This is What Leadership Looks Like

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Rebecca Swift
Mar 1, 2021
Normally, a quick internet search of ‘women in leadership’ produces standard images that fail to reflect the diversity and variety of both women and how they lead. Much of this type of imagery portrays a familiar trope: women emulating masculine leadership style as the cliched business executive, in a power suit or stiletto heels.

People have these stereotypes in their head about what a leader looks like. When we see an individual, we ask, ‘Do they fit that?’. Unconscious assumptions about gender affect people’s abilities to recognize emerging leadership with studies[1] confirming what many women have long suspected: getting noticed as a leader in the workplace is more difficult for women than for men. This has impact. When women see images of female scientists or women in government, they are much more likely to believe that it’s a possibility for them.
And it isn’t just about visibility of women in leadership positions, but equally important is the portrayal of the diversity of women in leadership positions – across age ranges, backgrounds and business sectors. Our most recent Visual GPS data found that 77% of women say that it is important to them that the companies they buy from celebrate diversity of all kinds. And there is therefore an expectation that businesses and organizations visualize women across identities as well as through intersectional identities.

What is refreshing is that we are seeing our customers starting to search for leadership in this way. In 2020 “inclusive leader” was a new significant term searched for on our website. Throughout the pandemic we also saw a rise in interest in content that showed female small business owners, Black business owners and female entrepreneurs.

With Covid‑19 heavily impacting the progress made on closing the gender gap[2], the need to promote and celebrate women in leadership positions through visible role models is imperative. In the lead up to International Women’s Day we have partnered with the Unstereotype Alliance to offer up an alternative ‑ imagery that celebrates the diversity of women in leadership positions. Together we co‑curated a gallery of diverse, inclusive and unstereotyped photos and videos that celebrate this years’ official International Women’s Day theme, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID‑19 world.” The gallery takes an intersectional approach to explore the multiple ways women exhibit leadership qualities, encouraging all to challenge stereotypical ideas and choose progressive portrayals of what leadership looks like in their communications for International Women’s Day 2021.  
Join us to help celebrate the diversity of women in leadership, this International Women’s Day. Instead of choosing imagery of lipsticked “businesswomen”, choose a woman who is a surgeon, a frontline worker, a team leader, a volunteer, or an academic ‑ the list goes on and on.
 The Unstereotype Alliance seeks to eradicate harmful stereotypes from advertising and media to help create a more equal world. Convened by UN Women, the United Nations entity for Gender Equality, the Alliance collectively acts to empower people in all their diversity (gender, race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, language, education, etc.) by using advertising as a force for good to drive positive change all over the world. Getty Images is a global member of the Unstereotype Alliance.
[1] Academy of Management Journal Vol. 61, No. 5 ‑ The Social Consequences of Voice: An Examination of Voice Type and Gender on Status and Subsequent Leader Emergence
  [2] According to the IMF:‑covid‑19‑gender‑gap/
Female Entrepreneurs: Empowering Better Representation