Through assertiveness we develop contact with ourselves and with others. We become real human beings with real ideas, real differences…and real flaws. And we admit all of these things. We don’t try to become someone else’s mirror. We don’t try to suppress someone else’s uniqueness. We don’t try to pretend that we’re perfect. We become ourselves. We allow ourselves to be there.

Randy Paterson Canadian Psychologist Author The Assertiveness Workbook 

In different countries the leadership role of women and progressing gender equality continues to reflect much of the same struggles that women have been fighting for more than 125 years. Our ability to access higher education and to have a career of our choosing rather than one that was chosen for us has ensured that we no longer have to break the glass ceiling or grab an extension ladder. Instead we can now cast our fishing nets wide and weave a new tapestry that showcases the value add of having women in leadership roles that are determined to make a difference. We still see many ‘First’s’ in professions, business, sports etc and yes there will be some collateral damage as the old institutions that have served others (mainly men) so well in the past begin to crumble. I liken our obstacles to how hard it is for the Alaskan salmon to return home each year and the struggles that they face to swim upstream against all odds. Yet swim and succeed they do as do we.

So how tough do women really have to be to survive these days if you are a woman in your own business, a senior executive, a politician or prime minister, a board member, a volunteer or a woman who simply wants more in her life and her career? Do the same rules apply at work as in a relationship? Do you treat everyone as an equal? How do you respond in difficult situations that make you feel uncomfortable? How do you deal with aggressive behaviour of others that don’t fight fair? Do you remain passive in these situations because you don’t want to offend anyone? What do you do when your views are not valued or respected? Does your body go into freeze/fight or flight mode when you feel threatened, bullied or ostracised? How do you incorporate family responsibilities and being a mother? Or do you just pack up your kit bag and walk away before you become physically and emotional unwell?

Our female politicians in Australia who dared to dream of being elected and making a difference still have to overcome some significant struggles like Julia Gillard, Australia’s First Female Prime Minister (2010-2013). Taking on this role after an internal leadership spill was not the ideal way to gain the position however she did get elected in her own right and while she relied on the bipartisan support of several independent members to govern, more legislation was passed during her term in office than any other Prime Minister’s term before her (561 bills).

Sadly the undermining within her political party continued and saw former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd succeed in another overnight leadership coup. I doubt that there is a democratic country in the world that can wake up to a new Prime Minister without an election being held and people just go about their day to day business oblivious to the long term impacts that this has. As Julia said, while she was the first female Prime Minister, her legacy will make it easier for the next one and the ones that follow to aspire to hold the office of Prime Minister. Perhaps her greatest legacy for gender equality was her speech against sexism and misogyny on 8 October 2012 in the federal parliament and directed at the then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott who would later become Prime Minister in 2013 only to be deposed himself in a leadership coup in 2015. Was this karma?

MP’s Tony Abbot and Julia Gillard face off in Federal Parliament 
Julia Gillard’s “misogyny speech” in full 8 October 2012 15:02mins 
Source ABC News Australia

So my question to you is ‘Do we expect women to behave differently to men? Or do we expect them to act just like men when they get the top job or become a significant influencer or decision maker? Do all Assertive Women need to wear Prada to survive? Do they need to sacrifice family and relationships just to succeed? Is the price worth it in the end? Do we confuse a woman of strength who is affirmative and follows through on what she believes in? Are we more critical of her and how she does her job? Is she seen as being too aggressive or intimidating because she may speak her mind and draw the line as to where her values and her boundaries are?

Across the waters in New Zealand, we witnessed a very different political scenario unfolding regarding women in the top job of Prime Minister (PM). In October 2017, New Zealand elected their 40th Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. She is the third woman to hold this office since women won the right to vote in New Zealand 125 years ago. Jacinda has shared some candid thoughts about being the youngest female world leader at 37, what it meant to be unmarried and pregnant, taking six weeks maternity leave after she had her baby, being seen as a role model to other working mothers, having a stay at home partner prepared to look after their child and being able to respond so eloquently to the many questions that the media and political commentators throw at her about her ability to govern her country effectively. Well guess what … she had her baby Neve, took maternity leave and the country did not fall apart, there were no major political unrests or coups to replace her nor any civil disobedience.

The most significant contrast between the leadership of Australia and New Zealand is that the current New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern grew up believing that gender would not stop her from achieving whatever she wanted to. Women’s leadership roles in Parliament were clearly defined by the two previous trail blazer Female Prime Ministers Jenny Shipley (1997-1999) and Helen Clarke (1999-2008). Jacinda candidly confirms that women are used to multitasking every day. As a child of the 1980’s she grew up in a country that was prepared to speak out on issues like apartheid and nuclear testing in the pacific. Jacinda recently spoke at the United Nations General Assembly to the World Leaders and highlighted some of the intrinsic values that she shares as the leader of New Zealand, including their support for the United Nations and as global citizens. She was warmly welcomed by the world leaders and the global press who delighted in sharing pictures of her with her partner and baby daughter Neve.  It is well worth watching and listening to her entire speech. She epitomises the value of being a female and all the joys that come with doing her job with a little humanity, a sense of humour and a large dose of human compassion and kindness.

New Zealand – Prime Minister Addresses General Debate, 73rd Session 22:45mins 
While it is not easy to necessarily compare the roles and responsibilities between leaders of different nations, this particular contrast between some of the topics that the US President Donald Trump shared at the UN General Assembly to what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shared is worth thinking about.

Contrasting styles: Trump and Ardern speak at the UN 1:56mins 
Source Guardian News 27 September 2018

So what leadership style do you resonate with? Being more aggressive or assertive?  As a passionate Hobbit lover – my choice is very simple. Look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback.

Chris Knight
Director, Inspirational Connections/Dream Catcher
Australia’s #1 Networking Communicator
Freelance Springboard Trainer Australia
WNA National Rural and Remote Ambassador
Soroptimist International Global Member
M: 0403177012

Views expressed by the writer are not necessarily the views of the Springboard Consultancy Ltd

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