Warning that 'Instagram effect' is causing some young women to develop mental health issues
A businesswoman who’s worked for some of the world’s top tech companies says the "Instagram effect" is causing some young women to enter the workforce with mental health issues because they're striving to obtain an impossible “perfection” online.
"As a business psychologist, I do believe there are some young girls and women coming into the workplace, who’ve had their mental health damaged by trying to be the perfect instagramable woman,” Orla Coughlan said.
“I think some young girls coming into, whatever the workplace, are damaged by it and it’s very sad,” she added.
We’re saying make space and time - the best version of you is you, not pretty pictures, not doctored images. Orla Coughlan
Ms Coughlan - founder of The Riasc Partnership, along with partner Nicole Hopcroft - consults on ‘human capital’ and business strategy. She also works with The Shona Project, a social enterprise founded by Tammy Darcy to educate and empower Irish girls and young women.
Ms Coughlan said while she doesn’t believe Instagram is negative, it’s being utilised in the wrong way by some women and girls.
“Our concern in the Shona Project and my concern, as a female business leader, is that our younger girls aren’t getting time to grow into the best version of themselves,” Ms Coughlan said.
“They are constantly being bombarded by perfect images on Instagram, they’re forced to believe peer pressure.
“We’re saying make space and time - the best version of you is you, not pretty pictures, not doctored images.
“It’s all having a detrimental effect on young girls at a time when they’re most vulnerable, when they’re worried about boys, hormones, exams - and it’s too much pressure.”
The Shona Project visits schools and encourages girls to “take time out”. It also pushes the message that social networks are “not the real world”, Ms Coughlan said.
Ireland is capable of leading the way by nurturing young girls so they become the business leaders of the future, Ms Coughlan added.
Statistics from the 2018 Central Statistics Office yearbook show almost 93pc of company chairs are men, with only 7pc women.
In order to improve workplace equality, the emphasis should start when young girls are still in school, Ms Coughlan says.
“That’s where we could lead in this country,” Ms Coughlan, former chief human resources officer at Eir, said.
“We could acknowledge that we are concerned about the impact, the complexity of the world on young girls, with regards to social networks, body image, exams, hormones, mental health.
“There is a thought process of ‘I have to be beautiful on Instagram.
“There are not enough women in senior roles in business” but with encouragement from a young age, the possibilities are, she added, “huge”.
“A company with more women in leadership experiences above average profitability,” Ms Coughlan said.
“Companies with more women in leadership and at higher levels on boards, also have more of a focus on climate sustainability, there’s better work relations and massive economic benefits.
“We’re on a journey. A number of organisations around the world are pushing diversity and I don’t see any reluctance from male CEOs and male chairpersons to embrace this.
“But sometimes it’s about where to start, it’s about making people aware,” she added.
Ms Coughlan led a panel discussion at the Simmons Leadership Conference in Dublin earlier this week.