Five ways social media is shattering the glass ceiling

High-profile recruiter Heidi Mason knows who's who at the top end of business. As managing director of Russell Reynolds Associates she often meets with major companies to discuss candidates for executive and non-executive roles in the financial services industry. One of the key attributes she looks for these days is digital experience and capability. Social media is a key part of that.

"No matter how much you try and say you get digital a giveaway is not having a strong social presence."
Heidi Mason, High-profile recruiter

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“The world is now social so leaders must have social skills,” she says. “No matter how much you try and say you get digital a giveaway is not having a strong social presence. And this means things like a comprehensive LinkedIn profile, not a token effort.”

Mason has a lot to say about how female leaders can improve their interview techniques and she didn't hold back recently at a lunch with ANZ's Notable Women.

A growing concern is female leaders are taking their reluctance to be visible in traditional media into the new online world. Research of LinkedIn participants show it has a skew to male users. Many of its influencers are men, suggesting they have been faster to understand its professional advantages.

Social media can be a game changer for women, especially female leaders. Here are five ways social media is shattering the glass ceiling for female leaders.

It puts you in control of your profile

Well-known businesswoman and company director Carol Schwartz has used social media for five years to champion women in business and to advocate for more female leaders in boardrooms.

She runs the successful Women's Leadership institute Australia. She says she feels safer on Twitter than she does fronting up to an interview with a traditional media outlet.

“On Twitter they are my words and in the context I create,” Schwartz says. “I think very carefully about what I am saying and I know I am fully in control of how it will appear.”

She also notes sometimes what she writes can be seen as controversial.

“Yet in five years I have never had a problem,” Schwartz says.

You can be known for your expertise, not your gender

Female business leaders are often reluctant to comment on so-called gender issues such as the lack of women in boardrooms because they fear being typecast as spokespeople on women's issues instead of experienced directors.

Helen Morrissey, founder of the 30% Club, pointed out recently at its Sydney launch one reason targets work better than quotas was men were happy to publicly support targets which made female leaders comfortable joining the conversation on female diversity.

“It becomes a business issue not a woman's issue,” she says. “Many women don't like being singled out to talk on so called women's issues.”

Some female business leaders have had the experience of being rung up by a journalist expecting to talk on their area of expertise only to find the conversation veers to their thinking on childcare policy and quotas.

Yet engaging with influencers on Twitter on areas of expertise often brings the leaders to the attention of journalists who specialise in those areas and are looking for experts to quote or speak at events.

Now on LinkedIn, female leaders can publish their own stories on their areas of expertise and engage with global influencers on Twitter.

The more social capital they build the more likely the social media profile will be referenced by journalists, recruiters and others who use it as a powerful starting point to inform their own research.

It builds new networks

Informal networks are a necessary resource for business leaders. Yet a Harvard Business Review story called Women Rising looks at the differences in women's and men's organisational roles and career prospects along with their proclivity to interact with others of the same gender concluding this leads to women having weaker networks.

Social media? Its algorithms serve up follower suggestions and links to content based on women's interests and profile.

Social media helps women connect with senior leaders and pursue opportunities they wouldn't obtain directly from their networks.

Algorithms are gender neutral and make no assumptions about the likelihood of a woman of child bearing age relocating for a promotion.

Internal social media, driven by the adoption of enterprise collaboration tools, is also helping women build their visibility internally.

The use of social in the workplace has become increasingly important for building internal networks and communities, improving knowledge sharing and driving greater collaboration, says Rita Zonius who is leading the adoption of ANZ’s internal collaboration tool.

“It’s an ideal environment for our people, including high potential women, to build their influencer base and share their expertise across the organisation in real time,” she says.

You are more likely to be at ease describing achievement

Men are sometimes known to bullshit, says ANZ's CEO Mike Smith. He is referring to men's well-documented habit of talking themselves up in interviews in contrast to a women's more realistic approach.

Heidi Mason puts it another way. When you ask women about strengths and weaknesses, they start with their weakness and go on way too long. Conversely sometimes they feel talking about their strengths are boasts.

Men on the other hand start with their strengths.

“I can't tell you how often a man's only weakness is he works too hard,” Mason says.

Yet on social media, things become a little more equal. Men are likely to rein in their enthusiasm. A recent report refuted the assumption internet communications are more deceptive than traditional means.

A study called The Effect of Linked in on Deception in resumes shows people are less likely to lie or exaggerate on social media because Linked In profiles are public and easily checked.

In fact there are a slew of stories reminding people just how easily they will be found out if they lie or exaggerate on Linked in.

On the other hand, because Linked In emphasises strengths and endorsements, a woman is more likely to confidently outline her capabilities, also giving the impression she is a confident leader.

Mason says social media is really levelling the playing field between men and women when interviewing for senior positions. Recruiters will use social media as a base before they then go on to check many sources.

“Social accountability has forced people to be more transparent and this trend is growing,” she says.

You can build a support network

Notable Women is an ANZ initiative which trains women to use social media in order to build visibility and profile. One of the findings from the program is women feel as they build their social profile; they are supported by other female leaders only a handle away.

ANZ General Manager Digital and Notable Woman Pam Rebecca says there is a strong sense of a social network of female leaders growing on Twitter and LinkedIn, sharing each other's content and building engagement.

"Social is the most time efficient way for leaders to build and deepen global networks,” she says. "There is also a sense if something goes wrong, we will be there online for each other. There's safety in social numbers.”

Social media networks have made it easier to take action if there is any trouble such as trolling or account hacking, changing the perception social is a dangerous place and giving female leaders a greater sense of security and control.

As Notable Women research shows, women become more confident in the social arena as they see positive results, helping build resilience and encouraging them to accept opportunities. This leads to increased visibility and engagement with traditional media, ultimately encouraging them to seek higher leadership positions.

Amanda Gome is head of digital and social media at ANZ.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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