Female forces are the economic future

I must admit I felt a surge of excitement reading the front page of last Wednesday’s edition of the Financial Times, reporting the news of Christine Lagarde’s nomination to head the European Central Bank, and Ursula von der Leyen’s appointment as head of the European Commission. I’ve admired the two of them for years for many reasons, one of which is that they have found a way to be both powerful, and powerfully female, as they have travelled over the years through roomfuls of Very Serious Men.

Lagarde dominates any rooms she’s in. This is a woman who can put baddies in their place with just a well-chosen word or two (her verbal pistol-whipping of Bob Diamond in Davos back in 2011 is one for the record books) all without breaking a sweat in her couture suit and Hermes scarves. Ditto Von der Leyen, who is a force of nature, literally. The woman gave birth to like, 14 children (OK, it was only seven) and practised as a full-time physician before turning to her second career as a government minister and Angela Merkel’s right-hand woman.

It makes me happy to look at both of them. It also makes me think that there’s a sea change coming in global politics and in the global economy as more and more women win the top jobs. Both Lagarde and Von der Leyen are can-do types, and neither has a huge ego. These are people you want in charge. In the US, it’s possible we could end up with a woman president in 2020. Even if we don’t, women are already surging ahead politically, with Congress being more heavily female than at any point in history.

Leaders are backing Christine Lagarde, left, to lead the European Central Bank and Ursula von der Leyen to take up the presidency of the European Commission

Economically, the future is also female. A new McKinsey Global Institute report out this week on the future of work notes that women have a leg up in the age of automation — the jobs that they do (often in the caring professions) are less likely to be automated than those that men dominate. MGI estimates that women could capture 58 per cent of the total net job growth in the US through to 2030.

In China too, women are moving ahead. At an AT Kearney CEO conference that I attended last week in Mallorca, one of the presenters noted that women in China have a labour participation rate of 61 per cent (higher than, for example, Germany) and they represent 70 per cent of online shoppers. “She-commerce” in China is the world’s single biggest consumer market.

There is some evidence to suggest that as women gain power, public policy and markets will shift in important ways. Female politicians tend to invest more in healthcare and education; sectors that are attractive to women (packaged goods, services geared towards convenience and time management) may rise relative to those that are more dependent on men (finance, gaming, alcohol and tobacco).

I’ll be very curious to see whether Lagarde and Von der Leyen change the political tenor of Brussels in any important ways. Ed, do you think this will happen, or am I simply indulging my own girl crush?

Recommended reading

  • I enjoyed Adriana Cavarero’s take on happiness and the founding fathers. (New York Times)
  • And a number of wonderful pieces in the FT this past week — here are a few highlights: Jamil Anderlini, our Asia editor, expertly deconstructs the meaning of the Hong Kong riots; Martin Wolf explains why liberal democracy is down but not out; Brooke Masters makes a sharp historical analogy between the mergers happening in autonomous vehicles today, and those that happened in the car industry at its birth; and my colleague Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson unpacks the baggage of being a rich kid with Abigail Disney.
  • Also, I want to give a special shout out to Michael Hann for his terrific feature on the rock band Kiss, the smartest capitalists in the music business. I have a selfie with co-founder Gene Simmons, which was taken in a green room at CNN, where he was talking about one of his new business ventures — and no I won’t be sharing it!

Edward Luce responds

I am as big an admirer of Christine Lagarde as you, Rana. I doubt she’ll change Brussels’ culture since she’ll be based in Frankfurt and pretty much separate from the workings of the EU. I would have preferred Margrethe Vestager as European Commission president to Ursula von der Leyen on grounds of individual merit. The latter, no doubt, is a decent person but she lacks the edge and experience of the former, whom Donald Trump, quite wrongly, thinks is anti-American. In general, the more women in public life the better. But it matters which ones are chosen. Vestager did not fit into the Franco-German deal that was struck, which is a pity. She is as tough as they come and Brussels will need as much of that quality as it can get in the coming years.

Your feedback

We’d love to hear from you. You can email the team on swampnotes@ft.com, contact Ed on edward.luce@ft.com and Rana on rana.foroohar@ft.com, and follow them on Twitter at @RanaForoohar and @EdwardGLuce

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