We can learn a lot from Ms Arden’s leadership style and priorities, in particular with regards to female entrepreneurship.
Jacinda Ardern made news headlines last week when she announced that she was resigning as Prime Minister of New Zealand.
The following discourse around burnout, empathetic leadership, and balancing childcare responsibilities in a modern world can tell us a lot about attitudes to female leadership, with a lot of natural parallels to female entrepreneurship.
Empathy versus Strength
Ms Ardern was outspoken in her desire to model a different kind of leadership, one that embraced kindness and empathy as positive qualities rather than ones to have to compensate for.
It’s something that many leaders, or prospective leaders, have to deal with – questions around whether they are tough enough to handle the job, with a huge amount of focus on qualities such as strength, resilience, and assertiveness.
It goes without saying that these are qualities that female entrepreneurs can, and often do, possess, but by building up this restrictive and narrow image of what a successful leader looks like, many people don’t feel like they could belong and thrive in the leadership space with different qualities.
Hatch graduate Martha, who is a female founder and a disabled founder, sees her empathy as one of her biggest strengths:
“I think having a disability like endometriosis has made me a much more empathetic person.
“It’s made me understand that people are ill and a lot of people struggle with things, not just endometriosis, but mental health issues, with visible disabilities, and hidden disabilities.
“So as an employer, as I now am, that means that I’m more sensitive to the needs of my employees.”
By publicly embracing a more empathetic style of leadership, Jacinda Ardern has challenged the narrative of what makes a successful, powerful, leader.
Despite her overwhelming popularity on the world stage, prompting the coining of the term ‘Jacindamania’, Ms Ardern faced a wave of misogyny during her premiership, from patronising interview questions, through to insidious threats of violence.
Sexism can act as a huge barrier to female entrepreneurship and is disappointingly often concurrent with female success.
In fact 39% of female founders stated that the sexism they encountered whilst running their start-up was ‘frequent’, with the main issues including marginalisation in meetings (83%) and poor treatment when standing up for gender inequality (80%).
While sector-wide shifts are needed to truly tackle the inequality faced by female founders, we believe that building strong communities that celebrate and lift up women in business is a key step towards these shifts.
It’s hard imagining yourself as something you can’t see.
From start-up founders to leaders of nations, modelling leadership to the next generation is so important in pushing for a cultural shift in attitudes to women in power.
Giving Birth in Office
Jacinda Ardern is the second leader of a nation to have given birth while in office, welcoming her daughter to the world in 2018.
“I am not the first woman to multi-task, I’m not the first woman to work and have a baby”, she said.
While it was great visibility for working mothers, it also raised important questions regarding privilege, and expectations around childcare.
Ms Ardern was the first to raise the point that she was only able to continue in her role as Prime Minister because her partner was able to take on the role of primary caregiver.
As we’ve discussed in other blogs and campaigns, there is an unequal burden on women in the UK, who take on the bulk of childcare responsibilities, which is ingrained both in cultural norms and with policy such as parental leave.
This has a massive impact on the the longevity and success of female entrepreneurship.
The pandemic has brought about some change in this area with increased flexibility, but we hope to see modern attitudes and needs reflected in our working systems, particularly in response to campaigning groups such as Pregnant then Screwed, along with visible figures such as Ms Ardern speaking so openly on the topic.
More on Work - (Family) Life Balance
The Decision to Resign
It feels incredibly rare to witness someone in such a powerful position resigning on their own terms, and there are three important lessons to take with regards to female entrepreneurship.
Firstly, it is so important to recognise signs of burnout, and to put yourself and your wellbeing first. Ms Ardern said that she had nothing left in the tank, and that she had given everything she could.
Start-ups are often fuelled by the founder’s passion and drive, particularly if they’re impact-focused, looking to solve a problem in society, or to make a positive difference to the community.
It can be hard to step away from a passion project, especially when so much has gone into it, but self-awareness, in particular to your limits, is so important as an entrepreneur.
Secondly, a lot of the discourse around Ms Arden’s resignation referenced a ‘stepping down’, with the implication that whatever she did next could not be as valuable as her time as Prime Minister.
In her own words: “I’m ready to be a backbench MP, I’m ready to be a sister and a mum”.
Seeing motherhood as somehow ‘lesser’ than other pursuits reveals a lot about the prejudice that many still hold regarding labour, in particular around being a parent versus being in paid employment.
Finally, the framing of endings during this discourse was an interesting one. Endings happen all the time and are not synonymous with failure.
Ms Ardern’s time as Prime Minister has come to an end, and that in no way takes away from everything that she has achieved while in office.
The legacy she leaves behind is an impactful one.
The same can be said for entrepreneurship. Choosing to let your business come to an end, for whatever reason, can be the right decision, and does not detract from all its positive outcomes.
Understanding the natural life cycle of things is a talent, and being open to new opportunities and experiences is a good thing.
In her speech, Ms Ardern said:
To all the female entrepreneurs out there, we hope that this message resonates with you too.