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Hot topic: Female leaders, part two

Do female leaders face different criticisms to their male peers?

The UK’s second female prime minister Theresa May has already been compared to Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel. Do we hold women to different standards than their male peers? How can we encourage equality at the very top?

Ann Pickering, HR director at O2, says:

"New leaders, both male and female, inherit a vast amount of criticisms but Theresa May’s are likely to be all the greater. Not only is she tasked with leading the UK post-Brexit, she is also navigating a government often characterised as a boys’ club.

"She has done well to appoint so many women to her cabinet. After all, gender equality within government is vital if its members are to understand and reflect the needs of the population. This is just as true for businesses – UK boardrooms must reflect the diversity of their customer base to serve them best.

"But while UK businesses have made great steps towards improving boardroom diversity since Lord Davies’ 2011 call to do so, more can and must be done to ensure current and future female leaders feel supported by their organisations. One way we have encouraged this at O2 is by re-launching our Women in Leadership programme two years ago. We also find broader women’s networks invaluable in enabling women to share experiences and support their peers – a role Theresa May’s new cabinet will no doubt play for her."

Natasha Abajian, postgraduate researcher of organisational psychology at City University London and business psychologist at Deloitte, says:

"Female leaders are subject to different criticisms than their male counterparts. This is often because of perceptions and expectations around gender and leadership, which are formulated at an unconscious level.

"Gender stereotypes characterise men as being naturally endowed with traits for effective leadership, whereas these traits contradict the stereotypes held for the role that women are expected to play in society.

"As a result, female leaders often face criticisms that originate from beliefs that they’re contradicting the perceived ‘norms’ of either femininity or leadership.

"Establishing and maintaining awareness of the prevalence and impact of this bias is critical. It’s key to firms ensuring that they’re supporting their current and future female leaders."

Read part one here