A leader par excellence

Finally, the Rotary world is making a serious bid to right the historic wrong of admitting women members only in 1987, and that too after litigation. But for 2–3 decades after that, there wasn’t much of an attempt to take more women into Rotary. It is only now that the need to increase women’s membership substantially from the present 24 per cent is being discussed seriously by Rotary clubs across the world. Jennifer Jones’ nomination as RI president for 2022–23 is bound to become a defining moment for this goal. Of course all senior RI leaders have been stressing not only the need for more women members, but also the necessity to give leadership opportunities and roles to women. But when a woman, who has crossed the hurdle and reached the topmost position at RI, says all this, it is bound to carry more credibility and create an impact.

In recent events, Jones has been marketing women’s membership from a purely business perspective and a market share that is underperforming. “What would we do in our company where a particular market share was underperforming? We would tweak our business plan. Similarly, let’s take the opportunity to bring a gender balance in Rotary,” she recently said at a conference.

Comparisons and generalisations are odious, but we have to concede that most successful women leaders have a different style of leadership. This has been demonstrated by some of the best female political leaders. New Zealand’s Jessica Ardern has become the darling of the free world for her very distinctive style of governance which is inclusive and respectful of all religions, regions and cultures.  Her handling of the Covid pandemic has won her fresh laurels. Germany’s Angela Merkel is another perfect leader. A no-nonsense woman, she has served four terms as Germany’s chancellor and has ruled out seeking a fifth stint in power, when her term ends in September 2021.

It is mind-blowing to look back upon what this woman brought to her office from 2005 onwards… administrative and leadership skills par excellence; grit and determination, passion and compassion, equity and inclusiveness when she decided, against popular opinion, that Germany would embrace a huge number of Syrian refugees, and so much more.

During her time in office, she has dealt with five UK prime ministers, four French presidents, seven
Italian prime ministers, and with Joe Biden heading the US, the fourth American president. And yet despite her track record, Merkel had to constantly prove herself, often with her male counterparts trying to overpower or humiliate her. Vladimir Putin once famously brought his Labrador for a meeting with Merkel, who is afraid of dogs; Donald Trump made his dislike for her known and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi once left her waiting for 15 minutes while he chatted on the phone! As the pandemic panic began, on March 23, Merkel was sighted queuing up at a supermarket with some toilet paper, toiletries and four bottles of wine in her shopping cart.

A chemical physicist, her handling of the pandemic was superb, without either denial or hyperbole. Considered “uncharismatic”, she wasn’t influenced by fluff or fashion; at a press conference when asked why she repeated her suits, didn’t she have new ones, she quietly replied: “I am a government employee, not a model.” When she recently stepped down as her party’s leader, Germans came out spontaneously in their balconies and clapped for her for a whole of six minutes. Forget Germany, the world will find it difficult to find a leader such as Merkel.


Rasheeda Bhagat

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