We need to talk about leadership…


There’s rich debate taking place right now in Scotland that has revolutionised people’s participation in politics and the governance of our society.  People who until now have not been admitted access to mainstream political processes have grasped the possibilities the independence referendum has brought about for future change. The public have themselves devised and led actions which are spreading like wildfire across the nation.  It’s a fertile time. We’re all thinking about leadership, the way we want to be represented in politics, and how we might participate in the processes of governance in the future.

Regardless of the outcome of the Independence vote on the 18th of September, we can’t go back to how things were.

For everyone, but particularly for women and subjugated others, the independence discussion has been a massively positive experience: we have found our voice, reached out to our neighbours, activated our networks, and discovered the power and influence that each of us could have. We must maintain the level of engagement that we are currently experiencing.

The potential for societal change is within our grasp, and yet this collective enlightenment has also thrown light on problems that still exist, and which we cannot allow to be perpetrated any further.

With boldness and a thirst for justice many of us proclaim that we want to make Scotland a nation of equals – where each of us has the power to participate in the shaping of her future.  Yet we cannot forget where we are now, that we continue to experience a deeply unequal relationship to power.

Whether yes or no, we must rebuild and we cannot begin to create the blueprint of a new nation, its principles or architecture, until we accept that the very process by which we write this future must enshrine the actions of equality at its core.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that, right now, we have a serious problem with leadership.  There’s a problem with how it looks, how it sounds, what we believe it to be, HOW we think it gets done… and WHO we choose to do the job. Because ultimately, at the moment we don’t get to choose.

‘But hang on… this was meant to be about democracy… wasn’t it?’

Take a look around, note who are our current leaders… by a long way you’ll find they are white middle class men who hail in disproportionate numbers from private education.  You look at any platform in even the ‘social justice’ agenda of the referendum debate and the speakers also, overwhelmingly, represent that same demographic.  Many of the people in leading campaign roles are self-appointed, others appointed sideways from similar jobs, and here we see the same demographic again.  Now why is this? Are rich white boys better at leading than the rest of us?  Is it inevitable that if Scotland votes to remove the Old Boys club we will end up replacing them with the New Boys Club?

That doesn’t have to happen.  If it did, it would undermine the purpose of the whole independence movement, so we can safely assume that, amongst those supporting the social justice agenda behind the independence campaigns, no one wants that to happen.   I don’t think for a second that any of the intelligent and inspiring men that I work with are intentionally aiming to withhold power from women and minority groups. I really feel for our Good Men (of whom there are many), it’s very difficult when you are a member of a privileged group to see the ways in which you unconsciously perpetrate structures and processes that continue to promote and maintain your privilege.

So how do we get out of this deadlock – what do we need to do?

First of all, we need to call it as we find it and realise that trying to resolve a problem is not going to put the end goal in jeopardy.  It’s not a spanner in the works, it IS the works. It’s a design problem, and we need to recognise it when we see it and give voice to it.  It doesn’t mean that those who are perpetrating it are bad people, no-one should be automatically vilified; what it DOES mean that we have a responsibility to address it now.

Not at some point in the utopian future, not after September the 18th… Now.

So let’s look at the ways in which this everyday power grab is happening within even the most progressive of circles and this is the science bit, numerous workplace studies which have shown the following:

– Men tend significantly to take credit for women’s work

Whether that’s taking credit for their ideas, using their words without credit, using their research or concepts without credit

Men tend to delegate the admin work to the ladies

Ah, the time honoured practice of treating a woman as if she is your secretary.  Come on dude, you’re a grown-up… write your own emails and book your own taxi

– Men are significantly more likely to self-select for the spotlight

‘Because we need someone up there that knows what they’re doing’… Guys, it shouldn’t be news that women have a head for economics, negotiating and strategic thinking.

– Men often leave the shitty jobs to ‘someone else’…

This can be a subtle one, the menfolks don’t tend to put themselves forward to do jobs unless they are the important ones.  So often, to make sure things get done properly and the mission of the project succeeds, women feel they have to put themselves forward when no one else will to make sure the graft gets done.  So in an attempt to work their way up to positions of power, women end up effacing themselves by taking on the grunt work while the men take the spotlight and do the public-facing appearances and, again, take the credit.  As councillor Martha Wardrop of the Scottish Greens said, ‘women need to stop making themselves busy’.

