“Kamala, you may be the first woman to do many things, but make sure you are not the last,” said the mother of the US Vice President.
Simple words, but full of wisdom and responsibility. Gender equality gains increasing attention on the international agenda. From the women who won the Nobel Prize, the first all-women spacewalk, the remarkable results achieved by women leaders in the fight against the pandemic, and the first woman elected Vice President of the United States, many have watched with admiration the progress we have made in the direction of ensuring gender equality.
Meanwhile, Romania seems to be stubbornly taking steps back and insisting on systematically giving up resources – money, know-how, innovation – just because there are people who cannot overcome their own insecurity and choose to “fight” with it, through selfishness and individualism.
Even if the general impression regarding the involvement of women in leadership positions seems to be starting to change, the facts show us that we are still far from what gender equality should be. A World Economic Forum report shows that there are still disparities of about 32% between women and men and that this gap can be reduced, at the pace we are now, in about 200 years. Why is it so important to achieve this gender parity? The reasons are numerous and include the change of perspective in key areas – economy, education, health, social services, which brings with it an economic progress that, at the moment, many of us are not even aware of.
Female leadership and male leadership
Gender equality is not just a matter of respecting a principle, reciprocity or representativeness. Beyond the things mentioned above, we talk about the skills and abilities that women bring in this game – of leadership – and which can be important advantages when they are really used. Discussions around this topic occupy an important place, including in academic circles, where experts have investigated whether there really are differences between men’s and women’s leadership styles and, if they exist, what they are. The findings they made clearly show that the way women understand leading is different from that of men. These differences often come not only from the way women and men are biologically different, but also from education, culture, the experiences they live or other external aspects that, over time, have put their imprint on a way of thinking and acting.
In the case of women leaders, the most visible qualities are transformational, including communication skills, team spirit, vision, curiosity and risk-taking. On the other hand, leading men are dominated by rather transactional qualities, such as resistance to change, preference for already known systems and methods, and an emphasis on results.
Obviously, none of the characteristics described above are associated exclusively with women or men and there is no single quality that lends itself to solving all the problems of a society. We are therefore discussing a complementarity that is not only necessary but also beneficial.
Women in politics
As in other situations, the presence of women in politics has been a rejected and trifled topic for an important period of time. Even today, the representation of women is not immune from discussions, this topic is still a cause for heated debate. But beyond all polemics, we cannot ignore the need for women to be involved in the political area. Whether we want this or not, representativeness must remain one of the basic principles on which the political landscape of any democratic society is built on. The problems women face – from violence to access to the labour market – are much easier to understand and solve by those who are currently confronted or at risk of experiencing them.
As for power and the way they make decisions, women will always approach a different set of values than men’s, their flexibility being extremely important for achieving the ultimate decision-making balance. A study based on peace negotiations in Cambodia clearly shows that women are the last to give up finding a solution to collaboration and non-violence. In this case, even after the Buddhist monks left the negotiations, it was the women present who insisted and persisted that all parties should sit down at the table, motivated by the belief that peace is in the best interests of all people, and that war and violence have extremely serious human, social and economic consequences. So beyond pure representativeness, the presence of women in positions of power and negotiation is a huge advantage for the overall progress of society as a whole.
How are things with us?
Progress in harnessing women’s leadership qualities is becoming more and more recognized. A conclusive example of this is the team that prepared the transition from the White House, composed equally of women and men. Moreover, by electing Kamala Harris as Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden has demonstrated that all those qualities that women have and can use in the political field must be recognized and vended.
In Romania, equal participation is still far from reality. We live in a country whose government, backed by a President-in-Office who is also an #HeForShe movement ambassador, has only one woman minister and in which notions such as “gender equality” or “sisterhood” mean nothing. It is difficult for us to overcome our own barriers and we do not understand that more women in one place does not mean competition, but complementarity and evolution. We are still at the level where we fail to differentiate between personal opinions and the messages we convey through the weight of the positions we hold. And this brings us major disservices, not only in image, but also in progress.
When I entered the Parliament (2016), I was happy to find that the legislature I belong to had the largest number of women in the last 30 years. Almost 19% of the mandates were held by women. And although this number is insufficient, it is still the largest historical presence of women in post-communist Romania in the Legislature.