Girls don’t want to be leaders. No wonder, when you see the violent abuse they could face | Emma Beddington
Jhe #girlboss has lost its luster. A recent survey of girls aged 9 to 18 indicated that they rank “being a leader” the lowest priority in a list of 17 attributes for future work. Girls, the report concludes, were “nearly three times more likely to prioritize health and safety” – you hope – and “twice as likely to prioritize respect over being a leader.” “. I like this: weren’t the two traditionally considered complementary? I guess the Borisiad farce-tragedy has alienated the concepts of leadership and respect so completely that the two can’t be in the same country as each other, let alone in the same wallpapered room Golden.
Besides being governed by a man who needed to be locked up with a puppy gate, what has turned young women away from leadership? There’s the perennial “you can’t be what you can’t see” problem: women remain dramatically underrepresented as CEOs and on corporate boards, and Covid has shielded the glass ceiling. An investigation cited by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic in his cathartically titled book Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? found that 92% of Americans couldn’t name a female tech leader, and a quarter of the remaining 8% offered “Alexa” or “Siri.” The Rekyjavik Index, measuring attitudes towards women in leadership positions in G7 countries, has not improved since 2019, with the latest report concluding that “deeply entrenched views on female leadership are difficult to change “. Plus, the UN says we’re still 257 years away from gender pay parity (by then, according to current calculations, the few survivors of either sex living in a depleted Greggs will have more pressing problems at s worry than what Paul from Accounts is doing: he’ll make rat crap like everyone else).
There are more women leaders in public life than ever before – a dizzying number of 30 women heads of state or government. (About 15%! What a time to be a woman!) But that doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Jacinda Ardern and her colleagues have faced “a rising tide of misogyny”, including threats of rape and murder. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s light-hearted evening led to weeks of outraged comments and a drug test. Jess Phillips and other female MPs have spoken out about the violent abuse they face. Research from earlier this year showed what we know: as the public profile of women rises, the scrutiny they face becomes more negative faster than for men.
Who wouldn’t be put off if this is what awaits you in leadership? But it’s a pity. The difference is not stark, but women surpass men as leaders. Chamorro-Premuzic cites a meta-analysis of research on the topic, which shows that women’s leadership strategies are more effective than men’s. They have more flexible and creative approaches to problem solving, are fairer and more objective with their subordinates, communicate more effectively and gain more respect (see, girls: you box have both!).
I find myself thinking vaguely contradictory things. The first is that teenage girls should do whatever they want. Life is tough enough for them without being subject to our twists to their lack of leadership ambition. When the system is biased against you, why not say fuck it? Be an alpaca herder, bake vegan muffins, or go live in a tree.
But the world is also a dark place for women and girls who are not responsible: the less power you have, the more vulnerable you are to those who abuse theirs.
In the United States, women’s reproductive choices are scrutinized and criminalized; girls are even deleting their period-tracking apps for fear of retaliation. Women in Afghanistan are not allowed to travel and girls are forced to study in secret.
Then, of course, there is Iran. I watched in terror, marveling at the bravery and spirit of the young women and teenage girls, flipping the finger at the ayatollahs, waving their scarves and heckling the paramilitaries. They shouldn’t need to lead the charge, risking their lives to challenge a regime that controls its twisted ideas about women’s “morality” with murderous violence. The world has failed them, as it has failed so many other girls and women. But that’s the problem with leadership: when the alternative is bad enough, it’s sometimes forced upon you.
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