Some thoughts from a male leader on International Women’s Day


Lib Dem Daisy (Benson) has been my ‘muse’ for this set of reflections from a male viewpoint on International Women’s Day

Let me make clear from the start that if you don’t like this blog don’t blame me blame Daisy Benson. So that’s the first thing you need to know about the way men do business or politics. It’s never our fault!! Daisy Benson is an accomplished woman who was an excellent councillor and Deputy Leader of a Council and now is a real motivator both for new Party members and for the advancement of women in our Party.

She left a message on my Facebook account this morning after I responded to a comment she had made about International Women’s Day. My response was that it would be better for our Party and our Country if there were women involved in politics.  Her challenge to me was to write a blog about why I think this. So, let me explain why I believe that based on my 50+ years as an active politician.

I will start with a question that was raised in another Country about another sector – banking. Hilary Clinton raised the question, “What would have happened if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters?” What a great question. Lehman Brothers were the first of many banking and finance operations that collapsed at the start of the financial downturn which affected the World in the last decade and which we still feel today.

Banking was populated, and to some extent still is, by testosterone charged men for whom the chase was everything. They had a ‘must win at all costs’ attitude. The best thing about winning was beating the others. That led to a huge excess in which people boasted of £15,000 bottles of champagne and spending £60,000 on an evening out for 6 people. Interestingly all the people who featured in such stories were men, usually between about 20 and 35. Most, if not all, the people charged with financial irregularities arising from this financial fallout have been men. No Nicolette Leeson just a Nicholas Leeson!

So, you may come to a number of conclusions about this. Perhaps women aren’t as clever, perhaps they are not brave or bold enough, perhaps they just aren’t any good with finance. Certainly, some people will hold all if not some of those beliefs. My belief however is that women by and large think and act differently than men. Let me, of course, make the proviso clear that not all women are the same or that all men are the same. But collectively there do appear to be differences in the way women behave than the way men behave.

My personal view is that men like being team leaders and women like being team builders. Look at the way a man enters the room. Mostly they look round and judge the competition. What’s the pecking order; who do I need to mollify and who can I try and dominate. I don’t think most men think this is what they are doing and fewer set out to deliberately do it but they do it all the same.

A woman is much more likely to find people with whom they can empathise and with whom they can work not as superiors but as equals. They listen better than men; they emote better than men; they are more likely to have long-term relationships with friends than men.

That leads to a different style. As we move from the informal to the formal a man is more likely to be the bold, cliff jawed leader and with bold dramatic speeches and considerable arm waving (guilty as charged your honour!) Women are much more likely to be consensual and bring more people into a discussion and a play a secondary leadership role in order to develop a team approach.

We saw this last night in the Council Chamber in Liverpool. It was characterised in the Press as a bit of a ding-dong between me and the Elected Mayor. Not quite a real description of the situation as he spoke for more than an hour and I was allowed to speak for 5 minutes. But there was no doubt that all the dinging and donging was about or between him and I.

Perhaps that is why women are so under-represented in the upper echelons of all Parties including my own. Last week I amused some of my Twitter followers by recounting the fact that there was a woman in a nearby table in a train declaiming in a loud voice the problems of misogyny in the Liverpool Labour Party and Group. My amusement was not what she had to say but the fact that she was telling half a carriage including a member of another Party all about it! In fact, she was on her way to London for a Labour #metoo meeting which was taking place.

At the November meeting of our Council my one woman colleague, there will be more after May 3, was described as a fishwife by Liverpool’s Elected Mayor. This is clearly a sexist and derogatory statement. Did one woman Labour member reproach the Mayor. Certainly, if they did it was not done in public. At the January Council meeting we moved a motion which we hoped would be none-contentious which basically called upon gender equality and language training for all members of the Council based on this experience. Every Labour Member voted against it.

My belief is that the debate about the budget of the council and Liverpool’s future would have been better conducted and conducted in a very different way if there had been two women leaders in the City. Women don’t look in the same way for short term gain but long-term effect. The partnership way in which lessons can be learned and solutions can be discussed and acted upon is more important than a quick win.

Lehman Sisters would not have gone broke and nor would much of the rest of the financial sector if women had been in charge. They would not have lusted for glory in the same way that the men did. They would have planned for the long-term future and avoided head-strong risk.

There is certainly some proof of this in the business sector. The Fortune 500 Companies that have an equality or majority of women Board members do better in the long term than the ones that don’t. Research is beginning to show that the more women on boards in the UK the better that the Company does in the longer term.

I’ve been saying for years that I am just about the last generation of women to get away with things because I was a man. The society that I was born into 65 years ago was one where a woman gave up work when marrying; was subservient to her husband; would go in to lesser jobs because of assumptions about capacity and child birth prospects. Unfortunately, some of that still exists but nowhere near at the levels that it did all those years ago.

So, you might think that what I have put here is sentimental tosh; half-witted drivel, unproven meandering or you might just believe that inside here there are some gems of truth that someone with more than my brain might actually do something with. But my view is quite clear. The more women in more positions of power, the sooner and the better.

However, if you do disagree with me just remember – It’s Daisy’s fault!!

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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