Gender Equality: If We Want to Lead, Why Aren't We Doing So?


It is a week since David Cameron set out plans to tackle the gender pay gap. The PM has made a positive step, but as Chloe Saklow, Senior Strategic Planner at Johnston Press discovers, money isn't the only obstacle to equality in the work place. 

Yes, it's true that men dominate the boardroom but as women I would argue that we have a tendency to unwittingly limit ourselves. We don’t let ourselves believe that dreams really can come true. Not for us. That happens to other people. People who are confident and know what they’re doing. People who have a game plan and are able to execute it. People who can play the game and take charge. Odds are these people are probably male.

In a recent KPMG study, 60% of the professional women surveyed said that they aspire to a senior leadership position. Meanwhile, 60% said they find it hard to see themselves as a leader. There is clear disconnect here. If we want to lead, why aren’t we doing so? What is holding us back?

The real issue here isn’t about gender but confidence which, as women, is likely to ebb and flow depending on anything and everything from how we feel about ourselves, to hearing what others think of us, to our life-stage, to fighting with our three year old, to our appearance. This isn’t meant to sound frivolous; the truth is that confidence is a fragile thing. It’s hard won and not easily maintained, which is why we may feel empowered and capable one day and quite the opposite the next.

Could the challenges to our self-belief cited above, which seem to be stopping us from becoming the leaders we want to be, in fact be the defining characteristics of our own, personal, female style of leadership? Being in touch with our thoughts and emotions, listening to other people’s opinions, life experience, negotiating with a young child surely make us thoughtful, inclusive, open-minded, empathetic - and hopefully persuasive! Aren't these in fact the human qualities you would welcome and even admire in your own boss?

We need to embrace authentic and diverse kinds of leadership that celebrate rather than suppress our individuality. We need to allow ourselves to be the women we are, rather than trying to emulate the men that we will never be. As the working mother of a young and headstrong daughter, I want to help her channel her concurrent determination, vulnerability and passion into becoming whatever she decides she wants to be in the years to come.

However, monkey see, monkey do. I am all too aware that she will follow my lead and not my word (if only). This motivates me to work hard and aim high but also to be myself and to be kind to others in the process. As a previous female boss taught me, you can be a leader and be nice person. It is not a surprise to me that in the KPMG study 67% of women reported they had learned the most important lessons in leadership from other women.

There is no right way to lead, just as there is no right way to be a mum, a daughter or a friend. Each of us has our own individual way. That’s a powerful truth I think we need to get comfortable with to be able to realise our aspirations. We can lead as we are, not as we think we should be.