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Taking notice of women leaders

08 August 2014

GRAHAM LACDAC

The Revd Sally Hitchiner (above) was among those who attended a debate on women in leadership, organised by the think tank St Paul's Institute, held last month at St Paul's Cathedral. It featured a number of women in leadership in the Church, business, and civil society.

The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, who is also a Prebendary of St Paul's Cathedral, a Priest Vicar of Westminster Abbey, and a Chaplain to the Queen, compared the iniquity of slavery to the lack of progress for women.

"The real crisis which we face is not a lack of quality in leadership but something much deeper than that. It is a failure to respect the others' humanity, a failure to respect women as human beings."

Liz Bingham, managing partner for talent at the accountants EY, pointed out that less than six per cent of FTSE100 directors were women, and only one fifth of MPs.

"There is a moral imperative but that doesn't wash in the world of commerce where it's all about growth and profit. However, our research found that gender balanced teams delivered projects and work for clients that was more profitable and of a better quality."

The concept of different but equal roles for women was attacked by Frances O'Grady, the first female general secretary of the Trades Union Congress.

"I know enough of the history of race segregation in the United States of America to be very sceptical of those who tell us, whether in the Church or in the workplace, that somehow we can be separate and equal."

During a question time after the speeches, Ms O'Grady told the audience to extend a "hand up and a hand down"; to be lifted up by women already in leadership, and to bring women with them.

The director of the campaign group Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, encouraged women to "be a beacon, not a token". A social media campaign and a networking event at the Cathedral accompanied the debate.

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