Yesterday, with mixed emotions, the country watched the resignation speech of New Zealand’s 40th Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.
These are my thoughts…
As a public servant I am required to be politically neutral. And to be honest, in a moderate country like NZ, it doesn’t matter too much who makes political decisions as long as they’re made with the right intent, advice and evidence. Having served for 10+ years and under two governments (three if you count the coalition), I have seen laws made and unmade. And often the differences in policy are a matter of verbiage rather than substance.
BUT as a woman, I cannot undermine the impact she’s made. Especially on the parts of feminism that have suffered from toxic masculinity.
For a long time and for obvious reasons, women could only make it in politics and leadership at large, if they had the biggest balls in the room with a hardy whiff of Thatcherism, i.e. were more manly than all the blokes. Books and workplace seminars that were meant to empower women, only ever told them
to grow balls that adopting the qualities traditionally known as masculine was the only way to get ahead and to be a leader. Ironically, their male bosses were not advised to become more feminine.
However, as Ardern rose to power and international headlines praised her for what they called “feminine leadership,” I watched workplace conversations change. The definition of leadership expanded, and femininity got elevated (if only slightly) from the ranks of a flaw incompatible with professional achievement.
I wonder if things would be much different, had her career fallen on less “interesting” times. Yet, even as a jaded cynic, I bought into and have been inspired by her relatability; as a woman, as a mother, as a human.
And as a PR professional… I have been genuinely impressed. So much so, I must echo the words of John Key (her predecessor and a very different NZ Prime Minister): “I think she’s an outstanding communicator.”
I wish Ms Ardern and her family joy and equilibrium. I’m sure this won’t be the last we see of her.
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