Saturday, May 24, 2008

North America's Elephant in the Room: Women Political Leaders in Scarce Supply

Anyone who can withstand the grueling nature of the United States Presidential nominations’ race deserves a gold Olympic medal. It has to be adrenalin and a steady diet of optimism that keeps the candidates upright and awake! In a world in which top and middle management leaders are on overload most of the time, we can identify somewhat with the brutal challenges of leading.

Now, with the dial increasingly pointing toward Barack Obama as the Presidential nominee of choice for the Democrats, the real impact of Hillary’s pending loss is beginning to sink in. In North America, we have an elephant in the room: a rotten track record of voting women to the top political post of a nation. Kim Campbell’s tenure as Canada’s Prime Minister barely counts as she was not in office long enough to accomplish anything.

Currently, there are 6 female Presidents and 7 woman Prime Ministers in the world. The Presidents are located in Argentina, Chile, Finland, India, Ireland, Liberia and The Philippines. The countries with Prime Ministers include Germany, New Zealand, Moldavia (Designated), Mozambique, The Netherlands Antilles, Ukraine and The Aland Islands. The numbers are small. But, telling in that South America is doing better than North America.

Another way to view the situation is the number of female members in the 195 countries and governments in the world. It ranges from a high of 60 % (Finland) to zero (Monaco and Saudi Arabia).

We would expect due to the length of time we have had electoral democracies in North America, that we’d at least be skirting the high end. No! At 21 %, Canada is outdone by most other established democracies except Ireland (20 %), Luxembourg (20 %), Belgium (19 %), Liechtenstein (20 %) and the United States (15 %). Even Rwanda at 25 % beats North America and, by recent reports, it is largely women who are through micro-credit initiatives rebuilding the economic foundation of that country.

Social scientists and others academics likely have many explanations for North America’s elephant in the room. We’ll hear more from them once the Democrats make up their minds. Certainly the pundits have no fear of speculating: blatant sexism! The timing is now for healing the race issue! There is no simple answer.

Although there is reason to celebrate---a fresh new face on the political scene in the United States---it feels somewhat bittersweet for women. Nevertheless, Hillary’s grit and depth and Barack’s focus on change and bringing people together have together made a positive contribution to the political emotional climate in North America. For that, we are fortunate. The times ahead will be exciting and interesting!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Annika Sorenstam's Choice: Every Working Woman's Dilemma

At first, I was flummoxed by Annika Sorenstam’s surprise announcement that she was “stepping away from competitive golf” at the end of the 2008 season. As one of the greatest female golfers of all time and with many more playable years left, why, at age 37, would she do that?

Watching her press conference and many others that followed, I began to understand---the peacefulness of her demeanor spoke volumes. She is ready to give back more. Her raison d’etre has shifted toward family and the fullness of life in general. This is every working woman’s dilemma.

To improve the quality of life for all peoples on this planet, women have a huge role to play. Many studies have demonstrated that organizations with women represented well at all levels, perform better than those who have thinning ranks of women, the higher one goes toward the top. For example, Fortune 500 companies with the most women on their boards outperform those with the fewest—52 per cent higher return on equity and 42 per cent higher return on sales (Why Women Should Rule the World, Dee Dee Myers, President Bill Clinton’s former press secretary). While this is good news, it only creates more stress for women. To effect change, we need to be where the action is. But, how does one choose between family and everything else?

The irony is that without women’s involvement, extensively and persistently, their voices will not be heard to the extent needed to make raising families easier. Take Canada’s situation on day care. Out of 14 industrialized countries, we are dead last in public spending on early childhood education and care, according to Stats Canada. Furthermore, while Canadian women outnumber men at university, and 75 per cent of women with children under 5 are in the workforce in Canada, women comprise just 30 per cent of the legislators in Ottawa (the average for Canada’s Conservative party is 16.3 per cent). Yet, in Spain, for example, women are in the majority at the elected level. What a difference that must make in better understanding the policies needed to raise the next generation while tackling the tough global issues of the day!

Annika’s story resonates. Her “axial spirit”, the desire to find greater meaning in life by being other-directed, is universal. She is joining a legion of women who have stepped out of the limelight and the “rat race” to attend to other pressing matters. If history is any predictor, she will return to the limelight after a decade or so. But, it won’t be to compete competitively. After time out to reflect and be involved in different ways in sports and in life (raise a family), she’ll be fighting with renewed vigour for policy changes in the world of sports that will impact the lives of many young people. At least, that’s my wish…..