The growth of female leadership

The idea of shared leadership is increasingly mainstream. But, as MARIAN SAWER AO, BA '68, MA '70, PhD '75 writes, the reality still lags behind.

The term leadership is one of the four priorities of the Federal Government's women's policy.

Yet, not so long ago, leadership was a dirty word to many in the women's movement. Why have attitudes changed so much?

In the 1970s, leadership was associated with hierarchy and, for many feminists, this was inextricably linked to patriarchy. 

To liberate themselves from patriarchy, women tried to organise without hierarchy, through collectives and networks.

The emphasis was on democratic process and consensus decision-making.

This feminist organisational philosophy was seen to embody the concept of shared leadership. It meant breaking with the idea of leadership as an attribute of a charismatic individual and seeing it instead as something that could be shared flexibly among a group. 

Leadership was seen as consisting of different things; both setting and achieving goals and looking after group morale.

A valuable aspect of this model was to make group morale a central part of leadership.