In chapter 11 of Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s extraordinary book ‘Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons’, the authors share that Hilary Clinton suggested an alternative title for their work: ‘Conundrums’. Gillard and Okonjo-Iweala were attracted to this idea because “Considering how to be an honest, inspiring, inclusive role model for women and girls requires working through conundrums, trying to solve the vexing problems we have explored and exposed. There is no simple answer.”
No simple answer, yet that has not stopped the authors from creating what must be one of the most fascinating compilations of the personal and professional experiences of our world’s women leaders. Women who have shaped, and continue to shape, our modern world: Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister of New Zealand), Hillary Clinton (former United States Secretary of State and presidential nominee), Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (former President of Liberia, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize), Theresa May (former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), Michelle Bachelet (former President of Chile), Joyce Banda (former President of Malawi), Erna Solberg (Prime Minister of Norway), and Christine Lagarde (President of the European Central Bank).
Blair Williams, Associate Lecturer at the School of Political Science and International Relations at Australian National University writes that “this book acts as a crucial point between scholarly studies and public debate. It also offers a fresh perspective of the many issues that women in leadership face.” Fresh perspectives, discussions of different approaches various leaders have employed, reflections by these powerful women about things they wish they had known… this book contains a wealth of knowledge making it essential reading for all readers, but in particular those who are women leaders; wish to become leaders; want to deepen their understanding of what our world’s women leaders are facing; are caregivers, educators, or mentors of girls and young women; or are male leaders wishing to gain insight into the world through the eyes of women leaders.
What this isn’t is a man-exclusionary manifesto. Gillard and Okonjo-Iweala explain how important men are in our world’s journey towards gender equality, and how much influence they can have in elevating their female colleagues. Some of the lessons for men they outline: “…recognise that it is not the sole responsibility of a woman who is subjected to sexist conduct or stereotyping to call it out… Man up and take on the job of calling it out”; “think about whose voices are being heard”; “Achieving work and family life policies that are better for balance is not women’s work”; “Men can and should serve as role models, mentors, and sponsors to women at critical times in their career progression and leadership journeys”; and “Men disproportionately hold the power. Men can and should choose to use that influence for change.”
Change that is clearly much needed for us to live in a world where women are not ruthlessly criticised for their sartorial or reproductive choices made while navigating male-dominated environments deeply infected by gender bias. And change that we must all take part in creating, as Gillard and Okonio-Iweala remind us. For our words and actions in response to the gender inequalities imbedded in our society’s structure define who we are, and will profoundly shape our future.Support Villainesse