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Women in leadership: navigating social media

OPINION
By Waithera Kabiru | March 8th 2021
EABL head of media Waithera Kabiru.

My 73-year-old mother is on social media. She has been on Facebook for the last 10 years, right before she dived headfirst into politics after retiring from her 30-year career as a lawyer.

She used social media to reach out to her constituents, friends and family and shared her work as a nominated representative of her county.

I followed her Facebook page like a hawk, ready to defend her against any trolls or haters. She was lucky, she did not have to experience that then. Fast forward to 2021 and things are very different - I doubt she would have received the same support online as she did 10 years ago. I also wonder what that would have done for her mental health or her determination be a public leader. It is amazing how much the social media environment has changed, particularly for women in leadership.

#ChooseToChallenge is this year’s International Women’s Day theme - and how appropriate it is as we reflect on the role of social media for women in leadership. Whilst social media has proven to be a great platform for visibility, reach, awareness, activism, connections, there is still the aspect of trolls, bullies, hate speech, fake news and more that we must contend with.

As we #ChooseToChallenge, here my 3 guiding principles that women in leadership should consider when navigating the social media landscape:

  1. The Good, the Bad and The Ugly of Social Media

Choose when to connect on social media. There is a lot of information shared and not all of it is good for you. There are two extremes to avoid – being always on or never being on. Kenyans spend an average of 5 hours a day on social media. That’s too much time if you ask me! I used to log on to “check” my Twitter feed as I rolled out of bed and realised it was the worst way to start my day as I would end of scrolling for too long and I was being inundated with negative information or news. My rule of thumb is to connect once, mid-morning, and once end of day.

Make no mistake, I work in digital media, but I don’t need to be scrolling all day on my phone. It can be toxic as not all content is good for you. In the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I switched off Twitter for a few weeks as there was too much news about the pandemic that was causing anxiety.

On the other, hand, staying off social media completely can also be to your detriment. These days news breaks on social media, key information is shared first on social media, opportunities for networking, learning have moved to being broadcasted on social media first. You could be missing out.

Find the balance on how much time works for you to be on social media and be selective on where you need to be present.

  1. Show up ready - image matters

Determine your objective of engaging on social media. Is it for visibility of your leadership role? Is it for advocacy or activism purposes? Is it to connect with friends and family? You can have multiple reasons but be clear how you want to show up and where is the right stage for you. Once you do that, determine if you will be a broadcaster, and amplifier, and engager or expert?

Showing up ready is about knowing where you want to connect and how you will connect. There is an element of image as well. What is your online personality like? Are you the engager, the observer, the provoker? How do you visually show up as well? What images do you post of yourself or others? As professional women, I notice we sometimes have head shot photos that make us appear ‘serious’ or characterizing male personalities- folded arms, suited up. Is that necessary? Or are we posting compromising photos of ourselves. Remember, the Internet never forgets.

We need to be authentic in how we share images of ourselves and be brave enough to take any backlash that non-progressive audiences may take. Just recently VP President Kamala Harris was under attack on social media for wearing Converse sneakers! She was being herself, and being authentic, and most of all, she was unapologetic!

Getty Images has just released a curation of images “This is what leadership looks like” you can view it here https://custom.gettyimages.com/internationalwomensday/p/1

I love it because it challenges the stereotypes of what women in leadership should look like, regardless of the profession you are in.

  1. Have an online response mechanism ready

Sometimes things will not go well, and you may be at the centre of an online attack, legitimately, or one fueled by trolls. I could be something you authored, or a reaction you gave or did not give.

Plan your online response to the good, the bad or the ugly. Do you really need to respond to everything directed at you or others?

Do an assessment on the concerning conversation. Is it being driven by an influencer, does the conversation have velocity, is the nature of the content viral?

Determine your response options – wait and see, monitor for 24 hours then assess, respond directly, have a third party respond, for instance a communications expert

Let’s be clear, the rise of women is not about the fall of men. This message is for the trolls, haters, on social media who think that trolling is a way to bring down women. I prefer to be positive and I see men as our allies, besides my biggest supporters in my life are my family – my father, husband and my three sons.

As we #ChooseToChallenge, I conclude with this quote “A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So, let's all choose to challenge. How will you help forge a gender equal world? Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.” Source: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/

-Waithera Kabiru leads the Progressive Gender Portrayal initiative and has partnered with the Kenya Chapter of the UN Unstereotype Alliance that seeks to eradicate harmful stereotypes from advertising and media to help create a more equal world.

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