  • Men are very likely to talk over women

Men frequently bellow in meetings, they interrupt, they don’t leave space in the conversation or look to women to give them the opportunity to talk, in short…

  • Men will usually ignore a woman saying the same thing as a man 

The classic scenario where a woman says something over and over again, maybe another woman picks up on the point and yet the point isn’t noted until a man says the same thing. Then of course the man gets credit for her idea (see item 1).  I’ve personally seen this happen hundreds of times.  (see above: The Fast Show sketch ‘The Amazing Invisible Woman’)

  • Men will tend to offer ‘opinion’ as argument, yet demand ‘evidence’ from women

Women are held to a higher standard of performance and accountability than their male counterparts. Follow this up with the situation where a woman presents a storming case…

  • Men often ignore the validity of evidence and arguments presented by women

I don’t know why this happens, this is one of the things that makes me most angry.  Present a rational position please, but if you’re not a man, the only way to make your argument visible is to get assertive about it because (item 6) ‘men ignore women’. And we all know what an assertive woman is, that’s right, an emotional one.  Sorry lady, you didn’t convince us with your ‘facts’ because you got all ‘bossy’.

  • Men frequently value women in direct relation to their perceived ‘attractiveness’

Don’t pretend for a second that this isn’t true.  Look at the shit Hilary Clinton has put up with, even though it’s pretty well accepted that she was the brains behind Bill C… she gets judged on what she’s wearing, her age, and the worst… her fuckability.  Just last week, a colleague of mine was in a discussion about the referendum, only to be interrupted (point 5) by a man who said ‘I have to tell you how beautiful you are’, and when she said that was irrelevant to anything she was actually saying, he repeated himself (point 7) and then to ensure she was under no illusion that her ideas weren’t wanted and that only his experience of her face warranted discussion… repeated his line again (points 6, 7 & 8)

  • Men usually insist on systems of discussing things that allow themselves to express dominance via points 1 to 9…

The following systems have the effect that only the few who are already in positions of power (rich, white men) can have voice: Head to head debates favour the shoutiest; Panel presentations to an audience favour self appointed ‘experts’ who place themselves above the audience; Questions from the floor allow the experts to ‘teach’ those of us in the audience, and questions generally come only from people (usually men) who already feel privileged and therefore confident enough that their voice will be valid when they face the ‘experts’; round table meetings are usually conducted with a combination of all of the above – presentation, questions from floor, and head to head debate conventions, with the added problem that the agenda of what can be discussed is usually set by the leader

– So how do you get to be that leader?

See above list of points 1-10, be warned though that if you are not already a rich white man, you’d best do a bloody brilliant job at imitating one.

If we’re really interested in creating a socially democratic model of leadership, we have a great opportunity to do so in Scotland right now. With all this energy and engagement coming from the usually ‘invisible’ women and minority group leaders, it’s a timely moment to rewrite the governance models that underpin the systemic prejudice outlined above.

‘Sounds a bit hopeless’ you might say,

‘Why would any woman want to be a leader if that’s what you have to put up with?’

Or maybe you think, ‘But we need to get things done! It’s not like there’s another way of doing things… is there?’

Yes.  Another way is possible. 

It’s entirely achievable to create a high functioning culture if we begin as we mean to go on.  We can reap the benefits of diverse knowledge by representing ALL of our talent in leadership roles, putting the best of our minds together.  But to do this properly, we have to tackle this problem now, and to do that we have to see that the problem has at least four dimensions:

  • It’s systemic – the way we do things needs to change
  • Cultural – the way things have always been done has created a self-fulfilling prophecy that favours the same people over and over again.   To re-programme this we need to actively select leaders on a positive bias from amongst those who are currently invisible
  • Behavioural – we need to set a new social contract about how we expect to conduct ourselves.  We can’t leave politeness only to the ladeeezzzz.
  • Modelled on a pre-existing template of what ‘success’ looks like.  So we need to create new narratives and promote other models of success.

A four dimensional proposal might be:


Based on a consensus model, big participation from many in small groups which allow quieter, diverse voices to present knowledge and feedback decisions and findings to the greater group.  Decisions are taken by achieving consensus or as near to consensus as possible. Ensure questions are asked for clarity without jumping to stereotyped conclusions; then actually find a way to listen to the answers. Find a place to ‘bank’ suggestions and motions that are not for action ‘right now’ so that diverse ideas and voices are documented, even if they can’t be achieved straight away.


Quotas for representative / leadership positions and opportunities for development, will over time redress the cultural effect of one group having dominated the power and the narrative for so long


Simply make the above list of points unacceptable behaviours, and set mutually agreed terms of engagement.  If we feel that there’s a time and a space where these behaviours are essential, only with the consent of others, demarcate a time-limited space which allows expression in those ways towards a specified goal.  For example, it’s not that head to head debate is never useful, but it should not be the day to day mode of leadership or persuasion.


Present and promote a range of possible templates for leadership, a range of flexible methods of working which admits the experience and processes of women, disabled people, people of diverse cultural backgrounds, ages and sexual identities. Transactional leadership processes replaced by transformational models.


That’s jumping the gun.

We can’t decide that’s what we’re going to do without the consent and participation of those who are invisible right now, because we need them to create and define  our future constitution and processes.  We need proportional numbers of women and people of protected characteristics to comprise our leaders and negotiators on the morning of September 19th.

