Whilst politicians and historians proudly trace the origins of modern democracy back to the 5th century BC when Athenian men were given the vote – it would take 2400 years until the privilege was extended to women.
Fast forward to the present day and figures such as Angela Merkel, Michelle Obama, Christine Lagarde and Oprah Winfrey are at the heart of our political, economic and social fabric. Depending on the outcome of the US Presidential elections in November, the most powerful office in the world could, for the first time, be held by a woman.
On the face of it at least, women are well represented in the corridors of power, yet a quick look at the statistics tell a different story – the planet is still run by men, with women making up just 6.9% of all political leaders in the world and 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs in the US. Statistics from the ONS suggest the difference between the average earnings of men and women is as big as 35.9% in the UK, whilst AAT’s own survey of its accountancy and finance membership in 2015 showed that men working full time earned 18% more than women.
Traditionally, for women to succeed in the higher echelons of power they’ve needed to convey an aura of ruthless invincibility. Margaret Thatcher, who surrounded herself by successive cabinets of men, took the UK to armed conflict 8000 miles from London, defeated the trade unions and played a pivotal role in ending the Cold War was dubbed the Iron Lady; Hilary Clinton’s memoir of her time as the Secretary of State – ‘Hard Choices’ – serves to reinforce her credentials as a steely straight talking, woman of action.
In Silicon Valley, the paradigm of the driven, ambitious executive who can chair a critical earnings call whilst simultaneously breastfeeding a baby is fast becoming the new archetype to which to aspire. “Until women are as ambitious as men, they’re not going to achieve as much as men” says Silicon Valley innovator and staunch advocate of women’s rights Sheryl Sandberg.
Elsewhere social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains how power poses can increase your confidence by raising testosterone levels. Research carried out by The University of Chicago reinforces the idea that increased testosterone in women greatly multiplies the chances of takings risks. “Women are generally more risk adverse than men” the study reads, “Higher levels of circulating testosterone were associated with lower risk aversion among women, but not among men. These results suggest that testosterone has both organizational and activational effects on risk-sensitive financial decisions and long-term career choices.” The overriding message seems to be that to sit at the table in a world run by men, you need to adopt the traits and even the chemistry of one.
Our contemporary, progressive society has moved beyond the reduction of a set of characteristics that can be attributed to gender, race or sexuality. Nevertheless we can’t deny thousands of years of history. The culturally (and perhaps biologically) ingrained notion of the aggressive, competitive patriarch runs deep.
My own clarion call on International Women’s Day, is for the phasing out of the insatiable, patriarchal quest for growth that drives our economic and political lives and to adopt an intelligent, considered and holistic approach to how we conduct our society. It’s the duty of women and men the world over to move on from the past and gently establish new traditions.
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