Leadership and Crocodile Shoes

By Harriet Croxton July 13, 2016

‘If women want to succeed, they need to be thick-skinned – aggressiveCrocodile_Shoesly determined and impervious to criticism …’ So said Christine Lagarde, Head of the International Monetary Fund in a recent interview. But only to begin with. Ms Lagarde went on to say that once a woman is established in power, she, ‘can take off the crocodile skin and become a normal human being, without having to shield against horrible attacks and below the belt punches.’

We could be about to see a mass shedding of crocodile skin.

At the time of writing, a female prime minister is shortly to move into 10 Downing Street – the first in 26 years. As she gets to grips with the implications of Brexit, she will have to deal with Angela Merkel, the current Chancellor of Germany as her opposite number – undoubtedly the most powerful politician in Europe (and has been for some while). Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Hillary Clinton is 3-1 favourite to win the US presidential election in November. (Let’s just not mention Trump).

By the end of the year we could be in an unprecedented situation where three of the most powerful and influential leadership positions on the planet are held by women.

Will this make for a better world?

Who knows? Women are often cited as being more emotionally intelligent than men, with better communication, collaboration, patience and stronger ethics. But this is – I’ll say it again – a completely unprecedented situation. So who can tell?

More answerable a question, perhaps, is how they got there – and how more women can be supported in attaining top leadership roles?

We recently hosted a Think Tank dinner, inviting a group of female HR and L&D professionals to discuss the role of Women in Leadership. The discussion looked to help us understand the issues they face and how HR and L&D professionals can better support them. The result of this discussion is collated in our report Creating 21st Century Female Leaders where we looked at the topics of embedding diversity, holding onto female leaders, collaboration, work-life balance and whether women want to be treated differently in the workplace at all.

I think the past few weeks have shown us more than ever that the world of politics is a tough one; one requiring a strong resilience and a skin as thick as a crocodile.

In our Think Tank discussion there wasn’t much appetite for women to be treated differently to men in business and a general feeling that good leadership qualities actually applied to both genders. Access the report to learn more.

That said, our heady world of L&D is a far cry from the world of politics at the moment and crocodile skin is most certainly needed there – regardless of gender.  If nothing else, with her infamous shoe collection, there’s a chance Mrs May might own some crocodile shoes!

Women leaders in Finance

Back in April on this blog we highlighted a report from HM Treasury and Virgin Money that covered these issues from the particular perspective of the finance sector (Empowering Productivity: Harnessing the Talents of Women in Financial Services). The report found that the culture of organisations is stopping women from reaching the upper levels of management.

Well here’s an update on that work, which led to a ‘Women in Finance Charter’ asking financial services firms to commit to implement four key industry actions as recommended in the report.

This week the new list of charter signatories was released and it can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/women-in-finance-charter

It includes firms from across the UK financial services sector, with large investment banks, retail banks, building societies, asset managers and insurers amongst the signatories.

‘This marks a significant turning-point in the battle for a more balanced and fair industry,’ said Emily Cox, Director Public Affairs, Virgin Money ‘but there is hard work ahead in turning commitments into reality’.

Time to get those crocodile shoes on, perhaps.


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