Why Jacinda Ardern Stepping Down is a Tragedy for Working Mothers

“I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice.”  – Jacinda Ardern

 

The new New Zealand prime minister who became a bit of a feminist icon for being the youngest female head of state at the time she came to office and also gave birth in office, has stepped down from her role. She no longer has enough in the tank!

A lot has been said about her decision. 

Some have said it means women can’t have it all. 

Some have been incensed that it has become a gender issue. 

Some have seen it as brave leadership to know when it is time to step down.

While I think it is a bit of all of the above, I want to come at this from a completely different angle. It really is a tragedy for women (no I am not being dramatic here) that a woman on the global stage who was modelling a different type of leadership has had to step down.

 

Why is this a tragedy? There are three main reasons why.

  • Inspiration
  • High Price
  • Air cover

 

Inspiration

Jacinda Ardern inspired women, young women, and working mothers. She made them feel they can achieve high office. This demographic has traditionally suffered inequity because it is not a level playing field. This stops some women from pursuing their ambitions in the first place as they think they will not be given a fair chance. But here she was letting them know high office can be achieved and at a young age at that.

Now that she has stepped down, they are back to square one, questioning whether it can really be done and is it really sustainable? This is such a setback.

 

High Price

Being a woman, particularly a mother, working at the highest level requires superhuman effort and sacrifice, and most of the time, the effort results in burnout. The fact is a lot of these women simply give up or pay with their health. Jacinda Ardern was smart enough to know when to call it quits but why was that the only viable option? The tragedy is the signal this is sending out. It solidifies all the fears these ambitious women have. It plays into the ‘you can’t have it all’ narrative. This also highlights that there are societal and organisational structural issues that need to be addressed to allow women to have it all. Incidentally, no one ever questions men ’having it all’ so why is this an issue when it comes to women?

 

Air Cover

What I call ‘air cover’ is having a working mother at the top with lived experience. That is the only way you can shape policies to start breaking down the inequities that are burning these women out. Men can do their best to be allies and be empathetic but theory is not the same as experience. Unless you have had to go through the biological changes that women go through with monthly periods, childbirth, and menopause, it is difficult to really understand what women need and fight for it.

Having a woman at the top helps to provide air cover for other women when they are going through these issues and provide them with the requisite support. Without women at the top, you will never get women at the top.

 

Jacinda Ardern was a bright light for leadership. She led with kindness which is a quality mainly associated with women and she was not ashamed of it. She brought a different type of leadership to the fore and inspired women and also showed men that there is another way to lead.

The real tragedy is why this bright light had to step back and why she didn’t have the help and support she needed to keep having enough in the tank.

 

If you think this tragedy could affect the future of women, especially working mothers, grab a chat with me here. If you want to hear more from me, you might be interested in my FREE masterclass – register here to watch anytime.