Women in politics – What two big resignations tell us about leadership

24 March 2023

Compass For Life

Nicola Sturgeon

In the last few months, we’ve seen not one, but two long-standing female prime ministers step down from their post, both putting it down to the pressure and exposure, and ultimately, choosing to put their wellbeing first.

We all have our own political views, but regardless of where your political allegiance lies, the fact remains that both Nicola Sturgeon and Jacinda Ardern were strong, internationally-respected world leaders. For those of us seeking greater female representation in politics, there’s an additional sense of loss. But what do these resignations tell us about the issues facing women in leadership?

Enduring scrutiny and fighting criticism

It’s an unfair truth that female leaders must work twice as hard, trying to prove themselves in male-dominated spaces, and that’s particularly true in the world of politics. While neither Sturgeon nor Ardern said that public scrutiny was to blame for their resignations, both spoke of the toll taken by the greater hostility of modern political discourse.

Of course, there are things we can do to prepare ourselves for public scrutiny and to make ourselves more receptive to criticism. By unlocking your Warrior Spirit, we can build enough resilience to step into pressure zones to fight for what we believe in. With the right tools and skills, we can build both our physical and mental resilience. But it’s important that we don’t place responsibility firmly on the shoulder of our female leaders to solve the issues of sexism that women in leadership experience. Misogyny is not an issue that any single person can take on by themselves, no matter how much resilience they build. That’s something we all need to come together to solve if we want to create a better, brighter future for our world.

Seeking balance

Both Sturgeon and Ardern were known and well respected for their own ethos and their commitment to feminism. But more than anything, their ability to acknowledge and choose to take a break on their own terms is truly admirable. We need to recognise that putting our wellbeing and family first is not failure. As leaders, we have to be self-aware at all times and recognise when enough is enough, even if it’s just in the short term. At Compass for Life, all of our navigators have experienced setbacks, and it’s how they conduct themselves in those challenging times that makes them so exceptional, perhaps more so than their perceived successes.

It’s worth noting that these resignations are simply part of the journey for both Ardern and Sturgeon, who will both undoubtedly continue to make waves in politics and spearhead change, even if they’re no longer on the political frontline. Both women are strategists, and will therefore continue on the best route toward their personal Super North Star, whatever that might be.

It’s true that women in leadership face obstacles and hurdles that men simply don’t experience. And at Compass for Life, our mission remains to transform society into a fairer, more equal place where all people can thrive regardless of gender. But by embracing the four cardinals of the compass, we believe that we can help today’s leaders – whether in business, politics, or day-to-day life – become their most authentic selves and lead with integrity to start building the more inclusive world that we dream of.