Tomorrow sees a general election in Australia, and the two main parties are currently neck and neck at the polls.
Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister, is facing a fight to the finish with conservative coalition leader Tony Abbott. Ms Gillard became Prime Minister in June after ousting her predecessor, Kevin Rudd.
But reports say that she faces a backlash at the ballot box over a range of issues, including the way she replaced Mr Rudd as head of the Labor party and her policy directions on climate change and immigration.
If the Labor party, currently just ahead in the polls at 52%, does lose the election, what will this mean for Gillard’s career? Will she be left to carry the can and blamed for the loss? Or will there be an appreciation for the political status quo that she inherited so recently, at a time when the Labor Party’s popularity was sliding in the opinion polls?
Apparently, say the BBC, Kevin Rudd “surrendered without a fight” after realising that his support amongst government colleagues had collapsed.
That sounds like a poison chalice of a job to me – in fact, it sounds like the roles described by researchers at the University of Exeter in their paper a few years ago as the “glass cliff”, in which they suggest that senior women are:
“… more likely than men to find themselves in positions associated with a high risk of failure and are correspondingly precarious. … A female candidate is overwhelmingly favoured if the opening is described as difficult and involving a high risk of failure.”
The paper, entitled “The Glass Cliff: Evidence That Women Are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions”, summarises the glass cliff position as follows:
- While men are given safer and more secure jobs, women at all levels often feel that they have been “set up to fail”;
- Such leadership roles can lead to increased stress for women leaders, and can contribute to larger numbers of women departing senior management positions;
- Glass cliffs may also have repercussions for organisations, leading to poor communication and decision making
The research, conducted in 2005 and updated in 2007, was conducted across a range of sectors which included business, the law and, crucially here, politics. Significantly, Julia Gillard was not handed the role of Labor Party leader/first female Prime Minister, but actively sought it out – so in that regard, the concept of being appointed to a doomed, risky role does not apply to her.
However, should her party lose at tomorrow’s election, the blame will undoubtedly be laid at her door and you don’t have to be psychic to predict that there’ll be a media firestorm suggesting that the Aussie electorate didn’t vote for her due to her gender, and/or because they didn’t want to have an elected (as opposed to an appointed) female Prime Minister.
Whilst, as outlined here in this guest blog for Catalyst, Australia does have a relatively high proportion of high profile, successful women in senior political roles, the amount of media attention focussed on Gillard over the last two months has been intense and has been largely centred on her gender and personal life.
So, irrespective of whether she strode to the cliff edge herself or was parked there – I see that Australia’s first female Prime Minister is poised on the edge of the glass cliff at the moment – and only the Australian electorate can keep her there or send her tumbling over the precipice.
However, on a lighter note, just as we had Paul the Octopus making (ultimately) successful forecasts during the World Cup last month, Australia now has psychic crocodile Dirty Harry making election predictions. Of course, given that crocodiles are a bit more vicious and unpredictable in their behaviour than are our eight legged “friends”, the selection protocol is a bit more feral: this time, Harry has to indicate the electoral winner by lunging for some raw chicken hanging below images of Gillard and Abbott.
Watch the video link here to see who he picks – and may the best crocodile win tomorrow.