In my time I’ve read countless books telling me how to be a better leader and how to be a better manager. I’ve spent many, many hours in debate with others about women as leaders and managers.
20 years ago when it was still socially acceptable to proclaim that the place for women was firmly tied to the kitchen sink, there were some very interesting views expressed on the subject by both my male and female colleagues.
Now, I realise my experience was exceptional. I come from a family where it was assumed that women were natural leaders. I can’t imagine anyone being brave enough to tell my mother she was not supposed to be at the front or that she wouldn’t know what the rest of the team should be doing! In due course, I followed her into the nursing profession. At that time nursing was female lead and I trained as a nurse at Royal Free Hospital in London – the first medical school to admit women.
I had left nursing and moved on into the world of the UK Civil Service, before it dawned on me that there were people around who believed that my sex should have some relationship to success in my career.
This news came as something of a shock – particularly the comments of one particular boss, who declared – “I’m not going to write you up for promotion – I like you too much and I don’t like the women who get to the top of the Civil Service”.
Then there were a number of other incidents.
For example, there was the boss who declared he was putting the guys up for promotion first because they were the bread winners in their families. I was too, but he didn’t seem to believe that – I mean, I was a married woman, how could it be so?
Anyway, times have changed. And I did achieve the kind of management and leadership positions I’d hoped for! I had a long and very interesting career as a public sector manager. Although, I didn’t have many female mentors around, there were men who were prepared to share their knowledge and experience very generously. What I didn’t have were role models for how you juggle home, commuting, work and a social life. But I worked that through with supportive female friends going through the same experiences.
Looking back, what has that taught me about preparing women for leadership?
Well , for me, home and the early years are critical. What do young children see at home in terms of what is expected of women? What views are expressed of women as leaders in the family? What experiences of leadership do we give young women as they are growing up?
It is good, for example, that press publicity is given to top women. But that is two-edged! We need to have a care that women at the top are not regarded as notable, primarily, because of their sex.
If children grow up expecting women to be leaders, I believe there is a much greater chance that they will be!
When I was very young I firmly believed that women ruled the world or should do so! Having a young and very beautiful Queen Elizabeth II, certainly meant I saw no conflict between influence and femininity. Only now am I beginning to understand just how blessed I was.
- Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II marks 60 years on throne (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Elizabeth II celebrates 60 years as British queen – CBS News (cbsnews.com)
- Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee – USA TODAY (mediagallery.usatoday.com)