Women leaders face harsher criticism


We all have to put up with criticism, and sometimes it can be constructive and helpful – pointing us to a better direction or approach. But it seems that women are criticized more than men, especially when they are in high-profile positions.

Bryce Covert writes about how women are subjected to more criticism and negative feedback about their personalities in workplace reviews than male co-workers.

Seventy-one percent of the reviews had critical feedback, but women got more of it: about 88 percent of women’s reviews had criticism, versus about 60 percent of men’s.

And the problem seems to be amplified when women are in the public eye. When it comes to those with a public profile, like celebrities and politicians, there is a school of thought that they are ‘fair game’. But it seems also that women face more of that personal criticism than their male counterparts.

And in a culture where access to the Internet is easy, we are often presented with mountains of media about high profile women … even quite personal details.

From Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard to Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah, high-profile women are the target for criticism that is often not related to how well they are doing their jobs.

Ellen DeGeneres

In the nineties, Ellen DeGeneres went through a very public downfall after she came out as gay and for several years, struggled to get back on her feet.

But in 2003, she made her comeback and has been going strong ever since, having just entered the twelfth season of her daytime talk show.

But this does not mean she has escaped criticism. Early last year, DeGeneres partnered with US Department Store JC Penney, with both parties receiving negative commentary from a group called ‘One Million Moms’.

OMM demanded that JCP drop Ellen as a Spokesperson for their company because Ellen is gay and because the company would ‘lose customers’.

While this seemed to go away quickly, with the ‘One Million Moms’ group backing down and Ellen and JCP remaining partners, many other women do not get off so easily.

Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard

Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard are both strong, independent women and have both received quite a bit of criticism and not just on their professional lives.

Clint Howitt discussed the criticism former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard received on her personal circumstances and how they could “affect” her ability to perform her job.

On top of the usual irrelevances that women in positions of prominence have to endure, like her dress sense, her hair styles, her shoes and so on, she also faced a barrage of conservative disapproval over her childlessness, her atheism and her marital status.

None of this claustrophobic scrutiny has ever really gone away. To this day she is the butt of snide remarks and innuendo about her domestic situation and her lack of religious convictions.

Similarly, Hillary Clinton received criticism for things unrelated to her job, with Martha T. Moore writing, “The attention to her looks is a familiar theme, not just for Clinton — whose appearance has been judged, often harshly, since she appeared in a velvet headband on 60 Minutes in 1992…”


For twenty-five years, Oprah was arguably the queen of daytime television. But since ending The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2011, she has gone on to start her OWN network and star in her own show, ‘Oprah’s Next Chapter’.

But all of this was not without criticism. Oprah has faced continual comment on her weight, the adulation of her audiences, and – despite her personally championing many charitable causes for those less fortunate — her supposed sense of privilege

In a two part episode of ONC, Winfrey travelled to India and experienced an array of different ways of life, from meeting “…Bollywood Stars and Indian royalty, a visit to a Mumbai slum and a sari fitting with a top designer”.

Jennifer Abbey  wrote about the criticism Winfrey faced after the two-part episode aired and quotes one disappointed viewer from India quite heavily, who said,

Another polarizing scene is when Winfrey visits the Hedges, a family of five living in a 10-by-10-foot room in a slum in Mumbai. “When I stepped in the door I was thinking, ‘OK, where is the house? Where’s the rest of the house?’ And then I realized I was already in it,”

Before meeting the Hedges, Winfrey asks how she should greet them. “It’s not like they’re aliens who have landed from another planet,” columnist Chhabra said. “She’s sitting in there and she’s like, ‘Oh, hello family.’ How ridiculous. They’re human beings.”

The impact of criticism extends further than on the person being criticized. It also extends to younger generations who see or hear about it on the news or in everyday life.

With Katy Hale writing, “…57 per cent of female respondents aged 18 to 21 were less likely to enter politics because of the perceived treatment. Of the 112 respondents, most believed the treatment of male and female politicians in the media was very different”.

But no matter how hard we try, no matter where we look, criticism is everywhere. It is in the media, in the workplace and in everyday life. And it seems unavoidable.

Avoiding negative media influence and not letting criticism get to you can seem difficult at times, but there are many ways to avoid letting them affect you life, such as:

  • Taking criticism in your stride;
  • Learn not to take it personally; and
  • Don’t let the media criticism dictate what to think about celebrities, or yourself and your personal situation.
  • When reading criticism of other women in the media, remember the journalist or their brand might have an ‘agenda’.
  • Mass media will often look for the critical story rather than the supportive story. Don’t buy into it.

Remember: if criticism is destructive rather than constructive, it says more about the critic than the target.


About Rowena Nagy

Rowena Nagy is a Journalist at The Business Woman Media. A graduate in Journalism, Media and Communications, she is passionate about in writing, travel journalism, video journalism and Public Relations.

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  1. Maria Gardner

    April 1, 2015 at 8:11 am

    Harsher criticism and paid less.

  2. Bettina

    April 4, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    We face harsher EVERYTHING!


    Mildred Cox

    April 8, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Everything we say and do seems to be under a micrscope.

  4. Zara Benson

    April 8, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    You’re absolutely right, Mildred. I feel I’m micromanaged much more than my male colleagues. And my work is just as good, if not better than theirs. Yes I’m reluctant to speak up about it.

  5. Dominique Thiriet

    April 9, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    Whatever doesn’t kill you…


    Wendy Robinson

    April 11, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Women can often give harsher criticism too.

  7. DonnaT

    April 11, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Not just expendable, but really seen as cannon fodder when they need to make cuts.

  8. Bronwyn Goldberg

    April 15, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    Aren’t we all playing the victim with this kind of attitude?

  9. Helen A

    April 16, 2015 at 7:21 am

    I don’t think this is ‘victim attitude’ Bronwyn Gold. It’s simple reality.

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