This is going to mean some of these lovely rich white boys stepping aside and giving ‘their’ place to someone else on their team, OR making an extra place at the decision making table for women and other missing voices.

I can’t overstate the importance of this.  Representation affects everything, not just the ‘equalities bit’ of the process. Representation is the foundation of governance.

We need to BE THE LEADERS DESIGNING THE ARCHITECTURE, not be told which safety net might catch us when we fall off it.

In Scotland we’ve all been changed by the great decision that we face on the 18th September. We’ve been changed by the discussions we have had, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to find the information we need to uncover the complexity of the issues and make our own choice. We’ve been changed by the way that we’ve led our own action, volleyed perspectives and possibilities with people we love, founded new allegiances and discovered new ways of working.

We have been changed because we have taken politics back into our own hands and we are representing ourselves and our communities.

We don’t need to wait until we are ‘allowed’ to be leaders, we are doing it already.  Shift your bum a bit and make space for us.  We don’t want to do the shitty jobs, we belong at the table.

We have a voice… now let us use it.


Masculinity at Work: The Experiences of Men in Female Dominated Occupations, Dr Ruth Simpson, Brunel University

Should Women Applicants “Man Up” for Traditionally Masculine Fields? Effectiveness of Two Verbal Identity Management Strategies

Jennifer L. Wessel 1⇑

Nao Hagiwara 2

Ann Marie Ryan 3

Christine M. Y. Kermond 3,

Psychology of Women Quarterley

Gender, Status and Power in Discourse Behavior of Men and Women, Peter Kunsmann  (Freie Universität Berlin)

Working patterns in Wales, WAVE wales


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Comments (49)

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  1. albatross traveller says:

    Ok where do I sign up?

  2. Laird o' Naewhaur says:

    Speaking, well writing, as a man, I can’t disagree with a single word you write.

  3. Maybe I’m not seeing things the same way,but in the Scottish parliament two leaders are women,and one an openly gay women maybe she is white and middle-class but not a man,then we have Willie Rennie,a man who is openly daft,so he doesn’t count for much,if anything.Lastly we have Alex Salmond,yes a man,middle-class? no he is working class,but brings me to thinking since when did we in Scotland get lumbered with all of the class system,I don’t remember it much when I was growing up? The main thing is more people are getting involved in politics and that is the best thing to happen here in my lifetime.

    1. I don’t think many of our present MSPs were privately educated either, nor do they come from some elite, as many in the present Westminster government do. Seems as if some of the concerns over Westminster have spilled over into Holyrood without actually being applicable.Alex does not come from an elite family, nor does Nicola, or John Swinney, or Alex Neil, or…in fact I would be hard pressed to think of any who do.

      Sure there is discrimination in many walks of life, including politics, and that shouldn’t be condoned, but I suspect this referendum campaign has given many women the confidence to stand up and challenge where before they were perhaps happy to remain on the sidelines. For many people, men as well as women, the referendum campaign has been a liberating experience and that in itself will act as a driver of change.

      Politics is hard, nasty, demanding and thankless, and the reality is that only certain people can thrive within its corridors. Women often shy away from the harsh rough and tumble of it – nothing wrong with that, and I’m not sure there is any grand scheme or formula that can be adopted to encourage change. Before our politicians change, our society needs to change, and human nature being what it is I’m not sure to what extent that is possible.

      1. lauracameronlewis says:

        Thanks for your comment.

        As I said in another response below:
        I wasn’t making a statement about Scotland vs Westminster representation of leaders who are privately educated – on which point we know Scotland has a *slightly* better track record with only around 40% of MSPs being privately educated. Only 40%? That’s not something to celebrate, that’s a problem. Statistically, privately educated people comprise only 8% of the population. So these groups are disproportionately represented.

        I have to ask if you’ve really read and understood what I’ve written in the article, if you’re able to truly think that: ‘Women often shy away from the harsh rough and tumble’
        It’s not ‘shying’, it’s more like being punched in the pus (repeatedly), whilst your male counterparts get nothing like that level of vitriol. All the evidence says that women are MORE HARSLY treated than men are by the systems and behaviours in these cultures. It’s not that they can’t ‘take it’. It’s that what they experience is by far and away more heinous than any of the boys get.

        Come back to the evidence – women are judged to a harsher standard and are given very little opportunity to even get in the door. It’s not that they don’t have the guts for the job.

      2. I’ve actually been involved with politics for nearly forty years so do know something of what I’m talking about. I was a member of a political party for much of that time, and actually found no barrier there to women, whatever they wanted to achieve. I’ve also been involved with the third sector as well as running a business, so I have experience in various strands of life. Yes, there is discrimination, but the worst discrimination I’ve come across is actually in rural farming areas, and even that is changing.

