Inside King’s: Supporting Global Female Leadership

The Hon Julia Gillard AC

King’s has launched the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, chaired by The Hon Julia Gillard AC, the only woman to have served as prime minister of Australia. In this article, from the Women’s Empowerment issue of the King’s alumni magazine InTouch, Julia explains how the Institute will bring together rigorous research, practice and advocacy to better understand why women are under-represented in leadership positions, and the best ways to address this.

‘It is an absolute pleasure to be at King’s working on such a vital initiative. We have known for some time that women face significant barriers at every stage of their careers and continue to be under-represented in leadership positions. They make up just 23 per cent of national parliamentarians, 26 per cent of news media leaders, 27 per cent of judges, 15 per cent of corporate board members, and 25 per cent of senior managers.

Our vision for the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership is to create a world in which being a woman is not a barrier to becoming a leader in any field, or a factor leading to negative perceptions of someone’s leadership.

Women’s leadership is an area where there is already a considerable amount of work taking place, with many governments, companies, activists and researchers working on this challenge. As a result, it can be very tempting to assume that change is simply a matter of time.

However, to assume change just happens would be an unfortunate error, given that evidence shows that at the current rate of change it will still take another half-century for the number of women in national parliaments to reach parity with men. Similarly, the number of women in senior management positions globally has risen by just 1 per cent in a decade.

Even where progress has been made, it can also be reversed. For example, women are now more under-represented in the Cabinet of the United States than at any time since the George HW Bush administration, nearly 30 years ago.

Sometimes it’s personal

Based on my own personal experience, I think we have a great deal of work to do to achieve a world where female leaders are fairly evaluated and not judged through the prism of gender.

There is far too much focus on what female leaders look like and what they wear. Often, different judgements are also made about family structures, with intrusive enquiries about managing leadership demands and caring for children.

Indeed, psychological research into “unconscious bias” shows that people tend to make much more negative judgements about whether a female leader is a likeable person.

Evidence and evaluation is needed

All this means we need to deepen the evidence base. There is a critical need for initiatives, research and activity to be coordinated, combined and – importantly – assessed, to bring about real and lasting change.

Many organisations spend a huge amount of money on programmes to support women’s leadership but it’s not clear if any of it works.

We want to fill this gap by properly evaluating the efforts and highlighting what is truly effective. This will mean that future resources can be better focused on where they will do the most good.

We want to help drive broad and sustainable change by providing examples of where industries and organisations are improving women’s experiences, providing access to leadership and evaluating impact.

Realising this vision will involve systematic analysis, global outreach and tangible action to remove barriers and support those who seek to help bring about much-needed change.

Hot topic

More than ever before, women’s equality has been in the news, with the emergence of the #MeToo and Time’s Up initiatives exposing serious sexual harassment in Hollywood and beyond. We are also seeing almost weekly revelations about the extent of the gender pay gap across different industries.

These issues have not arisen in a vacuum, and to address them we have to analyse and overcome the persistent gender inequalities in workplaces and society.

Leading change for women

King’s College London is a wonderfully diverse and inclusive university. I am delighted to have the opportunity to join it. Already, I have been tremendously impressed by the real commitment to launching and supporting the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership. This certainly demonstrates that King’s wants to help lead change.

I very much look forward to working with colleagues at King’s and beyond to help create a world where new initiatives are no longer needed to advance women in leadership positions, because we are living in a truly equal society.’

Fact file

Global Institute for Women’s Leadership

The Institute will work across sectors and countries, fostering collaboration and building extensive and diverse networks.

It aims to strengthen:

  • Research – undertaking new research and drawing together existing findings
  • Engagement – bringing together experts and stakeholders from across the world
  • Practice – using research to deliver evidence-based training and teaching
  • Interconnections between research, policy and practice – building an environment that focuses on what works

Read more inspiring articles like this in the Women’s Empowerment issue of InTouch, Spring/Summer 2018.