing the first woman President of the United States. What an exciting time to be in the game.
And women communicators — the path is so much clearer to rise to leadership positions, not only in communications organizations, but as line leaders in other organizations. We no longer are forced to be the sizzle to someone else’s steak. We can be the steak, as well. Or perhaps we could call it the sizzling steak — powerful, highly remunerated, profoundly communicative leaders at the forefront of our own profession and global leadership.