        And yes, I do think women often shy away from the rough and tumble, my experience of life has made that abundantly clear, and that is one of the reasons many women are turned off politics. But I guess I’ll never convince you of that.

      3. lauracameronlewis says:

        The data should convince you of that.

        The stories of discrimination experienced by women should convince you of that.

        The fact that women like me are taking up the gauntlet and arguing this case, should convince you that we are not shying away from ‘rough and tumble’.

        This is the practice of discourse – am I shying away? No. I’m offering the uncomfortable facts, not assumptions.

        I’d say you’re experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance here, where the facts don’t fit the bias of your mindset. I empathise with you, it’s quite unsettling to realise that your long held position isn’t backed up by the data. I really do urge you to watch the Malcolm Gladwell talk above… the questions from the audience at the end are really brilliant.

        Thanks again for engaging – I really appreciate your perspective on this.

  4. Dan Huil says:

    After Yes the new democracy of Scotland, mostly defined in its local and internet forms, will not go away. Indeed it will only increase, perhaps after a brief lull to celebrate, during the negotiations with Westminster and then in the run-up to the 2016 election. That election will be extremely important for smaller groups and minorities who are not normally represented in traditional politics. The people of Scotland have a golden chance to realign the political scene in Scotland. Vote Yes.

    1. lauracameronlewis says:

      I hope so, I really do.

  5. Crubag says:

    I started out being interested in this, as I thought it might address something that has been largely absent from the debate: is a single-chamber, regional assembly the appropriate structure for governing ourselves? It might be, though I would lean towards more checks and balances, including possibly a second chamber, and certainly more direct democracy on the Swiss model.

    But “you’ll find they are white middle class men who hail in disproportionate numbers from private education” rather lost me.

    Private education is an issue in Edinburgh (where is seems to be self-perpetuating) but not elsewhere in Scotland, but to say that the antithesis to being White (meaning Scottish, rather than Polish, for example?), Middle Class Man is to be a White (Polish? Scottish? Spanish?) Middle Class Woman seems to miss the point entirely.

    In my experience people from establishment backgrounds, whether that is a political party, profession, or education are very similar in outlook, whether they are male or female.

    Which brings me back to my starting point – without new political parties, and possibly new political structure, you won’t see much change in established and self-perpetuating cliques. Who don’t even do it out of malice – but they tend to promote the people they know, whether male or female.

    1. lauracameronlewis says:

      I love what you’re saying here about the swiss model of democracy… ultimately that’s the sort of thing I’m suggesting in the piece, but what I’m saying is that we can’t DEVISE this model unless we have the invisible folk in the room to do the devising. There are definitely people missing, and other issues than the male bias that need investigating, however since women comprise more than half the population, it’s a pretty good place to start, don’t you agree?

      I think some of the commenters here are making a leap of logic and coming to conclusions that frankly, uphold the points I’m making about the ways that bias against women operates through power:

      White rich men ARE disproportionately represented. Those are the facts.
      White rich men from private education are disproportionately represented. Also a fact.

      I wasn’t making a statement about Scotland vs Westminster representation of leaders who are privately educated – on which point we know Scotland has a *slightly* better track record with only around 40% of MSPs being privately educated. Only 40%? That’s not something to celebrate, that’s a problem. Statistically, privately educated people comprise only 8% of the population. So these groups are disproportionately represented.

      It’s difficult and it’s painful for people who are used to any kind of privilege, to understand the many ways in which they are taking power from others, so I’m incredibly happy that each of the commenters here has chosen to engage, even if they’re still not able to grasp the ways in which even some the assertions in these comments are demonstrating many of my points above.

      Do you know what, I’d rather have this discussion and be able to examine these things than go back in my wee box and be quiet about it. So from my end, and I hope for other women like me, that means that we have to be brave and work through this with you all. I know it’s not meant in malice. I’ll personally give everyone lots of chances, because this stuff isn’t easy. It’s really bloody hard.

      Looking at the implications of what I was writing beyond the massive bias against women, In the piece I was also implying that we might be doing ourselves a disservice by letting our leaders be appointed from among the ‘tried and tested’ people, by the older ‘tried and tested people’. Why such a reliance on career politicians? Aren’t they part of the problem?

      Surely the point of democracy is that we elect representatives from among us to make decisions on our behalf? Apart from one or two totem women that we might be able to use as justification for not bothering to ensure we appoint more broadly, I don’t see anywhere near enough people who are representative of my sex… not at elected representative level, at strategy level, at campaign leader level, at managerial level… it’s broadly pervasive. Bias against women isn’t just about lack of affordable childcare, it’s about who we have in the room to make the big decisions. It’s that simple.

      I want to see representatives from among the people. All of the people. Not just women, but as I said before, since we comprise more of the population than men it’s glaringly obvious that’s the first thing that needs redressing.

