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'Bloody Difficult Women': How Female Leaders Survive the Public Glare

Posted on 29 November 2019

This Women's Entrepreneurship Day, on 19 November, Emma Woollcott, Partner and Head of Reputation Protection team, hosted a panel discussion dedicated to empowering women to think early about how they create and maintain a positive reputation, how they prepare themselves to deal with hostility, and what we can all do to help to stop the misogyny and abuse of women who find themselves (deliberately or not) in the public gaze.

Our guest panellists included Sue Beeby, Director at Lexington Communications, Tamara Littleton, Founder and CEO of The Social Element agency and Co-Founder of crisis simulation company Polpeo, and Nimco Ali OBE, Nimco Ali OBE, Social activist, Co-founder & CEO of the Five Foundation, the global partnership to end female genital mutilation.

Emma Woollcott
Partner and Head of Reputation Protection

Today we hosted an event entitled ‘Bloody difficult women’.  We wanted to look at the treatment and experience of women in the media and on social media.
 

Tamara Littleton
Founder & CEO of The Social Element

When men are perhaps shut down in a conversation or in a debate it can be quite personal and quite antagonistic but with women it goes very, very quickly to perhaps language that is not used, so even things like rape threats and death threats, it’s very sort of violent and that is completely different.
 

Sue Beeby
Director, Lexington Communications

I think in the short-term it’s really unpleasant and it’s not actually something that a woman should have to put up with. It means that fewer women want to stand up and put their selves out there, so we’ve seen recently a lot of women who stood down from politics because they decided they don’t want to take that. If that has a long-term impact on our politics and we have fewer woman who are willing to stand as candidates, that’s going to have a huge impact on our country.
 

Nimco Ali
Co-founder & CEO of The Five Foundation

For me specifically I campaign against female genital mutilation which is something that you would think that the whole world would be horrified about but ultimately talking about those experiences as a woman and as a survivor has meant that my experience and my conversations have been shut down.
 

Emma Woollcott
Partner and Head of Reputation Protection

I think long-term it starts to seep into our psyche, our collective psyche and it stops women from wanting to engage in debate and I think long-term it’s actually having an impact on our willingness to reach for the front-line jobs.
 

Tamara Littleton
Founder & CEO of The Social Element

There is this thing called doxing where people actually share your name and your address and then encourage people to even go around to your house which can make people feel incredibly vulnerable and I know that it had quite an effect on me at the time. I managed to deal with it but it did make me think more about being in the public.
 

Sue Beeby
Director, Lexington Communications

I think as a society this is something that we definitely need to deal with.  I don’t think we would put up with the abuse that we see online if we were down our local pub for example.
 

Emma Woollcott
Partner and Head of Reputation Protection

I think actually all people, men and women, need to start calling this out and understanding that it is not okay. I think stepping back from that calling out misogyny will mean that the social media platforms have to listen and they have to be better at policing it.
 

Nimco Ali
Co-founder & CEO of The Five Foundation

I think in the next like you know, few years as we go into the 21st century that ultimately we will be able to police and really regulate and really make the online spaces a lot safer, not just for women but everybody that wants to access those spaces and specifically for minority groups.
 

Tamara Littleton
Founder & CEO of The Social Element

I’m a special advisor to the Internet Commission which is actually doing great things to bring transparency in the absence of full regulation so that is something that’s also helping but I think it’s also just about recognising that we can be kinder to each other and that will hopefully make a bit of a sort of a grass roots movement shall we say.

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