Breaking the glass ceiling with personal branding

Breaking the glass ceiling with personal branding

November 17, 2020

Female Leadership

Authors: Melanie Arens (Kantar) & Susanne Mathony (Mathony Brand Strategists)

66 out of 100:

This figure makes women with career ambitions in Germany wince massively. It gets to the heart of reservations and prejudices against women in management positions, which they experience subliminally or quite concretely in everyday life.

The figure comes from the latest „Reykjavik Index for Leadership“ presented by the Women Political Leaders and Kantar at the Reykjavik Global Forum.

The Reykjavik Index measures from 0 to 100 the extent to which men and women are considered equal in terms of their suitability for leadership positions.
The value of 100 means:
There is complete agreement in society that men and women are equally suited to leadership positions in all areas of economic life.

With a score of 66, Germany is still a long way from the vision of a world in which an index value of 100 is the norm – i.e., where men and women are ascribed the same aptitude for leadership – and further away than the other G7 countries.
And the trend does not look any better. Compared with the previous year, the score of 69 fell by three points.

The lowest reservations towards women are found in Great Britain and Canada (81 each). The USA (76) and France (74) also achieve above-average values.

Italy and Japan are still ahead of Germany with 68 points each.

reykjavik index female leader positioning

Worth noting:

The average score of the Reykjavik Index in the G7 countries is 70 among men and 77 among women.
How is this to be read?

Women tend to see fewer differences between men and women in terms of their suitability for leadership positions, but even they are not free of reservations about their own gender.

In Germany, the discrepancy between men and women is even more pronounced at 61 to 71.

What complicates this ‘perception’ or ‘attribution’ trap

In most cases, men still decide who gets into a management position. And they are much less likely to consider women equally suitable for leadership roles, especially in Germany.

As the German government’s annual information on the development of the proportion of women and men at management level in June 2020 impressively shows:
There is still a lack of will and/or awareness of the problem to change these attitudes:
80 percent of companies have no women on their management boards.

55 of the 160 listed companies in the DAX30, MDAX and SDAX that do not yet have any women on their management boards explicitly formulate the goal of “zero women.”

frauenanteil null prozent

Visibility strategies for women to get out of the perception trap

WHO DOES NOT SPEAK, WILL NOT BE HEARD! – said former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
A great tip – especially for women who want to ‘send’ and change something. So if being heard and change correlate, one of the levers women have in their own hands is their own visibility.

As Jutta Allmendinger, director of the Science Center Berlin, already warned back in May 2020:
Women are becoming invisible, becoming slow.

Today, visibility is especially evident in social media. Therefore, one stumbles over the question:

Why do the 24 DAX30 female board members use them so little?

Screening LinkedIn reveals a large gap versus their male counterparts:

  • Three female DAX Board members are not even on LinkedIn.
  • One of them has only 51 followers.
  • Nine have fewer than 1,000 followers.

The most visible of them is the Spaniard Belén Garijo – from spring 2021 the first sole female CEO of a DAX company (Merck) – with around 33,800 followers.
In an interview with “Welt am Sonntag” she advised women to be open about their ambitions and drop any shyness.
Every now and then you have to raise your hand and take responsibility when you get the chance”.
Young women in particular ‘would often make themselves far too small.

Added together, all 24 female DAX30 executives only have around 92,000 followers. This puts them behind the most visible #socialceo – Herbert Diess, VW. He has 133,000 followers.

Of course, CEOs do have other resources. Herbert Diess, for example, has the former BILD editor Michael Manske specifically for this purpose. Plus there are often internal policies that primarily the CEO should be in the limelight as the ‘highlander’.

Nevertheless, all women – whether at board level or in other careers – can do something for their visibility. Even if it’s ‘just’ investing 20 minutes a day in creating and maintaining their professional LinkedIn presence. Tagging other women to share and increase reach is the simplest sign of ‘communication solidarity‘.

Because we can and because we want to…

The cross-industry women’s initiative #ichwill (‘I will’) is striving in the same direction.

The network of top women around ex-Siemens board member Janina Kugel, Julia Jäkel (CEO Gruner + Jahr) and sociologist Jutta Allmendinger is campaigning for more participation by women. For example, the German government is urged to approve a bill that, among other things, provides for mandatory quotas for women on the management boards of federal companies.

The two-and-a-half-minute kick-off clip and the entire #ichwill campaign document:
Women strive for leadership positions and equal opportunities in German companies.

PR for targeted self-marketing

Women who don’t feel comfortable in social media might want to continue with classic PR.
In the #personalbranding era, the relevance of personal brands is increasing alongside corporate brands.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a DAX company, a medium-sized enterprise or a professional services player:
All of them want to/have to cover topics and produce studies and press statements to this end. Here, it is only opportune for women to strive for – and demand – corresponding visibility in the media.

Presence on panels

The issue of ‘manels’ – events with only male speakers – is also important. The problem with this lack of female experts on panel discussions: Young girls and women have no role models to take on responsible positions. This not only solidifies existing (opportunity) inequalities, but also lacks diverse perspectives in the discourse.

For example, it was only after the public outcry that the TV image of the COVID19 pandemic was a primarily male one that more female experts were invited.

It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it….“ (Warren Buffet)

Women who are about to take the plunge should undergo customized media training. Simulating difficult questions, maneuvers and possible feints of the counterpart in interview form helps enormously with preparation. No journalist should be able to draw women out and make them make statements that they would have been better off never making.


Anyone who wants to ‘take place’ in society and business has to work on their own visibility. Then the conviction of the strong Ruth Bader Ginsberg “Cheers to the strong women, may we know them, may we raise them, may we be them!” becomes a little more reality.