      I’m calling for representatives from all the invisible voices, and calling for systemic change that will help us support those voices to enter the debate. Many strong voices from those invisible groups already exist in leadership roles in other fields, they’re not career politicians, but they’re bloody good leaders already. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be at the table… not having a long background in politics shouldn’t be a barrier as it’s not the job of a representative to know all the data about *everything*, that’s we have civil servants.

      Wouldn’t we prefer to have people making decisions who actually have some integrity and life experience?

      I know I would 🙂

      1. lauracameronlewis says:

        OH! And I totally meant to post this link to an amazing talk by Malcolm Gladwell where he highlights the problem of the totem (or ‘token’, I was being a bit kinder about what the role these outlier women occupy)

  6. Iain says:

    I think some of the targets refer more closely to the make-up of the UK/Westminster: white, middle-class male, suits, private education. I’m not saying you’re wrong, I just think the “white middle-class male” bit is off the mark if it’s meant to refer to Holyrood and the councils.

    1. Crubag says:

      I’d agree. I’d say the most powerful clique post-war is the Labour party – which doesn’t fit the author’s paradigm of class – though it might on sex/gender. The relevance of skin colour seems questionable – is this more of an Amercian importation? Or is pigmentation meant to stand for ethnicity (which like gender is independent of biological facts)?

      The SNP could, and perhaps is, evolving into a new establishment to replace Labour. I think this is a natural process, even if not always desireable. Parties will reward those who have served their time over anyone outside their ranks.

      In my opinion, the way to cut through these cliques, whether based on party loyalties, educational background, sex/gender, or even skin colour is greater direct democracy. Everyone is equal, everyone gets a vote.

      1. lauracameronlewis says:

        totally agree.

  7. Laura is not just referring to our institutions: she is referring to the whole gamut of politics – our campaign groups; our lobbying groups; our artistic bodies; our movement more generally. She is referring to political representation more broadly than looking simply at Parliament. All of what she has written, however, does lead on to who ends up being our representatives in elected institutions. White, middle-class men do comprise the majority of our elected representatives – and the Scottish Parliament, while it compares favourably to Westminster, is far from being wholly representative. The problem of cronyism (mentioned above by Crubag in the last point) directly relates to this too. I love this piece, Laura. Thank you for writing it.

    1. lauracameronlewis says:

      thank you all for responding. it’s important stuff, i’m glad we’re able to look at it under the light.

  8. rosestrang says:

    A welcome article. I was thinking I’d like to see more from a female perspective in Bella Caledonia.

    I’ve experienced many of the scenarios mentioned, perhaps one of the funniest was when I employed a man to work with me on a project, then in our first important meeting with a director he turned and ordered me to – ‘take notes of this’. I remember the director (who was female) exchanging a wry look with me and needless to say I didn’t produce a pen and notebook! The funny thing was, he was also about ten years younger than me

    I feel that sexism is still, unfortunately, rife in Scotland and if we’re talking about parallels between an independent Scotland and Sweden we have some way to go.

    Happily, we have examples like Nicola Sturgeon and Elaine C Smith to galvanise us – both highly articulate, assertive, likeable women. The SNP does appear to represent women more fairly in comparison to other parties. The thing is, politicians know that 50% or more of the electorate are female, so if nothing else, logic dictates..

    This doesn’t necessarily reflect society as a whole though. So if you’re male it’s not enough to say ‘I see women being well represented in politics’; Just look around you and see how much less likely women are to take the lead or be engaged in leadership roles, and help to change that. Maybe your social group reflects a more balanced approach, but in society as a whole it needs to be addressed.

    As women we often feel the need to be apologetic about asserting ourselves, it feels almost brazen to speak out or to baldly disagree with someone, so we apologise before disagreeing, which comes across as weak. Personally I don’t like provocative or contrarian approaches to debate, not if they’re deliberate (genuinely passionate debate is a different matter).

    We want to throw out Westminster style politics. So hopefully divisive, adolescent aggressive posturing can be relegated to the dustbin too!

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Hi Rose, we are just about to launch Closer 3 which is an all female cast on women and independence, and we recently held a seminar on gender, media and power in Edinburgh. But you’re right, we need more female voices on Bella’s pages…

      1. rosestrang says:

        Thanks for reply, I’ll look forward to the launch of Closer 3, sounds interesting!

        I sometimes question all female groups as regards feminism (though it depends on the situation of course). The reason being that I see such a lot of feminist men joining the debate, for example Jackson Katz talking about male leadership. He’s based in America mind you! But it is a growing phenomena, hopefully in Scotland too.

        I recently watched Prof John Roberston (university of West Scotland) discussing media bias re’ independence in the BBC. He was accused of having a bias himself, but described himself as supportive of independence but first and foremost, socialist, pacifist and feminist. It’s relatively rare to see that statement being made in Scottish institutions, very welcome though, so I always hope to see all inclusive feminist debate

  9. Clootie says:

    I agree with your basic concept. However some of the language made me very uncomfortable.
    Far too many social typecast assumptions.

