Feminist leadership

Feminist leadership

Does being a strong woman while leading, equal 'feminist leadership'?

20-09-2021

Readers of the Observant know that the future and quality of leadership is again a popular topic.  Prof. Martin Paul will say farewell to us via his own musings on leadership.  In my case, I was recently invited as a speaker and mentor for a Summer School for Female Leadership that took place in Lisbon.  One of my roles was to be part of a panel entitled “Global Order: Leading with purpose for a sustainable, inclusive world.”  Amongst the questions sent by the moderator of the panel, the journalist and opinion shaper Shada Islam, was the intriguing question: “‘Feminist leadership’ what is it, does it exist and if it does, is it good, bad or unimportant?”

I confess that I do not know the answer to this loaded series of questions but in my own preparation, I jotted down the names and qualifications of the three capable women who are currently being tipped to become the next Secretary-General of NATO.  All three have leadership experience as the president of their respective countries (Lithuania, Croatia, and Estonia) and at least one has a reputation of being tough.

I also made some notes on the Green Party’s chancellor candidate in Germany, Annalena Baerbock, because she too has a reputation of taking controversial stances.  Even Vladimir Putin is afraid of her opposition to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. 

However, does being a strong woman while leading, equal “feminist leadership,” and what is the difference between feminist and feminine in the context of leading?  Will every divisive decision that a woman makes be evaluated in the light of her gender?  Would any sign of bad or even good leadership be linked to her being a woman? 

A recent Economist also dwelled on the leadership question, pointing out that Machiavellian realists view leadership as the ability to seize the horse of history and lever oneself on its back.  Idealists see leadership as steering the “ship of state” in the right direction or embracing the ethic of responsibility.

It is difficult to pinpoint what precise mix of qualities makes a good leader and I am not sure where gender falls within those qualities. 

However, whatever that blend of traits might be, we often know when the leadership quality is absent.  Since all too often it is men trying to hoist themselves up on the horse of history, despite the heightened criterion a woman Secretary-General of NATO is likely to face, I am looking forward to seeing how a woman treats the horse differently.

Roberta Haar, professor of Foreign Policy Analysis and Transatlantic Relations at UCM