Women Leaders in GFC and Media Representation

This paper critically discusses the main arguments presented by Carole Elliot and Valerie Stead’s 2017 article “Constructing Women’s Leadership Representation in the UK Press During a Time of Financial Crisis: Gender capitals and dialectic tensions”.


The aftermath of the global financial crisis (GFC) that occurred in 2008-12 which shook the international capital markets has seen various speculations as to whether it was caused, in some logic, by masculinity’s unbecoming. Some individuals have questioned this phenomenon giving references such as the Lehman Brothers Investment Bank going bankrupt could have had better chances of survival had it been called Lehman Sisters. In the wake of GFC, some countries like Iceland saw women being appointed to senior positions in banks replacing their male counterparts and being seen as able to establish a new culture. Media plays a role in the portrayal of women’s leadership. For example, the Times magazine in May 2010 run a cover that featured regulators whom it reported were given the responsibility to clean the mess of GFC (Nelson, 2012). This paper critically discusses the main arguments presented by Carole Elliot and Valerie Stead’s 2017 article “Constructing Women’s Leadership Representation in the UK Press During a Time of Financial Crisis: Gender capitals and dialectic tensions”.

Although there is evidence of women being considered to make up almost half of the workforce and earning above the average the high-level degrees in countries such as the US, there is a prevailing gender bridge in top leadership positions. The GFC has brought up many issues and questions such as researchers and economists across the population asking themselves whether having a higher number of women in top leadership posts in finance and the regulation of finance can present a kinder, gentler, and tidier economic setting (Nelson, 2012). Such questions have led back to the historical debates of sameness and difference in gender emphasizing now on the differences, as people tend to believe appointing women to leadership positions builds a better economy. Whilst there is a gender angle to the GFC, it should not be about the differences in characteristics that male and female leaders bring with them to their professions. Discourses emphasizing such differences have usually been ascribed to media hype and portrayal. 

Analysis of Elliot and Stead’s article

The article’s main argument hails women leaders as better prepared for the resolution of issues associated with the Global Financial Crisis as compared to their male counterparts. However, stereotyping of women as amplified by the press undermines the women in leadership posts. This article is important since it tackles an ongoing discourse internationally concerning (the lack of) female leaders in top-notch leadership. In spite of many years of discussions on the prospective benefits of gender diversity, there has not been much progress within this field as top managerial and executive positions of power in organizations in contemporary societies have predominantly been a preserve for males (Elliott & Stead, 2017). How women are represented in senior leadership positions affects personal identities, opportunities, potentials, and ambitions.

The authors of the article argue that whereas the media reportage of women’s leadership in the global financial crisis has enhanced an increased acceptance of feminine qualities, it has not been sufficient for challenging the relationship of masculinity with leadership. Elliot claims that womenfolk’s portrayal indicates that women represent a varied form of leadership as they are viewed as overly ethical, cautious, prudent, and easy to collaborate with as compared to men. Therein lies the problems since conventionally, such characteristics are deemed unfit for leaders. The study contends that the media possess a certain contradiction in their approach to female leaders. The advantages that they attribute to females like the affinity of being risk-averse are also labelled as disadvantageous that is, since female leaders are risk-averse, they are unable to accomplish their tasks since the perceived ideal trait of leadership is mostly being a risk-taker. In the same way, whereas women can be viewed to succeed in embracing male leadership traits, the media usually portrays them as incapable of maintaining them (Elliott & Stead, 2017).

The global financial crisis and its effects have been usually ascribed to the hubris traits of men in leadership positions and therefore the profile of female leadership has doubtlessly increased. Yet, when the media is celebrating these females, they are often inclined to focus on the feminine characteristics of these leaders and portray pictures of them in glamorous clothes and highlight their appearances in connection to feministic qualities. Further, the media propagate gender stereotyping by the use of emotive adjectives and descriptors like being “feisty” or “Iron Lady” as the moniker associated with Margaret Thatcher. Elliot and Stead demonstrate that such a focus diminishes the complex relations that leadership entails to binary antagonisms posited as male versus female, masculine versus feminine. The study argues that sometimes women in leadership can become complicit in such a misrepresentation when they exploit their “womanliness” so as to access media coverage (Elliott & Stead, 2017).

According to Elliot and Stead, images usually add a certain aspect of a contradiction since an article which celebrates the leadership qualities that a woman possesses could be undermined by a glamorous image of the same woman who portrays her in the traditional women poses. Further, images can undetectably reduce the power and authority that a woman in a leadership position has in relation to the other people within the same photograph. The study contends that media is a very influential factor in promoting or diminishing gender equality globally and therefore their representations of womenfolk have numerous and great impacts on the way women will be perceived and the way they will perceive themselves (Elliott & Stead, 2017).

