In a new post on Comms Women, Professor Dr Angeles Moreno from Rey Juan Carlos University (Madrid, Spain) and a former president of EUPRERA writes about unrealistic expectations of women professionals using her own research.
“The energy that brings you to visit your mother, that brings you to work, that brings you to pick up your children from school…”. This is the audio of an advert by an energy company whose main character is a woman. Narratives performed by women that do everything, reach out everything and obtain the maximum success in everything are becoming fashionable. Once and again this model of empowered women, with an accurate representation of racial and sexual orientation diversity but reductionist on social class, is represented. They are successful practitioners who don’t need to give up any of their facets in public spaces and private spaces: the superwomen.
The “MeToo” movement was the media trigger that put the focus on the elephant that has been too much time in the room. Its impact gave attention to other discriminations that women experiment with within multiple areas, like in business and industry sectors. Organizations have been accused of continue being systems of the perpetuation of the status quo with deep-rooted dynamics and power coalitions that block an adequate work environment for women’s promotion. These new narratives of the superwomen are some of the responsive strategies of the organizations to try to do better. They are a manifestation of others of how organizations respond to their stakeholders and public opinion changes promoting women’s acknowledgement and empowerment. Yet, they are a hazardous fallacy. They are a fallacy because it is not true that one can reach out to everything, without giving up anything. Days have 24 hours even for the most energetic and efficient individuals. And time management always implies decision-making to prioritise, postpone or cancel. Is it possible that successful women have postponed something on their long to-do lists? Something relevant as rest for physical and mental health, perhaps?
These narratives are also a hazardous fallacy because, at this point, we all know that representations (Hall, 2020) create, co-create and re-create. This model, the superwomen, creates septations, demands and role models that cannot only turn out to be frustratingly unattainable for ordinary mortals, increasing shame and guilt and building new prejudices but they are also based on profound injustices.
Our last studies about the situation of female professionals in public relations and strategic communication in Spain, Europe and Latin America, provide some findings that support this thesis. One of the top CCOs in Spain interviewed in the LidGenCom report declared:
“I don´t want to be a role model for none. If I am telling that I work 12 or 13 hours per day… this way I don’t want to be a model” (Moreno, Fuentes-Lara, Zurro y Jiménez, 2023).
The cost of female leadership in the strategic communication industry is huge. Women need to make great sacrifices to achieve and maintain leadership, not only because of the extended time dedicated to work. To succeed in prevailing male (and currently macho) work cultures they have extreme levels of demand and a permanent need to justify their leadership positions (Zeller, Fuentes-Lara & Moreno, 2022).
Moreover, the life-work balance of women who have achieved strategic communication leadership is just defined as unbalanced. Family and professional life continue to be the main problems for female practitioners. Long working days, lack of switch-off time out of the workplace, extreme self-demand and lack of a real and effective equalitarian distribution of housework and care tasks bring women to define their life as complicated and unbalanced.
Our paper Enemy at the house gates evince the nature of these unbalances (Moreno, Khalil & Tench, 2021) and our Theory of Integrated Gendered Work Evaluation (IGWE) (Moreno, Fuentes-Lara & Tench, 2021) provides a new way of identifying, contextualizing, theorizing and analysing how gender discriminations affect work evaluations combining both workplace and private life experiences from an integrated gender perspective.
Superwomen are exhausted and don’t want to be martyred models. We need to root out the superwoman fallacy and continue fighting for the same game rules in all the public and private spheres.
Hall, S. (2020). The work of representation. In – The applied theatre reader (pp. 74-76). Routledge.
Moreno, A., Fuentes Lara, C., & Tench, R. (2021). A theory of integrated gendered work evaluation (IGWE): A gender analysis of the unequal race for leadership through work evaluation of satisfaction and stress in Europe. Journal of Public Relations Research, 33(3), 185-203.
Moreno, A., Fuentes-Lara, C., Zurro-Antón, N., Alli, L. & Jiménez-Sánchez, L. (2023). LIDGENCOM. Liderazgo femenino en las Direcciones de Comunicación, Madrid: EUPRERA/GEAC
Moreno, Á., Khalil, N., & Tench, R. (2021). Enemy at the (house) gates: permanence of gender discrimination in public relations career promotion in Latin America. Communication & Society, 34(3), 169-183.
Zeler, I., Fuentes-Lara, C., & Moreno, Á. (2022), “Female leadership in communication management in Spain: making a difference in a sexist culture”, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 27 No. 5, pp. 74-92. https://doi.org/10.1108/CCIJ-04-2022-0047