On January 20th 2017, Hillary Clinton could be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. If that happens, she would become the first women to hold the Oval office since the nation’s founding in 1776 – changing the parameters of female leadership forever.
After all it was of great historical significance when Barack Obama was inaugurated the first African-American President in January 2009. The nation celebrated its diversity and how far it had come since the days of Martin Luther King. However before Obama was President, Clinton was intent on making history herself when she spoke about shattering the “highest, hardest glass ceiling” in a speech that resonated with millions of women across America.
In 2016, Clinton knows that she has a very good chance of winning the presidency – she is currently leading comfortably in polls across the county and will almost certainly win her party’s nomination. However, it does remain to be seen how a female President would change the perception of female leadership.
Arguably the biggest challenge Clinton will face in her quest for the White House is the meaning of the word “leadership”. Research has revealed that people associate leadership with qualities such as aggression and dominance – both considered masculine traits. Therefore a major problem for female leaders is that they are expected to exude these qualities, and if they do not, they are considered poorly equipped for a leadership role.
President Hillary does however have the opportunity to redefine female leadership. It is a natural sight to see men in positions of power – whether executive positions in the private sector or government office in the public sector. However when a woman seeks a leadership position, gender typically becomes the main talking point. Examples of this in the UK include Dianne Abbot when she sought the Labour leadership in 2010 and more recently, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. Businesswomen Karen Brady has also endured talk about gender throughout her career while becoming one of Britain’s leading entrepreneurs.
Hillary Clinton needs to defy the status quo and inspire a new generation of female leaders and create a society where male leadership is not viewed as the norm.
Strong female leaders do exist in both the political and business landscape such as Mary Barra of GM and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. But much of what is written about Barra and Sandberg is produced through a gender narrative that concentrates more on the fact that they are female than their leadership credentials and success.
If Hillary Clinton becomes President in 2016 – will we see a new tone set for executive leadership? Will Clinton inspire a new generation of women to seek leadership positons and help create a society where becoming a leader is more about competency, experience and vision – rather than dwelling on leadership characteristics often associated with males? In 2017 we might see.