    1. lauracameronlewis says:

      I agree, it is uncomfortable. Sadly, that’s the reality of the experience for most women. If we don’t like it, this is an opportunity to think about it and change it. It might take a long time, but if we’re all up for admitting our discomfort with it, then change might come quicker.

  10. David Fullstone says:

    You have hit on one very important factor about about who really runs the country primarily from Westminster regarding the old boy network. Whilst in the army I used to see what happened at some high level meetings. Change management, risk management and prince2 was something all us idiots who hadn’t been to Eton used. It was truly incredible the millions that were wasted. I seriously have watched black adder and known people crazier than Col Melcher making decisions that wasted millions. Even if you look at things like the London Ambulance Service new IT system, it failed three times costing 21.7 million because the people making the decisions refused to accept that maybe golfing buddies etc weren’t the best board members. I think that is the saddest part. I keep hearing people stress over the monetary aspects when I know a well trained chimp sat in Hollyrood randomly choosing from options with a banana attached would get it right more often than the suits in London. It’s not that England teats Scotland badly it’s that the old boy network treats anyone North of Leeds like the peasants they see them as.

    1. Crubag says:

      And we’re not short of project meltdowns here (trams, parliament) and probably for much the same reasons.

      We’ve still to have the trams inquiry, but the inquiry into Holyrood debacle is an interesting piece in relation to the writer’s points. One of the people singled out for blame was the project sponsor (Prince2 speak for the person acting for the client – a critical role):


      But was it class, sex, or choice of secondary school that was the issue here? Or a professional establishment too comfortable that it knew what it was doing and didn’t need outside scrutiny?

  11. thisgreenworld says:

    Laura, thank you!

    A shame that some of the replies dive in and criticise your choice of language (…white… private school…) rather than discussing the points you were making.

    Part of a respectful dialogue requires allowing people the opportunity to say things without being (worried about being) shot down; being allowed to ‘fail’ in part whilst adding value to the discussion.

    time to be a bit less picky, guys…okay?

    1. Crubag says:

      I hope I wasn’t sutting her down, I think we need more of this kind of discussion. I was questioning the applicability of her labelling to my experience of Scotland and its cliques.

      I think the class element is on the money – though not neccesarily middle class. Skin colour, not so much. Private school, not so much – but university? Maybe. Sex, maybe, but I think trumped by class (both family background and professionally acquired).

      And I think we need to bring in the tendency that any profession, including politics, has to include the known/familiar/time-served, and exclude the new/different/disagreeing elements.

      1. Glad you’re up for the discussion!

        I do think other cliques need addressing and am heartened that other commentators are up for opening those issues too. For this piece though, I was trying to keep to one issue because it affects over half of our population.

        I do feel that I need to point out that by saying as you do above, that ‘sex, maybe’ is a barrier – in spite of my evidence and in spite of my experience, you’re doing points seven and eight:

        *Men will tend to offer ‘opinion’ as argument, yet demand ‘evidence’ from women

        *Men often ignore the validity of evidence and arguments presented by women

        You might not be a man, but there’s the kicker, I think women internalise the same prejudices and apply them to each other.

        As long as we’re all up for discovering where these prejudices lie, and pointing them out when they happen, I’m really hopeful that we can begin to change these issues.

        Thanks for your attention and contribution.


  12. deewal says:

    I doubt that Nicola Sturgeon does what Alex Salmond tells her to do. In fact it’s probably the opposite way round.:-)

  13. museumandy says:

    I wonder whether you feel that making racial gender stereotypes the centre of your piece helped or hindered get across your core message?

    1. lauracameronlewis says:

      It is the core message of the piece. The proportion of these guys is much much greater than they comprise in wider society. That’s the point. What do we do to admit other people to these leadership roles?

  14. gonzalo1 says:

    250 voter registrations in the Vale of Leven alone on Thursday. Interesting.

  15. tartanfever says:

    Interesting article Laura, thanks.

    You raise some important issues but I think there is something you have overlooked that applies to both sexes but is intrinsic in any form of committee from a local group up to the political party running a government, and that is ‘having an agenda’.

    That ‘agenda’ can be based on anything – a fight to preserve your seat of authority in a parliament, to persuade a group to head in a direction that may benefit someone personally – possibly financially, to steer a public organisation on a course that supports the state rather than be it’s questioner and so on.

    From politicians to councillors to prospective politicians to the head of BBC news to lobbying groups to big business and all points in between we see people, of both sexes, manipulating systems and pushing authority.

    In my opinion the parts of the ‘whole system’ need to be re-evaluated.

