The Need for Women in Leadership

Camilla Kristensen is a second-year International Relations student, who is interested in politics, diplomacy and international law.  She is as passionate about equality and social mobility, as she is addicted to coffee.

[Featured Image: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg  here in her chambers ca. 2019 – Shuran Huang/NPR. Source.]

With the recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the appreciation for all the important work she has done for women’s rights has been astonishing, and her truly inspirational story has been highlighted. Her passing emphasises not only the importance of female role models but the need for representation in all sectors! Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tragically passed away on the 18th of September 2020. The passing of a Supreme Court judge during an election year is in itself tumultuous and the battle to find a judge to take her seat is currently taking place. Whilst the importance of nominating federal judges especially on the Supreme Court level cannot be understated, her lifelong devotion to gender equality and her massive impact on exactly this topic through her legal career is truly remarkable.[1] Furthermore, her persistence is a prime example of why we need representation of women in all levels and sectors of society, whether it be in a courtroom, in parliament, or on the board of directors. We need women in leadership.

As pointed out by Tickner, a renowned feminist international relations theorist, there are few women in top positions both within politics, business, and the military. She questions whether this is caused by discrimination or something more fundamental and then concludes that the lack of representation does not mean that women are less qualified or are not interested in the same issues.[2] Another point to make here is that the skills typically associated with leadership have traditionally also been associated with masculinity and power in terms of coercion. In the past, we have seen that female politicians have had to act and dress in more traditionally masculine ways in orders to be taken seriously. The obvious example here is Margaret Thatcher, who had to act like the “toughest man in the room” or Hillary Clinton, who began to dress more masculine after she announced that she was running in the presidential election.[3] Luckily, this is now changing with congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her feminine appearance. According to Gilligan however, women tend to find power in a common capacity and have been socialised into solving issues on community basis.[4] So it is not that women do not possess the skills necessary, they might just come across differently.  As of February 2019, only 24.3 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women,[5] even though women clearly are capable of being successful leaders of businesses and governments. Women have always proved to be extremely capable of handling crises. For example, Mary T. Barra who was appointed to CEO of General Motors in 2014 proved to be extremely capable of handling the business through the uproar that ensued after a specific car model was linked to 13 deaths.[6] Another fact that brilliantly illustrates this point is that female leaders have demonstrated leadership skills through many decades and have been successful in handling the current COVID pandemic.[7] As the report from UNWomen clearly illustrates, when women partake in high legislation levels, they contribute to making the political and international sphere more gender-sensitive and balanced, whilst also contributing in making more environmentally considerate policies.[8] Clearly, it is not a lack of skills or qualifications that lead to the lack of women in high-decision making levels. So, what is it?

A few decades ago, the fact that women were barred for working if they got married would have been the obvious answer. Even though women have worked at Barclays since 1915, it was not until 1962 that they could retain their jobs after marriage. And it was even worse within the field of foreign affairs in the UK, where a woman would lose her job as a diplomat if she got married until 1973.[9] Because of the historic relationship between careers and families, one might imagine that career interruption related to familiar responsibilities for example childhood make it harder for women to advance their careers, but according to the study published by Pew Research Centre in 2015, only 1 in 5 women says that family responsibilities are the major reason, that the genders are not equally represented on high-levels of government and businesses.[10] So if responsibilities related to family is not the reason that women don’t get leadership positions, what could it be? Maybe it is a lack of inclusion: Is it okay within the business if the leaders go home early to pick up their children? When are the meetings taking place? Who is hired for leadership positions within HR, finance, or the legal department? Is everyone in the meetings listened to equally?[11] As pointed out by Caroline Farberger, the first trans woman CEO in Sweden, it would be better for business to utilize the resources available to you within the firm or the country![12]  Diversity, inclusion and representation are crucial for utilizing the talent, ideas and potential within a given country or sector: So why do we hesitate to do so?

Since the first woman joined the American Foreign Service in 1922, the amount of women has increased to around 35 per cent of the overall Foreign service.[13] Yet, women still face discrimination within the field, which is illustrated by the female-male ratio breakdown by rank. The number of women decreases, as the ranks increase. The fact remains that even when female candidates are better suited for the job, there still is inherent discrimination that inhibits women from gaining the recognition or positions they want within domestic and international fields. For example, the fact that wives of diplomats are central to diplomatic relationships is largely ignored within the field[14] just like achievements made by women are largely ignored in general.[15] What is worse is the fact that so-called women’s work is not seen as valuable within the economy.[16] Maybe the lack of recognition of social reproduction’s value and women’s achievements are part of the reason as well. What I argue in this article is that women are clearly capable of handling leadership positions both within domestic and international fields. Furthermore, having representation of all genders at all levels of leadership is important for utilizing and recognising the potential of the business or country. So why are there not more women working in leadership positions? Because of systemic discrimination and lack of inclusion that would make this possible.




[1] https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/ruth-bader-ginsburg

https://www.history.com/news/ruth-bader-ginsburgs-landmark-opinions-womens-rights-supreme-court

[2] Tickner, J. A. (1988) “Hans Morgenthau’s Principles of Political Realism: A Feminist Reformulation” in International Theory: Critical Investigations J. Der Derian (ed.) New York: New York University Press, p.429

[3] https://kcl-clandestine.com/2020/09/30/feminine-and-powerful-can-women-be-both/

[4] Tickner, J. A. (1988) “Hans Morgenthau’s Principles of Political Realism: A Feminist Reformulation” in International Theory: Critical Investigations J. Der Derian (ed.) New York: New York University Press, p.436

[5]https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures

[6]https://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/is-mary-barra-standing-on-a-glass-cliff?verso=true

[7] https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/6/take-five-vjosa-osmani

[8]  https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/6/take-five-vjosa-osmani

[9] https://www.ft.com/content/8e936c88-c9ad-11de-a071-00144feabdc0

[10] https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/01/14/women-and-leadership/

[11]  https://www.zetland.dk/historie/sejvJjNX-mekd6KXy-93ae1

[12] Hakon Mosbech, 5. september 2020, ““Jeg anede ikke, hvor mange privilegier jeg havde.”Da topchefen skiftede køn og opdagede, at alt, hun troede om ligestilling, var forkert”, zetland.dk, https://www.zetland.dk/historie/sejvJjNX-mekd6KXy-93ae1

[13] https://www.afsa.org/foreign-service-women-today-palmer-case-and-beyond

[14] Cynthia Enloe, Bananas, Beaches and Bases

[15] Shepherd, L J. Gender matters in global politics: a feminist introduction to international relations. Routledge, 2014. p.6

[16] Waring, M (1988) If Women Counted: Towards a new feminist economics , pp.44-45

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