Redefine power to end abuses. Can we get there if men share the power with women?

Isabella Lenarduzzi, founder and managing director of JUMP* “Promoting Gender Equality, Advancing the Economy”

It’s not only economic power that remains the preserve of men… but political power as well. In summer 2017, only 23.3% of national parliamentarians in the Member States of the United Nations were women, and only 5,2% (ie .10 of them) were heads of state (that number rises to 17 if you include Queens and Presidents). It’s a similar story with the number of female CEOs in large companies.

We are well aware of the disillusionment and distrust concerning politics. More and more people are sickened by the arrogance, inefficiencies and greed of some of our leaders. In Belgium, we have witnessed quite a few departures of high-ranking female politicians who think that the personal price to pay is too high compared to the limited impact they have on society. They also warn us of the unhealthy direction that power is taking and are exhausted of the increasing clash with the voters.

And yet, all over the world, we are seeing the progression of authoritarian powers, hegemonies, who prefer confrontation over collaboration, risking the democratic model that we have built since the end of the Second World War.

Is it necessary to be arrogant to be a leader?

A study by the University of Ohio indicates that we have a natural tendency to elect self-centred, narcissistic individuals with a disproportionate level of self-confidence as leaders. As a result, too many “warlords” come to power but are incompetent as soon as they get there. This arrogance and overconfidence would be inversely proportional to the talent of a leader and ensure their failure (Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College, London and member of the faculty at Columbia University in the article of the Harvard Business Review).

According to the professor of business psychology David Graeber, anthropologist and economist at the London School of Economics, “a good leader should, on the contrary, show they are capable of building and maintaining a team at the top, inspiring their colleagues and uniting them around a project. And it is women who often possess the innate qualities and culture to create this team dynamic. While many studies prove that women have more emotional intelligence than men, it is dangerous and probably too simplistic to assume that this is due to their “nature”. Instead it is the result of their inferior place in society: “It is power that creates stupidity. A recent study shows that the more impoverished people are, the more they can identify other people’s emotions. The rich have no idea what other people are feeling. Whereas if you are poor, you need to know what your boss has in mind! In a patriarchal structure, women have to spend time working out what goes through the minds of men.”

Power is blinding. Can men restore their eyesight by sharing power with women?

Because of their place as the “second sex”, women have become more creative, more capable at solving problems, they communicate better and attach more importance to developing the skills of those in their teams. They are therefore more competent to rise to the huge challenge of our model of society (as well as the challenges facing companies, as McKinsey states in their report “Women matter”).

However, despite all the discussions and studies showcasing the added value that women and gender diversity bring, we still expect women to adopt behaviours associated with a traditional style of leadership (self-promotion, pride, authoritarianism, excesses of all kinds, …) even though these traits are counterproductive and dysfunctional, regrets the HBR.

Where are we heading?

Let’s look at recent changes at the heart of the super powers.

It’s pointless discussing what happened in the largest world super power… Suffice it to say: “We reward those who spend their time selling themselves rather than engaging in advancing society for all of us,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.

In China, following the last party congress, there was only one woman in the Politburo, which comprises 25 members, and none among the 7 members of the Standing Committee. They were, however, 24% of the delegates chosen to participate in the National Congress.

Can a real democracy bring more parity between the genders? Yes, if there is a strong civil society lobbying for a commitment to coercive policies and measures (in other words quotas accompanied by sanctions).

In Europe, we find the same countries as ever at the top of the ranking of the number of women elected to represent the people: Iceland (48%), Sweden (44%), Finland (42%), Norway (40%), followed by France (39%) and Belgium (38%).

Until the recent parliamentary elections in September, Germany followed Belgium in the ranking, but because of the rise of the right-wing parties, there was a significant drop in the number of women elected to the Bundestag: from 36.5% to 31%. In Angela Merkel’s party of the CDU/CSU, only 20% of the 246 elected are women. Women make up 12% of the AfD, the party of the extreme right; as is often the case, most women are in the green party and extreme left.

This backwards step in Germany shows that measures in place are not sufficient if the electorate is choosing more conservative parties from the point of view of women in society. Today still, I’m finding it hard to accept that one in two white women voted for Trump.

In France, there are now as many women as men in government, even if the “portfolios” of some are more important than those of others. Although in the Senate there was only a slight increase in the number of women represented, from 25% to 29% (despite over 45% of candidates), the number of deputies in the National Assembly doubled in a decade and practically quadrupled over 20 years. This progress can be explained in part by the law abolishing the accumulation of political positions and reinforcing financial penalties for parties which do not respect equality among its candidates, but also by the election results as in Germany, albeit in the opposite way. It is those who won the election who enabled this progression of women: nearly half of those elected by President Macron’s centrist and liberal party, En Marche!, and by the centrist party, MoDem, are women, while in the left-wing party, la France Insoumise, 41% are women. There are 38% of women in the Socialists, 25% in National Front and 23% among the Republicans.

While some countries are moving backwards, others are moving forwards… Iceland, the first country in the world that elected in 1980 a woman as president by direct universal suffrage, has appointed a 41-year-old ecologist as Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir. For the second time in Europe (after Switzerland), the three main functions of the Norwegian Government are held by women. Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister now in her second term of office, has just appointed a woman as Minister of Foreign Affairs and another as Finance Minister. Obviously, this country, which was the first to impose quotas on the Boards of Directors of public listed companies, remains an inspiration for the rest of the world!

Power sharing is a prerequisite to move from the love of power to the power of love.

Feminism is humanism. Humanism that recognises that we still live in a gender hierarchical system even if it is seriously crumbling from within. Feminism wants to replace this hierarchy by sharing those areas that have typically been the preserve of men: money, security, politics, property, media, religion, companies… It’s about sharing and not overthrowing one domination by another.

Unfortunately, the latest ranking of the World Economic Forum on the gap between women and men, notes that for the first time that the world is regressing (144 countries analysed)! For example, Belgium has moved from 24th to 31st only because of the decline of women leaders in politics and the economy. What happened in Belgium is similar to what is happening in many countries of the world – and not always in those we imagine.

So what if we seriously try to change the culture of power by sharing it between women and men? And what if we allow women and men to reinvent leadership so that it could be more inclusive, responsible and united? Those societies that share the most are also the ones that prosper the most and where well-being is highest.

Women are the first victims of the perversion of power at every level. Not only in terms of sexual harassment, rape and sexism, but also in financial terms (men are 40% more wealthy than women in the EU). Whether by their cowardly acts or abuse of power, it is always the most vulnerable who are affected, and women more so than men.

I am delighted to witness the growing rebellion of women against the violence that is being done to them, but to prevent any steps backwards, it is imperative that more men become real allies of feminism. Not only just by stating that they are but by following it through in their relationships, their families, their circle of friends, and their companies or political parties.

“The appalling price that men pay for having power over women is the loss of their ability to give and receive love” – Bell Hooks.
And what if we were to invent a power where there could also be love?

* JUMP is organising the 12th edition of its Forum on 8 March 2018 in Brussels on the theme: “Redefine power: it’s time to share the power between men and women to transform the practice of leadership”