    So, for starters, man or woman, how about we start describing the politicians, councillors, group heads, lobbyists, nurses, doctors and everyone that plays a role in Scottish life as ‘custodians’ – and I use the term in the most positive sense – that people realise they are in that role temporarily, that their aim is to leave it in better condition than when they started, that their role is to help benefit all the society of Scotland.

    Changing our understanding ( or indeed, deliberately changing the job descriptions) of public positions of influence could surely go a long way to a new, less abrasive and more co-operative sense of our community.

  16. lauracameronlewis says:

    Some really good ideas here. i totally agree that our society’s power dominance over women intersects with issues of patrician ‘gatekeeper’ roles. I think that to a great extent, the information economy is changing some of the other patrician roles, whereas the female absence from leadership still holds fast. For example, with the healthcare relationship you describe, we each have access to pubmed via google search and can go into a doctors office in a pretty informed position and even though your doctor might think you’re a hypochondriac (because they jump to old paradigm conclusions, rather than check whether you actually found some good data that they’d never otherwise know about), you’re fairly likely to be able to enter into a dialogue in that situation. However, if you’re a woman who wants to represent her community in national decision making, you’re faced with the fact that you don’t even have a pathway to get to that point – your facts aren’t treated the same as men’s facts – what you say and do is appraised as less relevant or false, even if you have the evidence to back it up.

    As you say, changing the descriptions of public positions of power would indeed go a long way to a more cooperative community – changing the way we have those conversations too, will go even further.

    1. tartanfever says:

      Food for thought Laura. I was thinking about an earlier reply you posted above:

      ‘The proportion of these guys is much much greater than they comprise in wider society. That’s the point. What do we do to admit other people to these leadership roles?’

      It occurred to me that maybe the perfect place to pitch a new language, or approach to hierarchies would be in a constitutional convention and the written constitution that comes out of that discussion. It’s a unique event.

      This founding document could set the tone – the way in which we, the people set out our principles of society, community and values. A constitutional convention OF the people has to represent All the people to surely be called representative and hold any value ?

      The resulting document would be the most precious gift we give to future generations, and if we want to change the generational cultural, sexist crap that I’ve been brought up with in my 47 year life (and even have difficulty being aware of) then this may be a perfect opportunity to do so.

      The entire constitutional journey could be a perfect vehicle for not only changing the way we do things, but ultimately challenging the way we think, asses and value information.

      1. lauracameronlewis says:

        Yes! I really think that is a significant moment to focus on, and I’m calling for 50:50 representation on the panels and groups that make the decisions and set up that process in the first place.

        Everything you say is spot on, and that process could be one of real power.

  17. One thing that is glaring from the comments above is a tendency to try to overlook the uncomfortable truths of the piece by saying, “but shouldn’t we be talking about something else?” or downgrading the gender discussion to a lesser status by talking about other things (important things, granted) in general. It would be great to actually address the points of the piece, which I think are timely, accurate, and really obvious to anyone involved in this movement. As Laura has said, it is not that anyone is the bad guy here: the systems we are at risk of perpetuating are, though. And the majority of the time, it is utterly unconscious, which is why it can be so hard for folks to see, even when they are the ones doing it.

  18. arthur thomson says:

    I think a major contriburion to dealing with the issues discussed would be for us to agree to restrict our use of the word ‘sex’ to matters of sexuality and to use the word ‘gender’ when referring to issues of equality. I also think that a major factor in ongoing inequality has been the role of the media. We have seen how toxic the media have been in the referendum process and it is just as toxic in relation to gender equality. It is absolutely critical that Scotland creates a new media after the 18th. Perhaps the setting up of a Scottish daily newspaper by and for women would ensure that the issues raised in this post could not be sidelined. From my perspective, it is so obvious that improving Scotland is in very large part dependent on continuing to develop the increased active participation of women that we are experiencing in the independence campaign. Women bring perspectives to the table that can positively reshape all aspects of Scottish society and that surely is the point of striving for a different, independent Scotland.

    1. lauracameronlewis says:

      agreed, gender is the accurate term, and highlight that these issues affect people on all points in the gender spectrum. Women’s issues are mens issues.

  19. Totally agreed. But we will get nowhere unless we recognise that, even where women are “at the table” right now in campaigning movements, they experience points 1 – 9. Which already skews who and what we deem the appropriate people to be speaking to about this.

  20. (Dreadful sentence structure there… ! He he he!) “Which already skews our idea of who the appropriate people are to be speaking to about this, and what we should be speaking about” might be a better way of putting it…

  21. Muscleguy says:

    You need to have a word with the women too. I have been in a situation where a group that was female dominated needed a leader, who had to speak in public. When it came to the point where we had to decide the women told us they had decided it was a shitty job, none of them wanted to do it and they were press ganging me (well educated, not privately, well spoken, white middle aged male) to do it. There was never any doubt over who was in charge though.

