Women and Leadership by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

‘Women leaders all seem to be facing the same kinds of problems …’

This book, co-authored by Julia Gillard, Australia’s first woman prime minister, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigerian finance minister, looks at why there are so few women at the top level of politics. Ms Gillard and Ms Okonjo-Iweala draw on their own experience as well as on interviews with eight women leaders: Jacinda Adern; Hillary Clinton; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; Theresa May; Michelle Bachelet; Joyce Banda; Erna Solberg and Christine Lagarde.

Why is this such an important issue? Well, consider this:

‘The World Economic Forum has calculated that, if we continue to improve at the current rate, closing the global gender gap in political representation will take ninety-five years.’

While Ms Gillard and Ms Okonjo-Iweala have focussed on women leaders in politics, much of what they write applies to women in leadership roles more generally.

In the book, they test eight hypotheses by asking each of their interviewees a set of questions. The headings of the eight hypotheses are:

1 You go girl
2 It’s all about the hair
3 Shrill or soft (the style conundrum)
4 She’s a bit of a bitch
5 Who’s minding the kids?
6 A special place in hell – do women really support women?
7 Modern-day Salem
8 The role-modelling riddle

Sadly, it does not look like sexism is going to disappear anytime soon. But in a chapter entitled ‘The stand-out lessons from eight lives and eight hypotheses, aspiring leaders are reminded to ‘Be aware, not beware’. This is important: while in writing this book Ms Gillard and Ms Okonjo-Iweala want to inspire women to pursue leadership roles, they have not glossed over the challenges.

There are other valuable observations, and a reminder. Both Ms Gillard and Ms Okonjo-Iweala are involved in sponsorship and mentorship. The publisher of this book observed that, despite all of the work they were doing they were both acting like stereotypical women and highlighting their failures and guilt.

‘Naturally, in response to her assessment, we edited. But there is something laugh-out-loud ridiculous about two intelligent, dedicated women writing tens of thousands of words about gendered stereotyping and then falling for it in our behaviour.’

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in the issues faced by women in leadership.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith