University of Oulu

Media representations of female leaders on Instagram

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Author: Manninen, Anni1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Oulu Business School, Department of Management and International Business, Management
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.5 MB)
Pages: 104
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Oulu : A. Manninen, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-05-16
Thesis type: Master's thesis
Tutor: Myllykoski, Jenni
Reviewer: Myllykoski, Jenni
Kaasila-Pakanen, Anna-Liisa


Media occupies large amount of our time and attention every day. For that reason, every one of us is under the influence of media representations. Media representations but also media representations of female leaders are largely studied themes. Regardless of that, social media representations have remained understudied, and within the context of leadership there is a research gap.

This study elaborates how leading business media houses, The Economist and Forbes, represent female leaders on their social media accounts. Social media representations are studied by social media critical discourse analysis, which focuses on the phenomenon through the critical approach also considering the multimodality of the representations. The empirical research material includes 44 Instagram postings of female leaders in 2022 on the profiles of The Economist and Forbes. This material is encoded separately regarding the visual and verbal element of the representations, but after that considered together in the data analysis to conduct the multimodal research of representations.

The research discovered that social media representations of female leaders have a more neutral approach than traditional media does. With a brief view, the representations represent leaders in a neutral picture settings and professional text. However, the power relations between the viewer and the subject of the representations are diminished by close-up portraits within the shared level, so the leader is not represented being in a higher position than the viewer. Mainly neutral background of the pictures draws the attention towards the leader, but at the same time she is not represented in her working settings, which decreases the power relations. In verbal element female leaders are represented by highlighting her name, title, and actions. The gender of the leader is mentioned regularly and the age of hers is brought into a representation especially when the leader is relatively young or old. The majority of the representations express the name and the title of the leader already within the headline, but minority of the representations do not consider these as important factors. From social media representations can already be recognized discourses of helplessness, problem, and superwomen besides duality setting femininity versus masculinity.

Together these multimodal social media representations send mixed signals for the consumer, which challenges individual’s meaning construction. Consequently, based on the more neutral representations of social media, this attitude needs to be transformed into traditional media’s representations in the future. These social media representations characterize the development towards more gender-neutral media representations of leadership and leaders.

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Copyright information: © Anni Manninen, 2023. Except otherwise noted, the reuse of this document is authorised under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC-BY 4.0) licence ( This means that reuse is allowed provided appropriate credit is given and any changes are indicated. For any use or reproduction of elements that are not owned by the author(s), permission may need to be directly from the respective right holders.