    Many women do not like talking in public, I have seen that with women science colleagues as well as other women. But that does not mean none do. I debated at school with very good female team mates, both my daughters are champion debaters (which made their old man very proud). But again even when you have confident woman speakers they can still decide to defer to a man ‘because he has a louder voice’ or other reason.

    You are fighting engrained psychology here. I wish you luck but you will never achieve your aims if you don’t have a word with your sisters, regardless of their ‘good reasons’, about not putting themselves forward.

    BTW this movement to have meetings standing up to stop time wasting has to be women’s detriment simply because on average women are shorter than men and it is harder to catch someone’s eye.

  22. lauracameronlewis says:

    I totally agree that the inequities in the system have caused women to internalise these behaviours and perpetuate them in other ways. I wrote something about that back in December – cultural misogyny is exactly that – it’s cultural, it’s in the system.


    Only by changing the system and coming up with a new set of behaviours and methods of engagement can we really get beyond this problem. It’s to the benefit of men to do this too, men would benefit massively from a shift in how we do things, the bullish culture isn’t good for anyone’s wellbeing and it stops us being able to get to the facts and make better decisions.

    There are lots of women that are putting themselves forward now, despite the inequities of the system. The problem is that they’re sidelined for guys.

    Personally, I’d quite like to see new blood in politics, female and male, from amongst the voices in the new ‘peoples’ movement. The public as a whole have been pretty disenfranchised and disengaged with careerist and spin politics – I see what’s happened in Scotland over the past two years as a real opportunity to ride on the new momentum of public engagement and get those people from the public into representing and leading. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life is that people at the top rarely know much about what they’re doing, they get their info fed to them by inferiors. Now if the people at the top don’t need knowledge, what do they need, experience of leadership, yes? But the reason the public is disengaged is because the leadership has been so bad. It’s a myth that we need professional politicians to be the leaders, I think what we actually need is good leaders to be the leaders – people driven by purpose and magnanimity.

    1. tartanfever says:

      I’d actually be in favour of public funding of political parties – which may at first seem a bit crazy. However, as David Cameron pointed out a few years ago, ‘the next big Westminster scandal will be lobbying’

      If we decided to fund politics via the public purse, we could do away with all business lobbying, the Ian Taylor’s of the world, cash for favours etc.

      I’m not sure how a funding structure could work, but an element could be that funding is given to every seat in Holyrood, and possibly this could help ‘independent MSP’s’.

      It may even lead to a situation where the likes of the RIC are used as a banner organisation under which individuals could stand for election without the restraints of party lines. We could encourage a wider voice to our parliament – not the usual party affiliates but a broad spectrum of interested parties. This in turn may help to improve the worrying partisan style debates held that seem to result in pretty negative cat calling.

      So if we decided to spend say £10m on political funding to encourage a wider array of voices into our political system as well as funding our established parties then we could feasibly ban all private funding from big business or trade unions or wealthy oil tycoons looking for favours.

  23. leavergirl says:

    So well put, OMG! Great stuff. Thank you, Laura.

    In my view of it, men are raised to bully women. They are raised to defend certain entitlements. They may not even be aware of it. And letting go of it is hard. All the black-lighted points are ways to verbally abuse people, and men do it to us all the time. There are many many others, some sneaky and some obvious.

    I think we women have to stand up for ourselves better. And we need to make closer allies among us and with men who’ve made it their business to evolve out of these behaviors. In other words, cultural change. As long as so many men get away with it, they’ll keep on doing it.

    Yuck. This humanure is everywhere… I am skeptical of tackling it top down, although some top down stuff could help. Bottom up is what I am thinking. (Hugs. This was treat to read.)

  24. thisgreenworld says:

    One of the biggest gains in an independent Scotland is the building of a bottom-up, participatory democracy, where the people who are affected make the decisions and the running; only grudgingly handing complex issues “upwards” to politicians to advise on or resolve. Currently, there is far too big a gap between the people who live and the people who decide – we need to build capacity at al levels in society to empower all people. Part of that is building frameworks for participation and lead roles (NOT lead people) that ACTIVELY ensure all groups and interests are properly included and whose voices are fully heard. The ‘tyranny of the majority’ enables full-time leader to emerge and dominate; which can tend to lead to shouty male powerplays.

  25. leavergirl says:

    But there is another problem that abuts this one. In politics configured as domination of the many by a few, typically it is the character-disordered that rise into power. They are the manipulators, liars, cheats, and people with impaired conscience; as the saying goes, scum rises. Taking over that same power structure with new people usually results in their deformation/conformation to the system. It might not be a bad idea to have some strategies to address this: the problem of power.

    12 days. The Wall Street Journal today reports panic in Westminster. 🙂

  26. Lo says:

    Germany have a digital voting system, count me in

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