What if women ruled the world

  • by helga
  • 01/06/2013
Here’s an interesting topic about which I’d like to throw some ideas around.Last month I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In – Women, Work and the Will to Lead, just after  reading Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. Spot the theme, yeah.For those who don’t know, Sheryl is Facebook’s COO and has given a very known TED Talk on the subject of women in leadership roles (i.e. the lack of them), which predates the book. I wasn’t particularly inspired by the TED Talk – perhaps for being shorter and less well researched, the argument she builds is not as well presented and compelling. I’m also not particularly interested in Facebook from a personal or professional perspective. But I have to confess that I really loved Sheryl’s book, and align myself with almost everything she writes about.

Spot the intruders in the marketing bookshelf

Except for the ultra-corporate talk in some sections of the book which made my teeth cringe – reminding me of pearls repeated to exhaustion by business leaders such as: ‘it’s a global race out there’ (arrghh, a race to f***ing where??.. What are you winning at the end? Who are you stepping over to win it?) – this book is truly insightful and inspirational. It’s about women’s roles, attitudes and challenges in the current business environment, which we can extrapolate to politics, public office and leadership roles in general.

Chapter titles are almost self-explanatory:  The Leadership ambition gap, Sit at the table, Success and likeability, I’ts not a ladder, Seek and speak your truth, Don’t leave before you leave, Make your partner a real partner, The myth of doing it all, and Let’s talk about it.

As I was reading through it, I could see myself nodding ‘yes, yes’ all along, clearly recognising the commonplace situations, the attitudes, looking around to see the same hidden patterns repeated everywhere, over and over again, whilst they’re now being perceived as the ‘natural’ order of things, no more an imposition from a male-dominated world. Because women have the same opportunities now, right? At least in the western world, at least here in the UK. They can make their own choices about career and life, isn’t that so?

Women earn consistently less than men when doing what looks like exactly the same job; they are less ambitious to reach leadership positions, and are still a small minority in executive teams and boardrooms; they plan for babies and feel it’s pointless to put too much effort in a career because a career is obviously not as important as other things in life; they don’t want to be like the only bitchy woman boss around the office, who everyone hates; they feel thrown outside the career ‘ladder’ because they had to take time off for having children or taking care of family; they shy away from making their point with others, they avoid conflict; they take too much responsibility in home duties and chores; they think they have to be the perfect wife/partner, the perfect mother, the perfect employee, the perfect daughter; and lastly but more disturbingly, very few seem to think that there is a problem with this order of things. Very few talk about it or address it head on. They prefer not to bring too much attention to themselves, because ‘feminism’ is totally out of date, even a bad concept nowadays. ‘They’ means me too.

Yet that determines that, with very few exceptions (probably in Scandinavia), it’s still a male-oriented  world. And that permeates through all aspects of society and perpetuates the ‘normal’ order of things. There are less women in business leadership roles because they’re not interested in being part of that game, of course, not because they lack the skills. It can be an extremely demanding and frustrating ‘game’, and if the pleasure, the testosterone or the ego demand is not there to make it worth the effort, why would they bother playing it? I totally relate to this train of thoughts. However, until women take over at least half of the leadership roles, they cannot expect things to change very fast. Sheryl’s book offers some sound advice on how to change the natural order of things, despite coming from a very privileged position.

Yes, there are also all these interesting discussions around feminism and how it relates to classism and other worse social troubles and biases causing poverty and perpetuated unfairness… even yesterday there was an exchange in The Guardian between Louise Mensch and Laurie Penny, arguments I had seen many times before – more or less summarised in the rebuke to ‘check your privilege before you speak’.

I don’t really grasp how one can be against the other. The problem goes beyond traditional left/right divides. It looks extremely counter-productive to spend time and brainpower trying to argue around the detail, when there are so many shared issues to stand against.

Just picture it: how would the world look like if we had 90% of women in power positions, across business and politics? Would it look very different? Would we still have as many wars? Would woman be naturally as blind and ruthless about how we treat the environment? Would science, sponsored by the right priorities, focus more on the right things? Would we be able to reduce poverty and hunger? Would we have a more just world? Would we be able to prevent aggressive feelings, unproductive competitiveness, unsustainable practices or harming urges? Or perhaps it would look skewed towards ‘women needs’ and be unfair towards men, preventing them of getting back to a 50/50 power situation? Perhaps we would create new, worse problems, not yet known to us?

I know, it’s simplistic (and wrong) to reduce all the world’s problems to which gender is in power. There are bad men and bad women, good and bad leaders, good and bad decisions. Perhaps there needn’t even be leaders anymore, crowdsourcing-style.

But I don’t like how things are now.

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