Nadav Tamir, Senior Advisor for Governmental and International Affairs
How A Female Leader Could Bring A Breath of Fresh Air to the Israeli Leadership
Now is the time for Israel to recognize the importance of female leadership if Israel is to thrive in the modern world. The late President Peres recognized this fact long ago. On January 24th, Knesset Member Meirav Michaeli was elected in part primaries as chairperson of the Labor Party. This outcome saved us from a situation in which there would be no female leader of a significant political party in Israel in the upcoming elections.
Many must be wondering why I choose to engage in the fate of the Labor Party, which many of the public perceive as obsolete, as well as the question of why it is important for Meirav Michaeli to lead the party. It indeed saddens me to imagine the party that was so significant in the establishment of the state, which deserves credit for many of the achievements we now take for granted, disappearing in the upcoming elections. Moreover, unlike many others, Meirav Michaeli has demonstrated her loyalty to the party's values and remained true to her vow to the public, not to join Netanyahu's government. Beyond the plight of one party or another, or the future of Meirav Michaeli, the true issue is, how will the future of the State of Israel look without women in leadership positions?
Most of the arguments about integrating women into politics and public life in general focus on the issue of equality and affirmative action. When the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, was asked why he put together a gender equalized government, he replied: “We are living in 2015.” When the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginzburg was asked how many women should serve on the Supreme Court, she replied, “nine”, clarifying that if for many years nine men held office, then there was nothing to prevent nine women from doing the same. Nonetheless, the need for promoting female leadership goes well beyond the issue of equality.
Anyone who follows what is happening in the world will notice that one of the lessons from the Corona crisis is that countries with female leadership, such as Germany, Finland, Denmark, New Zealand and Taiwan have performed much better. In a relatively short period of time, the Corona crisis made blatantly obvious that change, which in the past was an evolutionary, linear process allowing time for adaptation, now accelerates exponentially. This phenomenon which has been around for a while, challenges our human coping mechanisms. When change was linear, we could extrapolate from the past and the present into the future. This gave leaders the ability to predict and plan for events and processes that were likely to take place in the future. It enabled leaders to speak with certainty about what we were about to face and what action needed to be taken to better prepare for what lay ahead. Today with accelerated exponential changes due to the data and technology revolution, this is not possible. In this reality there is a dire need for leaders who can help people cope with adaptive challenges. Also, there is great value in humility, in the ability to acknowledge mistakes and in the capacity to lead through a process of collective public learning to adequately deal with the challenges.
There appear to be biological reasons why men tend to publicly display hubris and self-confidence more than women. In primitive times these traits may have served to give those men an advantage in deterring enemies, so throughout the process of evolution there was a selection bias of men with these traits. However, in todays’ world, excessive self-confidence can be an obstacle to progress.
Certainly, one should never generalize. Golda Meir, as Israel’s Prime Minister, did not excel at detecting the winds of change. Perhaps if she had been more modest and perceptive, the Yom Kippur War may have been prevented. Moreover, there are men, including those with an impressive military record, who excel in intellectual modesty and capacity for learning. A good example is former Chief of Staff, General Gadi Eisenkot, who knew how to admit his mistakes and accept responsibility following an infiltration incident in the Golan Heights that occurred while he was in charge. Later, after Yoav Gallant's nomination for chief of staff was disqualified, Eisenkot stated that he was not yet prepared to accept the position. In advance of the upcoming elections, Eisenkot again displayed modesty when he decided that he needed more time to learn about politics before deciding to run.
Despite these examples, empirical testing shows that women have on average more of the necessary qualities required to deal with the adaptive challenges of today. The entire world is internalizing this fact. In the previous U.S. presidential election, Hillary Clinton won the majority of the general public's votes, however Trump won the electoral tally and we witnessed during the past four years how tragic his election proved to be. President Joe Biden realized he must appoint a woman as his Vice President and chose Kamala Harris. She is likely to be the next president after he completes his term. Nancy Pelosi, who has long been the leader of the House Democrats, immediately follows Harris in the U.S. government hierarchy. For the first time in history Biden also appointed a woman as Secretary of the Treasury and another woman as Head of Federal Intelligence. Many attribute the success of the Georgia Democratic Party to the former Democratic Minority Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives and candidate for Governor, Stacy Abrahams.
For the Nordic countries it has long been accepted that women comprise most of its leadership. In Germany, which became the leader of the free world during the Trump era, Chancellor Merkel impressively led her country and Europe, with modesty and skill.
President Peres understood many years ago that the world had changed. He appointed Efrat Duvdevani as Director General when he became the Minister for the Negev and the Galil and later on as the Director General of the President’s Office. The Peres Center has for quite some time been led and continues to be led by women in all the top management positions.
It is distressing to see that in Israel, which claims to be the innovation nation, we linger behind in terms of the quality of leadership and in understanding the value of female leadership.
As usual, President Peres understood where the world was going before most others. The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation is an example of his vision in this respect as well.
Nadav Tamir is The Peres Center's senior advisor for governmental and international affairs and former personal adviser of Shimon Peres for diplomatic affairs.