I doubt anyone is sitting at the top deliberately plotting to promote men over women or give them higher pay for the same work but statistics show those practices are rife (notwithstanding that the way we collect statistics could be improved) and the gender gap will not close for 70 years.
Discrimination is complex and while social media is not a magic pill for overcoming inequalities that have become entrenched in workplace systems it can help women (and men) overcome certain barriers.
- Opens networks
- Gets your foot in the door
- Gives you a voice
- Makes you visible 24/7
- Gets you noticed
- Is a new-style champion
1. Social media opens networks
Knowing people who know people has always been critical to getting work and being promoted and it still is. Nepotism is not inherently bad, we like to work with people we know and trust especially if they’re great at what they do but unchecked it can close doors for others.
Nowadays, you don’t need to have attended a particular school or university or belong to an excusive club to belong or be influential.
While no single thing ‘levels the playing field’ or makes life ‘fair’, social media opens up networks that allow you to connect with people who have shared interests around the world.
With two billion active social media users, the potential for synergy is huge.
For example, like most writers I faced the dilemma for years of not being able to get work in front of a publisher because I didn’t have an agent and not being able to get an agent because I didn’t have a published work to show them. Agents aren’t mean, just pressed for time and filters help them make decisions within constraints. If people lose out it’s just the way it is.
But with social media you don’t have to wait for gatekeepers to notice or take you seriously. The global reach means anyone can connect with anyone.
In my case, I first published on my blog and though media channels such as SmartCompany, sharing my work on social media where it was spotted, ultimately leading to a publishing offer with Wiley Global.
Social media enabled me to go straight to the decision-maker, the publisher.
2. Social media gets your foot in the door
In the same way, a strong, professional presence in social media can open up career opportunities.
Like agents, recruiters broker relationships between talent and the organisations that require their skills.
However, before you can get a foot in the door, a recruiter must –
- Read your CV
- Be convinced you’re worth putting on the shortlist
This is not a neutral process. Multiple studies have shown that the same CV submitted under a different name – male versus female (or names from a different race) – is perceived differently.
Men are perceived as more competent, employable and desirable than women; interestingly, by both men and women. The workplace impacts for diversity are obvious and can have legal consequences like class actions.
Gender discrimination in the sciences, often considered fact-based and objective, is just as strong. A study at Yale found the CVs of female scientists were judged more harshly and they were offered lower salaries. Those responsible for giving harsher assessments for women with the same CVs as men were later able to come up with rational arguments to explain their decision, showing that knowing may not be half the battle when it comes to challenging cognitive bias. The prejudice was not deliberate but emerged from subtle, social stereotypes that had been reinforced over time.
Social media platforms like LinkedIn put you in front of recruiters and make you directly visible to employers. They allow you to showcase more than a one-pager and engage with the decision-makers you’re trying to reach. Employers can watch what you do, rather than take your word for it.
On a business platform like LinkedIn you can –
- Publish your own content, positioning yourself as a thought leader
- Comment on others’ content, adding valuable insights
- Participate in groups, forming connections, supporting peers and showcasing industry expertise.
Social media is also an increasing differentiator for employers. According to Harvard Business Review’s Claudio Fernández-Aráoz globalisation, changing demographics and inadequate nurturing of leadership pipelines will make senior talent scarcer in years to come. Spotting the best talent early to get the best hires will be vital.
Many employers have adopted 100% LinkedIn recruitment strategies. When it comes to highly desirable and rare tech talent, companies are going directly to platforms like GitHub, a social network for open-source code where they can not only find the best engineers and their code but also watch them in action.
The benefits of a professional social media profile are greater than increased visibility.
LinkedIn is effectively mapping the global talent pool and recently used that powerhouse of data to create the LinkedIn Jobs app, a matchmaking service for skills with jobs. Select key words and locations and it instantly serves up hundreds of opportunities. Many companies allow you to apply for a role by clicking a button to submit a LinkedIn profile, making search easier for job seekers while also delivering a highly competitive pool to employers.
Of course, you still have to be able to produce the goods. A social empty vessel, like the star performer at interview who impresses but can’t follow through, is quickly found out.
3. Social media gives you a voice
Would you be surprised to learn that men talk more than women? We think women are chattier but according to Soraya Chemaly listener bias means that while most people think women are hogging the floor men are actually dominating.
She found men speak more, more often and longer in classrooms, boardrooms, legislative bodies, expert media commentary and religious institutions and 75% more than women in male-dominated problem solving groups.
Bias about who gets to say what and how it is heard starts at early age parenting and continues through school, where both male and female teachers give boys more attention.
Men also interrupt more and while male senior managers rarely get interrupted, women senior managers are interrupted frequently, including by male subordinates.
How can social media help? It allows anyone, male or female, to get a message out without being interrupted.
