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“What if we asked men and women… the same questions?”

SISTA and Mirova Foundation launch campaign to challenge media treatment of women leaders and entrepreneurs

In the aftermath of International Women’s Day, SISTA and Mirova Foundation are proud to present “What if we asked men and women the same questions?” a campaign to highlight bias in the treatment of women leaders and entrepreneurs by the media, and its role in maintaining gender inequalities in the workplace.

Calling out the stereotypes that hinder the careers of women leaders, starting with a background study.
SISTA, the collective that works to reduce funding inequalities between women and men entrepreneurs, and Mirova Foundation, the endowment fund from sustainable finance pioneer Mirova, commissioned the editorial communication agency Mots Clés to document media treatment biases affecting women and men who lead companies. The agency compiled and analysed a total corpus of 118 articles (interviews and executive profiles) in the French media, from 19 titles from mainstream, economic and financial, and women’s periodicals. The point was not to point out “good” or “bad” behavior among media outlets, but to denounce stereotypes that may have questionable social effects.

Women leaders in the press: caught between professional adolescence and perpetual “exception”.
The study reveals several persistent media treatment biases between women and men business leaders. There appear to be five recurring themes:

  • The “exceptional” nature of women being in such professional positions or the presence of a woman leader in a “masculine” environment is systematically mentioned.
  • “Action” is reserved for men: the three verbs most strongly associated with profiles of men are action verbs, while those most strongly associated with women are “mediation” verbs.
  • Men are “experts”, women are… women. A full 80% of profile interviews focused on expertise have men as their subjects. The speeches of women leaders are often relegated to “soft” themes (that is to say, not related to core business).
  • Eternal youth: the expression “young woman” appears 5 times more often than the expression “young man”, thus reducing women’s professional achievement to exceptionality in a male environment. The media’s treatment of women’s professional careers highlights and praises expressions of doubt and feelings of illegitimacy, especially during their early careers.
  • Actual or alleged feminism? In a full third of all articles, journalists ask women about their commitment to feminism, which has become a leitmotif for media outlets in their questions for women.

An offbeat and humorous video to point out the biases: “Congratulations on your journey. It’s very rare for a man of your age to hold such a position, we’re not used to it.”
To illustrate the study’s findings in an offbeat way, SISTA and Mirova Foundation carried out a video campaign with the activist production company Malmö Productions, in which eight male executives, who are Heads of Global corporations, answered questions usually asked to women. In a 3-minute montage, Xavier Niel (Iliad-Free), Thierry Déau (Méridiam), Nicolas Hiéronimus (L’Oréal), Frédéric Mazzella (BlaBlaCar), Cédric O’ (French Secretary of State), François-Henri Pinault (Kering), Jean-Marie Tritant (Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield) and Philippe Zaouati (Mirova) are questioned by Allison Chassagne (creator of the YouTube channel Glamouze) about their doubts, their work/life balance and the challenges they faced returning to work after paternity leave. The comedy of the situation underlines the unequal treatment of women in positions of economic power. It also points out how much harmonized and equal treatment are needed in order to make progress towards genuine equality of opportunity.

Tatiana Jama Co-founder of SISTA

As the Copé-Zimmermann1 law celebrates its tenth anniversary and despite progress bringing women onto corporate boards of directors, increasing the number women in management positions struggles to gain traction: to date, France’s CAC 40 stock index boasts only two women general managers, and only 2 of the last 15 unicorns were founded by co-ed teams. Through this campaign, we wanted to highlight just how stereotypes find expression in the media, and their impact on gender equality in the economic world.

Anne-Claire Roux Executive Director of Mirova Foundation

Unconscious bias is very difficult to defuse and is a formidable obstacle to the advancement of women in the workplace. We fervently believe that the press can play a major role in correcting these biases, which is why we wanted to support awareness and encourage journalists to move towards less stereotypical questions or, conversely, ask them equally to everyone

Study on media coverage of women entrepreneurs and leaders

Discover the study (in French)