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No Women in Leadership

By Wesa Chau - posted Wednesday, 2 November 2011

What do these people have in common - Mandela, Genghis Khan, Paul Keating, Gandhi, Confucius, and Michael Malthouse?

Correct. They're all political and spiritual leaders. And they're all men.

I would be the first to admit that Gen Y's notorious inability to look beyond their own peer group's self-interest probably disqualifies my generation from lecturing our elders and betters about leadership.


And frankly, if you ask a Gen Y slacker to define leadership, expect her to dredge up something they found on Google – usually a quote from some long dead inspirational figure they're only vaguely aware of.

So I will limit my observations to personal experience.

I came back from the States a few months ago completing a Global Leadership program on ethics. At one session our professor did a random survey with the class, asking us to name a leader from the place we came from. We had 27 in the class and among those mentioned included Nelson Mandela, Genghis Khan, Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, Mohandas Gandhi, Confucius, and more. But the striking thing was that not one person in the class named a woman. The demographic of the class was balanced in terms of gender and all from diverse backgrounds culturally, and many are studying a Masters of Leadership from Northeastern University.

What is going on here?

Is the problem that there are too few women leaders?

Or, is it that young people are too busy soaking up the popular culture zeitgeist to notice the many woman already doing amazing things – leading in their own way?


Probably a bit of both.

The result is that the younger generation is unable to come up with a woman's name when asked about leadership. The term 'leadership' is often only attached to men in top positions.

Our three national figureheads are women: The Prime Minister, the Governor General and our Queen. All have been getting a bit of press lately - you may have noticed.

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About the Author

Wesa Chau is a speaker, thinker, advocate and consultant, with expertise in diversity, working cross-culturally, international students, young people and disability.

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