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The Changing Face of Leadership

Updated: Apr 14

Baseball great Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” These prophetic words aptly apply to today’s world. Due to the pandemic, women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to being lost and one in four women have already considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce altogether because of new caregiving responsibilities at home (UN Foundation, 2021). However, even though the pandemic has thrown global growth offtrack, female leadership in politics and business has steadily --albeit slowly -- made progress. Today, women make up 25% of the world’s leaders (UN Women, 2021).

Twenty-one of 200 heads of state are women and 11 national parliaments have equal numbers of men and women. Interestingly enough, research shows that countries led by women have had better Covid-19 outcomes (The Guardian, 8/2020). These countries include New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, and Norway (Bloomberg Opinion, 1/2021). The following is a sampling of world leaders who are women:

· Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand – Ardern is a New Zealand politician who has been serving as the 40th Prime Minister and leader of the Labor Party since 2017. She once said, “seeing children without shoes on their feet or anything to eat for lunch” inspired her to eventually enter politics. Ardern earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies (2001) and after that she worked for two-and-a-half years in the cabinet office of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. At the age of 28, Ardern entered New Zealand’s House of Representatives as its youngest member.

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand

· Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway – Solberg served as prime minister since 2013 and leader of the Conservative Party since May 2004. She has been given the nickname “Iron Erna,” inspired by Margaret Thatcher’s nickname, the “Iron Lady.” Solberg earned degrees in sociology, political science, statistics, and economics. She shows a particular interest in gender issues such as girls’ rights to education. Solberg has expressed the hope that in 2030 factors such as poverty, gender, cultural beliefs will not prevent young, ambitious girls from standing confidently on the world’s stage.

Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway

· Katrin Jakobsdottir, Prime Minister of Iceland - Jokobsdottir hails from a family which has produced many prominent individuals in Icelandic politics, academia, and literature. She is the younger sister of twin brothers who are both professors at the University of Iceland. Katrin is the great-granddaughter of the politician and judge Skuli Thoroddsen and the poet Theodora Thoroddsen, and granddaughter of engineer and MP Sigurour Thoroddse. The poet Dagar Siguroarson is her maternal uncle. She has a bachelor’s degree in Icelandic and a minor in French as well as a master’s degree in Icelandic. She is the second woman to serve as prime minister.

Katrin Jakobsdottir, Prime Minister of Iceland

Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia – A graduate of the University of Tartu with a degree in biology and an MBA in business management. Before becoming President, Kaljulaid held positions in investment banking, worked as economic advisor to the prime minister, and was the first woman to lead a power plant in Estonia. Besides Estonian, she is fluent in English, Finnish, and French. Kaljulaid has spoken in support of strong civil society with less state interference at the same time placing high importance on helping those in need (Estonian World, October 2016).

Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia

· Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia - Zewde took office in October 2018 and promised to work hard to make gender equality a reality (BBS News, 10/2018). She was formerly a career diplomat with two decades of experience that included posts in Senegal, France, and Djibouti. Additionally, Zewde was Minister of Education went on to become Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was also Assistant Secretary General with the United Nations and helped to stabilize the Central African Republic, working on peace- building for eight years. She studied natural science at The University of Montpellier in France and is fluent in Amharic, French, and English.

Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia

· Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany - The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 served as a catalyst for Merkel’s political career. Although she did not participate in the crowd celebrations the night the wall came down, one month later Merkel became involved in the growing democracy movement, joining the new party Democratic Awakening. Merkel was elected as the first female chancellor of Germany in 2005. Her father was a clergyman and her mother taught English and Latin. Merkel has a doctorate degree in quantum chemistry and worked as a research scientist for three years. She was a protegee of Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Since 2015, under her leadership, Germany has taken in 500,000 refugees annually.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

· Ana Brnabic, Prime Minister of Serbia - Brnabic entered government in 2016 as the Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government and initiated reforms of central government services in Serbia. She was elected as a non-partisan politician and joined the ruling Serbian Progressive Party in 2019. Before becoming prime minister in 2017, she worked for more than a decade with international organizations, foreign investors, local self-government units, and the public sector in Serbia. Also, she was director of Continental Wind Serbia, a member of the managing board of the non-profit Peksim, and has been engaged in different U.S. consulting companies that implemented USAID-financed projects in Serbia. She holds a BBA diploma from Northwood University and an MBA from the University of Hull.

Ana Brnabic, Prime Minister of Serbia

· Salome Zourabichvili, President of Georgia – Salome has been president since 2018 for a six-year term. She was born in Paris to a family of political Georgian immigrants. Zourabichvili attended the Institu d’Etudes Politiques du Paris and began a master’s degree program at Columbia but abandoned the program to join the French foreign service since 1974. She is a career diplomat who has had assignments in Rome and Brussels and was appointed Ambassador of France to Georgia in 2003. As a foreign minister of Georgia, she was the main negotiator of the agreement for the withdrawal of Russian military bases from the territory of Georgia.

Salome Zourabichvili, President of Georgia

· Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Denmark - Frederiksen is the second women to hold this office and the youngest in Danish history. She has a bachelor’s degree in administration and social science and a master’s degree in African studies. Except for a brief career as a trade unionist, she has never had any employment outside of politics.

Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Denmark

In the United States, Kamala Harris was elected the first female vice-president in 2021. Before becoming vice-president, Harris was the 32nd Attorney General of California and a U.S. Senator. She is also an author. As an aside, President Biden has an all-female communications team and half of his administration's cabinet is female.

Kamala Harris, Vice-President of the United States

Fortune 500 companies are similarly diversifying. Currently, 41 Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs and women comprise 22.5% of these companies' boards of directors (Deloitte, 2019). Apparently, businesses are discovering that proxy fights are sometimes unnecessary to change and improve the direction of a corporation. One solution is to acknowledge and embrace the positive impact of inclusive leadership. Getting rid of staggered board elections so shareholders can decide how they want a company run is a step in the right direction. Corporations should be held accountable for their actions and hold true elections. Also, it is important that qualified individuals who embody activism have prominent roles on corporate boards.

The strides women have made in the government and business are admirable, but progress has been slow. If we keep going at this rate, gender parity will take many, many more years. More sagacity is needed concerning electing the most capable leaders. Actor, intellectual, and diplomat Peter Ustinov postulated that “the point of living is to believe the best is yet to come.” By adopting this viewpoint and taking decisive action through fair elections and activism, hopefully the world will be better able to wade through the reeds of political and corporate gender disparity and adopt a more equitable and inclusive society.

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