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Margaret Thatcher and her contribution to gender equality

Posted by on in Leadership and Management

The jockey, Katie Walsh; the Premiership club chairperson, Karen Brady; the businesswoman, Hilary DeVey and the racing driver, Susie Wolff. 

It's not hard to work out what unites these figures. They are all women who have blazed a trail in worlds dominated by men… and for doing that they have become pretty much universally admired. In the Grand National last Saturday the support of 'The Great British Public' swept Seabass on a tide of hope and expectation towards being the race favourite. But this phenomenon was not based on the fact that the horse had shown the form required to win the great race - it came from a desire to experience the deep romance of the first ever female winner of the world's greatest steeplechase. When it comes to the crunch it seems we all love to see women defy the odds and achieve success in male domains. 

But it's ironic that our brief love affair with Katie Walsh happened in the same week that we have seen people dancing in the streets, holding open bottles of champagne in 'celebration' of the death of Margaret Thatcher. Whichever way you look at it, in British society she was the original woman who made it - and made it big - in a man's world. Of course, despite winning three General Elections in a row she became a pariah for many and has often been accused of damaging British society irreparably and for all time. Many people take the opposite view, seeing her as the person who broke the unions, setting the working classes free to enjoy home ownership and social mobility. She was, certainly, one of the definitively divisive figures of modern times. 

But… can anyone really argue against what she did for women in British society? Without her, would there ever have been a Karen Brady or a Hilary DeVey in 2013? Could the positive movement we're seeing towards more women on Boards have happened as quickly as it has?  When she first became Prime Minister there were just 19 female MPs in the UK (the lowest since 1951); by stark contrast in 2010 there were 143, the highest we have ever had. Yes, times have changed, but in this respect - through her determination and force of will - she played her part in changing those times. In doing so she showed other aspiring female MPs what was possible.

The coverage following Baroness Thatcher's death has reflected many different sides of her character - but I have been struck by how little has been said (particularly by women who found her policies distasteful) about what she has done for gender equality in this country. She demonstrated to them, in the most explicit way, what can be achieved when you have clarity of purpose and strong values, energy, determination and some luck - even when all the odds are stacked against you. Spitting Image, the satirical TV show, used to portray her as a caricature in a men's business suit implying that she won her victories in Parliament and in Cabinet meetings by behaving like a man. But those who were close to her tell a very different story - she was a strong and often stubborn woman, but nevertheless she was a woman and she played the role of Prime Minister in a way that only a woman could. 

Working as psychologist in the world of business, as I have for many years, it's hard to ignore the fact that people have many different sides to them. Very often the dark and the light co-exist quite happily inside the same person. Margaret Thatcher, the person, was clearly a complex character but whatever any of us think of her political legacy the role she played in creating a stronger future for women in our society is hard to deny. 






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Guest Thursday, 23 November 2017

Cary CooperGood Day at Work®

The new wellbeing resources hub founded by @profcarycooper and Roberston Cooper. Join for FREE and access blogs, videos, downloads, podcasts and more.

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MD of Cary Cooper's business psychology firm, Robertson Cooper - for all things wellbeing, engagement and resilience at work.

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Professor Cary Cooper, Director and Founder of Robertson Cooper Ltd, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School.

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