Those who insist that women leaders are better at exercising “soft” skills such as communicating, collaborating, cooperating and, yes, unifying, have their chance of a lifetime. Literally. For the future of the European continent lies in the hands of Germany’s longstanding Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Britain’s brand new Prime Minister, Theresa May. This is not to say that, for instance, the French, Italian, Greek or Polish presidents will be bystanders. Rather it is to say that in this particular drama, the drama that is the future of the European Union, the two leaders who matter most are women.
Though May has been compared to her predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, the comparison is misleading. A much closer parallel is with her current counterpart, Merkel. Both women are the daughters of clergy. Both women are in marriages of longstanding. Both women are childless. Both women have leadership styles that are efficient and pragmatic, highly disciplined and hard-working, and so sober and steady as to verge on the downright dull. Finally, both women are centrists, ideologically and temperamentally.
Ironically, the single exception to this general rule could be the sticking point between them – immigration. By admitting into Germany in a period of about one year one million mainly Middle Eastern refugees and asylum seekers, Merkel deviated dramatically from a lifetime of political caution. Trouble is that this is the issue, immigration, on which May will be obligated to take rather a hard line. For as the result of the recent British referendum attested, it is this issue, arguably more than any other, that matters to May’s constituents. Fear of immigrants is why the Brits voted to exit the European Union rather than to remain.
So Merkel is invested in comparative hospitality to immigrants, while May is invested in comparative hostility to immigrants. But… both are also invested in the future of Europe. In Europe more united than divided. In Europe more peaceful than tribal. In Europe more prosperous than penurious. In Europe of the future – heaven forefend not Europe of the past.
Interested in women and leadership? Get a ringside seat!