That may seem like a strange plea for me to make, especially on the same day that Nancy Pelosi delivers a gracious speech to Congress in announcing that she is stepping down after 20 years in her Democratic leadership role. Talk about an example of how women take on important leadership roles. Certainly compared to 30, 40, and even 20 years ago, seeing women in leadership roles is not uncommon. Very true, but when I came across the “family” pictures of the COP27 delegates in Egypt the other day, I was startled to see just how few women were in the world “family” of political and environmental leaders.
The center section of the assembled group, in which it is difficult to detect more than 3 (maybe 4?) women leaders
The entire assembled group, in which I can spot 8 (maybe 9?) women leaders [Ignore the red circle around Rishi Sunak; the Daily Mail was proving that he really was there!]
Given how important climate change is to women, and how many strong, capable women of skill, dedication and integrity there are in the world, I was exceedingly discouraged by these photos.
I spent a number of years in leadership roles at the university in which I worked before I retired in 2010 (and then did one more year in such a role in 2015-16). Unsurprisingly, there were more men than women in leadership roles, but for a long time I didn’t pay much attention to that discrepancy. I had worked in a male-dominated environment for decades, I could talk about sports with equal enthusiasm (except for football), and, having spent most of my time in our engineering building, could swear with the best of them. In other words, I didn’t really see the big difference; interestingly, and I say with pride, it didn’t really exist in my unit. But it did exist in other units and at the more senior levels, even if the men themselves didn’t see it. Especially for women who didn’t feel comfortable or welcome when listening to the recounting of sports for the first 10 minutes of each meeting, or with being unintentionally spoken down to. And that difference intimidates and ultimately frustrates (and irritates) many competent women.
Too many of the nicest possible men, with the best of intentions, mansplain to women. Actually, they do it to each other, too. Just listen to the sports commentators who seem to feel that they have to have the last word in explaining what we’re all watching, even when their cohost has just explained it and we’ve all just seen it. But too often, if a woman expresses a strong view – one that needs saying and many around the table have been thinking – somehow this is going a little bit too far. Or a man around the table jumps in to say the same thing, with more perceived natural authority. It remains the case that in far too many instances, the expectations for what and how things are expected to be spoken are different for men and women, at least from some men’s points of view. When, one has to wonder, is that going to change – right across the board?
At any rate, seeing those group photos reminded me of these issues of my past and, as well, a PowerPoint presentation I came across while cleaning out some of the many old files on my computer a few months ago. I can’t even remember giving this presentation, but it does sound like me – and it does have my name on it – so I must have given it, presumably at a workshop for new and/or potential women leaders. I thought it might be interesting/useful to share some of these decade-old bullet-point thoughts; they seem to remain as relevant as ever. Most of these points should be just as relevant for men in the early stages of assuming a leadership role. You can see what you think; you’ll have to imagine me chatting away about each bullet point. I’ll spare you the intro slides and just get on with the main points. 🙂
I’ll add one further thought: Managing and leading with kindness and compassion is always a win-win, regardless of what Elon Musk seems to think!