Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Women in Power in Australia, and why they can't stay at the top.

Women have had a rough ride over the past 5 years in politics. One would think that having a female Mayor, CEO, Premier, PM and Governor General was a huge step forward in progress for women in strong roles. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

There has been a great deal of talk on why women have become unwanted in politics and where our gender is headed. There are probably many reasons why this is happening but I am focussing this blog on the one I noticed the most. Leadership skills. Our current crop have failed in this area. Remarkably, women appear the most unaware of what they are doing wrong when it comes time to analyse performance.

Here's the deal. Women are great at multi-tasking, can do any job a man can do (sometimes even better), are physically and psychologically capable of taking on anything and have a very strong work ethic. That should be great ingredients for a future in leadership roles. So, what's missing?

Two things are noticeably lacking. The first is necessary for any role where the majority of time is spent in the public arena. Retail skills. Great policy is fantastic. Charisma is a good thing. The ability to speak well is also wonderful. Having no ability to 'sell' it.......leads to failure every time. Just because something is good doesn't mean that the general public will listen.

The media control our sound bytes and our snippets. Leaving them room to fill that space with negative speak from those opposing is not just the fault of the media. It is also the fault of the salesperson. Marketing cannot be underestimated. Neither can connections with the public. Separate yourself from them and stand apart and you will win no friends.....or votes.

We need our representatives to be people we can relate to. That's difficult to do but past PM's have shown what people want. Bob Hawke and his day off comment after the Cup win. Howard and his walking suit. Keating and his........acually, Keating is one of those who fit this same mould. Aloof, apart and unreachable. Campbell Newman is another. In fact, in this deconstruction, Anna Bligh is the anomaly as well.

The second thing you need to do as leader......is lead a TEAM. Do not stand alone, as if you are the only one with the decision making ability and tell the public what YOU decided. That is the sign of a dictator. Nobody wants that. I can guarantee you that Julia never made the decision to stand Slipper or Thomson aside all by herself. Her advisors and several other members of her caucus would have had talks with her before this decision was reached. She said 'I have made the decision.........' What she SHOULD have said was 'This Government has decided.......' or 'We have decided.......'

While I applaud people for wishing to be the person held accountable for decisions and policy, the fact is it doesn't work. They are not alone in the job. It is a team effort. Instead of standing as spokesperson for a group of shadows, they should be standing as spokesperson with a full team of supportive people right behind them.

Now, after attacking women and their lack of leadership skills, it's time to ask real questions. Are women given enough support as they rise through the tiers of power? Do they have people they can rely on to hold them up or provide a sounding board when they need it? Is there so much scrutiny of hairstyles, clothing and voice modulation that they somehow lose themselves in the effort to become perfect? Those questions need answers.

Men in these positions will often delegate answers to their Ministers, they will stand before media scrums with at least the Deputy behind them. I've never seen mention of a bad tie or an ill-fitting suit or bad rug. It seems to me that it is a hell of a lot tougher to get to the top if you are a women. The journey is tough but it's a damn sight more difficult to actually stay there once the top is reached.

Maybe this post has provided more questions than answers and it certainly doesn't apply to all women in powerful roles. It's more an observation of those who are 'on the nose' and the reflections of a woman who would like to be chosen at some point to represent a much smaller group in a position of influence.

As mentioned, there are also many men who fit this profile, including Queensland's current Premier. I will be watching carefully to see if his lack of retail skills and 'stand alone' attitude will be perceived in the same way as it has been for the women of this country. We'll see.


  1. Whale oil beef hooked!May 1, 2012 at 7:03 PM

    Nothing to do with gender Leigh.

    It was all to do with, "the brand - Labor"
    Labor = lies
    "There will be no rate rise under the Council I lead".
    "We will not sell the State's assets"
    "There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead".
    What's the common thread - now we are in power, we KNOW what's best for you.
    Uncertain times like these at present result in the people wanting a conservative form of leadership.

    That is what they, (and in the case of the Federal Govt), will vote for.

    Whale oil beef hooked!

  2. What will be most interesting in the case of Campbell is how he is treated once the inevitable political broken promise is apparent (a Juliar?)or if he implements a policy that was not forshadowed in the election campaign (a blighter?)

    Will he get the same treatment from the media and will the mud stick as effectively as it did to Anna, Val and Julia.

    Our media now seems only able to present issues angled in a way that distills them to a stereotype.

    It doesn't take much thought to recognise which misogynist one was used against the girls.

    Newman won't get "equal" treatment because the stereotypical angle will change. It will be interesting to see what gets chosen.

  3. Leigh, congratulations for giving some serious thought to the issues (as distinct from lapsing into bitterness).

    In my view, you’re half-right. Leadership and team-building are vitally important. However I’m not sure that women per se face any insurmountable hurdles just because of gender. Owning class women are brought up with leadership skills (Lizzie 2, Janet Holmes a Court, Gina Rhinehart).

    In Queensland Anna Bligh was handed the succession in a very positive way, yet contributed to her own demise by surrounding herself with Party apparatchiks guaranteed to alienate voters (Mike Kaiser as her chief of staff was the kiss of death).

    Leadership is NOT about developing “a vision” in isolation and then imposing it on everyone else. Leadership is about collaborating with a mosaic of interests to generate a vision that can be realised through shared effort. Val was quite simply unable to do that, as you know. Anna could only do it within a very small circle of Party loyalists, and Gillard (or Kill Hard as I call her because of her rabid war-mongering) is of a similar ilk.

    Over the past six years in Cairns, ALP leadership has played a horrid, destructive role of character assassination and exclusion of working class folk while catering to the salaried professional workers. They have told people what is best for them, and punished anyone who hasn’t gone along.

    The question in front of you is whether Labor is worth persisting with at all, or whether a new vehicle is needed for working class aspirations. (Clearly, I’ve given up on Labor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much).

  4. I think women have a problem with delegating to teams because often there are men with issues below them waiting to usurp the throne. I don't think Val or Bligh are relevant examples, but how often do you see strong women with a strong VP? Cochrane was after Val's job all along. Kennelly in NSW was deserted by senior party members. Has the LNP ever had a female premier? Or has a female ever lead the LNP at federal or national level? Julie Bishop has always been deputy and her name is rarely thrown up as future no.1.

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