Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand came into the limelight with her compassionate and decisive leadership during the ChristChurch massacre, the Whakaari volcano eruption and the initial handling of the pandemic. She is in the news this time, due to the unexpected timing and novel reason for stepping down from her position.
BBC came under fire for their sexist headline – “Jacinda Ardern resignation: Can women really have it all?” They have since had to apologise. Considering that this was the reaction of a world-renowned global news agency, could this development impact how women in leadership positions are perceived?
As part of our research in this area, we asked women leaders who had reached executive levels/leading divisions and functions an important question – ‘What next’? Interestingly, their answers showed us that after reaching a certain level, most women leaders seem interested in doing something that they consider more meaningful with their lives. The power of an executive role, the pride of position, high earnings and visibility associated with their corporate jobs seem to be subject to the law of diminishing returns.
While some of the women leaders we spoke to were clear that they were looking at forging ahead, many believed that getting into an even higher position comes with a different bag of challenges. They were unsure whether it was worth taking up these positions where power and politics take on a far more pivotal role; where time is more of a premium and pressure becomes a constant. Some were clear they did not have to prove anything to anyone. Women leaders we spoke to were considering giving up positions and compromising their income to take up what makes them feel more fulfilled. Some planned to create and lead their own enterprises. Some wanted to become authors. Some wanted to get into social work and give back to society while others spoke of getting into teaching as their way of giving back.
A lot has been written about whether Jacinda Ardern’s resignation is a sign that women cannot have it all. However, is it not possible that she is having it all? One of the most successful prime ministers, her name has been permanently etched in the annals of her country’s history. She has now decided it is time for something different. She announces her change with integrity. It makes one wonder whether ‘success’ has been defined in far too restricted a manner.
Could the lesson be that like her, all women should have the courage to take a call and do what is right by them? It could be negotiating for higher pay or stepping up and asking for a particular role. It could be to decide that work is what makes one feel fulfilled. It could be that family comes first. Each woman, like each man, is dealing with a different set of strengths and realities.
The resignation of Jacinda Ardern – a woman, a partner, a mother and the youngest person to become Prime Minister of her country, reinforces the fact that women have the power to decide what is best for themselves. The power to step up as much as the power to step away.