Elliot and Stead argue that a continuous media focus on the gender of womenfolk and not their competencies fail to recognize the accomplishments of women in leadership and professions thereby misrepresenting their capability, contribution, as well as their progress. These media distortions are hindrances to gender equality and social justice and propagate the notion that females in leadership and professions are out of place, which will heavily limit their advancement. The study finds that there exists a pattern that is formed from the male leadership model which describes the promise of women’s leadership but then goes ahead to subject women to a procedure of eroticization that will position women as “other” from the perception of men in leadership. This article has put forth pertinent practical implications for organizations which at times depend on women leaders to accomplish short-term projects with a view to “get things done” as opposed to recognizing and rewarding female leaders within the spectrum of long-term like promoting them to top leadership positions (Elliott & Stead, 2017).

Importance of this article

This is a very important discourse warranting attention since there has media is a powerful tool for how we perceive men and women. Media is woven in all instances of our day-to-day lives and therefore the messages they portray to our consciousness hence have an upper hand in forming our perceptions of men and women. With the significant impact that media has, negative stereotyping of women leaders is an aspect which contributes to the large differences existing between men and women at senior leadership levels in organizations. Such negative stereotyping results in the portrayal of women as less competent in comparison to their male counterparts which causes prejudice against females (Wood, n.d.). Elliot and Stead’s article seeks to dispel the existing notion that women should “take care” while men should “take charge” in leadership and uses the vital role that women played in the global financial crisis to underscore their arguments.

Since media stereotyping of women has far-reaching effects on the self-perception, well-being, and behaviour of women in leadership positions, the article aims at addressing the issue so as to create awareness amongst women at any level of leadership. This is because previous studies have shown that females in lower leadership positions due to such negative stereotypes tend to perform poorly and exhibit deflated personal responses. Further, women being stereotyped negatively results in low performance, diminished leadership aspirations, a perception of tasks as difficult, less participation and collaboration, and some may even exhibit inferiority complex as such stereotypes disconfirm their abilities (Simon & Hoyt, 2013). The article has tackled this issue head-on and therefore, exposure to such positivism may help women realize that what the media portrays of them is just a caricature and therefore emancipate those who have been affected by this unbecoming mess.

Some recent accounts have made conclusions that the activism and fight against gender disparity in leadership is a battle long won. Some look back at the history of this fight which has since seen the basic restructuring of civil society which has currently seen a significant entry of women into leadership positions and supposes that what the society aimed at has been achieved. Various legislations seeking to empower and emancipate women have been enacted, including refuting the law that had denied women the right to employment. It is a commonly held belief among many people that gender parity is an already an achieved mission and supported by the media coverage of issues such as suffrage, right to education, financial freedom, and achievements of women who have attained leadership positions like Margaret Thatcher and Chancellor Merkel, their belief may be justified (Baumann, 2017). However, Elliot and Stead’s article seeks to conjure the womenfolk against the truth that the media may be showing them just what they want them to believe, and not the reality.

Gender differences in management skills and economics have always been construed with respect to conceptions of differences amongst male and female leaders in terms of risk-aversion and morality amongst other identities. Many economics articles within the domain of gender and risk aversion have exhibited an emphasis on the differences between women and men, concluding on statistics such as the difference in the number of women and men who would choose to play lottery and pension investment behaviours between men and women (Kaplan & VanderBrug, 2014). Such literature communicates the notion that traits such as risk-aversion are gender-linked and the interpretation is that women might not bring anything different to leadership positions within the finance sector (Nelson, 2012). As such, Elliot and Stead’s article confronts such studies by elucidating the important role that women played in resolving the global financial crisis which then contradicts what those economics articles would want to imply. This is important to finance industries that when making decisions of whether to employ a man or a woman, the greater picture of, in the eventuality of a crisis, would there be a difference if a man or a woman had been appointed?

For a long time, media portrayal of women in newspaper advertisements, magazines, television, and the internet have often portrayed women posing with kitchen cutlery, foods, cleaning products, jewellery, cosmetics, and baby-care tendencies. This points out that the media tends to think that women should be confined to cooking, cleaning, glamour, and baby keeping, among other non-financial roles. This reinforces the gender stereotyping that females are domesticated, materialistic, and superficial (EA, 2017). Elliot and Stead’s article challenge such portrayals as misrepresentations. Within media space and calls for real and actual representations, and calls for the inclusion of women in cover posters of magazines like financial magazines and the likes. Further, the article challenges women who exploit their “womanliness” to gain media coverage to desist from such behaviours as it distorts the fight that women have been fighting for gender parity in leadership.


In the contemporary world of economic and political uncertainty and corporate leaders face tests and confusion. Karen Higginbottom in her Forbes article argues that there exists a phenomenon known as the “glass cliff” which a tendency of females to get appointments in senior leadership roles when such roles are risky and precarious. The article observes the London Securities during the hiring processes and notes that organizations hire women when they are at risky or poor performance levels (Higginbottom, 2016). This is in line with Elliot and Stead’s assertion that the women are deemed only useful when risks are imminent and therefore, Elliot and Stead’s article can be seen as important since it has formed the basis upon which media can now freely talk about women’s leadership in finance and economic situations. This article is important since it does not only confront the issue at hand but also exhorts every individual in leadership to re-access their views on the role of women in leadership. Further, it is a valuable tool for organizations when making decisions on appointments.