In what’s frequently referred to as the attention economy, the listener determines who gets their time. Ironically, you’re on a more equal field competing with millions of other pieces of content than at a one-hour meeting around a table where the audience is already anchored by workplace culture and expectation.
Content is Queen when it comes to getting noticed in social media and the content speaks for itself.
4. Social media makes you visible 24/7
Although everyone’s pressured for time and there’s greater awareness that parenting is a family, not women’s issue, the reality is that the primary care-giving role falls to women even when both parents work. Most often, for economic reasons, both parents need to work to make ends meet.
In an ideal world we’d measure outputs not inputs but the reality is at work some people watch the clock and assume being present means being productive. Instead as Harvard Business Review reports, presenteeism, or being on the job but not fully functioning, can cut productivity by more than a third.
It does not matter, however, if you work in a culture in which being at the desk is perceived to be a sign of commitment.
I worked in an organisation where business planning started at 7.30am and where, as a single mum I could not drop my kids off to school unsupervised before 8.30am. I asked the CEO to change the start time; he refused but gave me permission to arrive at 8.30am. While I felt luckier than some for his support, the problem was that it made me the odd one out. Turning up an hour into the meeting however unintended created a less professional impression.
Many companies discourage early morning meetings that prevent parents from attending. There’s also evidence that flexibility makes people happier and more productive.
Social media can help too. It allows you to communicate across time zones 24/7. That means you can build your professional networks and represent your company even when you’re not at the desk.
By using tools like Buffer, Tweet Jukebox, SocialBro or Hoot Suite you can create a constant presence and respond personally to people when you get time, on the commute home or weekends. You might want to explain to your boss that the tweets or posts coming out at 10am do not mean you’re on the smartphone at 10am.
5. Social media gets you noticed
Studies have shown that women consistently underrate their performance and that unless they are specifically told they’ve done a good job, defer to others. This is particularly the case in male-dominated industries like finance where women who do not get positive reinforcement automatically underrate themselves.
Haynes found stereotypes about women’s competence influenced the evaluations of others but also women’s evaluations of themselves.
Successful entrepreneur and author Susan T. Spencer says women are generally schooled not to self-promote while men are encouraged to do so.As a result, they are less likely to get noticed even though they may be doing good work.
But using social media means you’re not sitting around, waiting to get noticed.
In one of my favourite posts author Seth Godin talks about the tyranny of waiting for permission or to be picked. His suggestion? Pick yourself.
“Amanda Hocking is making a million dollars a year publishing her own work to the Kindle. No publisher. Rebecca Black has reached more than 15,000,000 listeners, like it or not, without a record label,” Godin wrote.
Once you reject the impulse to be selected, you can spend your energy doing what really counts – the work.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an extrovert, introvert or ambivert (think happy middle ground) on social media you can be who you are. In fact, authenticity is highly valued over scripted conversations.
You may not be able to control how others rate you but you can get in the game.
6. Social media is the new-style champion
In old-style organisations a champion would take you on as mentee and root for you up the line, great if you could get a mentor but it left a lot to old-school networks, personality and workplace politics.
On social media you can build what thought leader Trevor Young refers to as a village of support.
This is more than an amorphous network of contacts but rather a groundswell of people who like, trust and respect you because you’ve cultivated a deeper connection with them.
Taking the time to contribute to people’s lives, asking or answering questions, sharing links you know will help them is a championing en masse of others that is reciprocated over time.
Social media is not about showing and up and sucking someone dry, it’s being who you are and supporting others long term. Because online life is searchable and documented, it’s proof, over the long-term.
Although social media won’t eliminate bias it can help you tackle some barriers to access.
Five quick tips:
- Ask yourself if you’d be happy to submit your current LinkedIn profile for a dream job with a single click? That should be the standard to which you develop your profile because increasingly, that is what you’ll be doing.
- If you walked into a panel interview would your LinkedIn photo, language and history be the real life version of you? Make sure that it is.
- If you don’t have the time to publish original content, read and comment on the work of those who do. Curated, over time it reflects your thinking.
- Learn to use Twitter, which is in my view the most powerful, genuinely open global network. You know every exchange is public, that’s not intimidating, it’s freeing because it forces you to think about what you say.
- Put your name into Google and see what comes up. This is who people think you are, like it or not. Everything you publish, comment on or share adds to the pile.
- Think about what someone who was looking for your skill set would type into search. It won’t be your name. Digitally savvy HR manager? Are you there? Do you exist?
- Walk your talk. All the content marketing and social media training in the world won’t help you succeed in a role or retain valuable staff if you’re a nasty pasty. People talk, offline and online.
Dionne Lew is the CEO of the Social Executive, an adviser to boards and senior executives on digital and social media rated in the top 1% for global community influence by Kred.