11 Jul Female leaders are like buses – none for ages then a load come along at once!
My my, after 26 years we’re about to get our second female Prime Minister. The second in about 70 if you count, as most modern historians do, Sir Robert Walpole as our first Prime Minister and longest serving 1721- 1742.
Funny then that whilst on a BBC radio interview last night I was asked why is it such a big deal there are women leaders everywhere now, we’re almost overrun with them. He proceeded to name Angela Merkel, Nicola Sturgeon, first Minister of Scotland, Arlene Foster, the first Minister of Northern Ireland, possibly even Hilary Clinton and even Angela Eagle is having a stab at the Labour leadership.
So how is it then that our female leaders are like buses, none for ages then a load come at once? How has that happened and why hasn’t it happened in other leadership positions?
A glance at the FTSE 100 companies sees 25% of directors are women, dig a bit deeper and you’ll find fewer than 10% of the 3 most senior positions at a FTSE 100 firm is held by women and dig further still and you’ll find there are more people called John who chair FTSE 100 boards than there are women. Looking at other industries, construction for instance you’ll see women only make up about 10% of the workforce and in engineering that drops to about 4%. Whilst the figures are getting better, the speed of change is glacial.
So how come the surge in politics? Is it that we’re looking for a new type of leader? Nurturing, consensual, good listeners – attributes given in academic studies to women, or is it that we see the actions of such visible leaders? Do women just get on with the job without the priming, and in an age of austerity it’s better received. Think of the male rivals in the battle to become the next Prime Minister – Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Stephen Crabb and Liam Fox – and how they melted away to give rise to the 2 final female candidates, .
The press said the women showed themselves to be more serious, more statesmanlike, less interested in themselves and more focussed on the needs of the country. So is it that the times we are living in determine the type of leader? Mrs Thatcher broke through at a period of austerity and geopolitical uncertainty and many would say, here we are again. The reason for women surfacing to the top certainly isn’t because women overrun the House of Commons, there’s only 191 women out of 650 MPs and it isn’t that they overrun the cabinet, they make up only 1/4. So there has to be something far more subtle going on. Not just the visibility of the leader, or the mood of the moment but also the fight, determination and resilience these women have needed to get within reach of the leadership. Such qualities are gained over a lifetime to be used for a period of time and that time is now.