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Women in leadership: Is the future of leadership female?

Rhian Morgan

Theresa May has recently become the UK's second female Prime Minister. And elsewhere, female politicians are dominating the headlines. But is this domination a reality - or just a media fiction? And are female leaders just in fashion - or here to stay, asks Rhian Morgan

 Female leaders are gaining great PR at the moment. With Theresa May elected as the new Prime MInister, and female leaders dominating world politics, the 21st century is gearing up to be a new era for women leaders.  We are seeing unprecedented change in leadership. The two supreme heads of state for our country are both now female, with another female poised to become the face of the opposition. While Wales's Plaid Cymru is led by Leanne wood and Northern Ireland's First Minister is Arlene Fisk. 

And it's not just Britain that is seeing this fundamental shift. Hilary Clinton is a prime contender for the US presidency, and Angela Merkel is already head of Germany, and seen by many to be Europe's most-powerful leader. 

Within months, the leaders of the first-, fourth- and fifth-richest countries on Earth - and two of the world's top four military powers - are likely to be led by women. For the first time in history, 23 elected heads of State are also female. 

Madeleine Albright, the first woman to be US Secretary of State, welcomed this new era, "when a viable female presidential candidate, once inconceivable, is a reality". 

While Sam Smethers, chief executive of women’s rights charity the Fawcett Society, was also positive about the sea change – but accepted we still have quite a way to go before full equality is accepted: "Women politicians are proving themselves head and shoulders above the men.  

"Just compare the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon to the absence of it shown by Boris Johnson. 

 "Perhaps we are seeing the dawn of a world order made by and for women but we still have a very long way to go before we realise true equality.  The challenge facing them is to speed up the pace of change." 

For the first time in history, 23 elected heads of State are also female. The number of female leaders around the world has more than doubled over the past decade - but having a woman in power is still not the norm around the world. Even now, only around a tenth of leaders in the United Nations is female.  Women are still massively under-represented in politics, and the barriers preventing them from reaching the top, in public life and business as much as in politics, are arguably just as high as they have ever been.  

The media focuses on their personal grooming and fashion sense, and comments on their appearance are four times more common for women than men in the media. Already, I have seen articles focusing on Theresa May's footwear, and surmising that the reason why she, and her predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, have been successful, is because of their "masculine" qualities.  

And seeing their role models ripped apart for trivial reasons, such as their appearance, may be off-putting to the next generation looking to enter politics. 

Now women leaders are in the spotlight – but will they soon revert back to the shadows? I think this is doubtful, as people are becoming more accepting of females in positions of power. 

In the words of Nicola Sturgeon: "Some of things that are said about women in politics, the way you are characterised, the way you are described, the focus on how you look and what you wear...it is tough. 

 "But I think it is changing for the better, and the more women we have in senior positions in politics, the more that will change and the faster it will change." 

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