Out of the chaos of recent days, we suddenly have the prospect of a dramatic increase in the number of women leading nations. Soon, Angela Merkel may not be such a sole female presence on the world stage.
Hilary Clinton may win the US Presidency, Theresa May is a hot favourite for Conservative leadership and thus our next Prime Minister, Angela Eagle is potentially contesting the Labour leadership and Nicola Sturgeon’s strong leadership is much admired by many (regardless of nationality or political views).
Good news? Of course it is, and as someone who works to help women develop and succeed in the workplace, I am delighted that we may have more women leaders. However, I am also depressed about it – depressed that in 2016, it is still such big news that a woman leads a country or party. Depressed that we only have 191 women out of our 650 MPS – 29%. 71% of our MPs are male, so we still have a long way to go. Disappointed that only 1 in 10 UN nations are led by women – still a long way to go.
And outside of politics, the picture differs little. The majority of organisations are still heavily male dominated at the most senior levels. The Opportunity Now report ‘Changing Gear’* reports that women make up 54% of the UK workforce at non managerial levels, 29% at senior management and only 18% at executive level – still a long way to go. I am privileged to work with many companies to help them develop a pipeline of women who are ready, willing and able to progress to senior levels and I welcome these efforts being
made to address the imbalance.
I am utterly depressed at the impact of the comment describing Theresa May as ‘a bloody difficult woman’. OK, it was one comment from one person (amongst a number of uncomplimentary comments), but underlying that is a perennial issue that I hear over and over again from the hundreds of women I work with. Strong women are in many places still perceived as aggressive, bossy, arrogant or ‘bloody difficult’. As a result, some women struggle with being authentic and being leaders – they try to live up to a stereotype, they try to imitate a style they think is admirable, and often they choose not to put themselves forward at all.
The social media response to this was massive, with thousands of tweets from women proud to be ‘bloody difficult’ turning this into a positive campaign. But we shouldn’t have to. It shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation. It should just be accepted that regardless of gender, some people are fantastic leaders – strong, fair, decisive, inspiring etc and some people are not – they are just bloody difficult. The fact that we even have these conversations just serves to prove that in terms of gender issues – we still have a long way to go.