Three generations of Kings
Lori Meakin reflects upon the leadership legacy of growing up in a ‘Queendom’
Despite Rishi Sunak making May 8th an additional bank holiday so we can “come together to celebrate and pay tribute to King Charles III”, I can’t help feeling rather downhearted about the Coronation.
Not just because of the history of colonialist white supremacy, the entitlement of a hereditary aristocracy, and the extreme wealth-divide that monarchy represents. Nor because I’m feeling too ‘Team Diana’ after bingeing on season 5 of The Crown. I’m just carrying a simple but profound sadness that for at least the next three generations, the head of The Firm will be a King.
“Although we’ve been called a Kingdom for centuries, I’ve loved living my whole life in a Queendom”
There was something about a woman being the most senior person in the room at huge state occasions that I valued more than I knew. I didn’t realise I’d miss the ‘Her’ in everything from the tax office name to the Secret Service. Or that praying our noble, gracious monarch be saved would hit so different, now that it’s the k-word bellowed at football games or tearfully mouthed at medal ceremonies. In short, although we’ve been called a Kingdom for centuries, I’ve loved living my whole life in a Queendom and the leadership legacy that’s created. I’ll miss it more than I’d anticipated.
Before we dismiss this as sentimental nonsense or feminazi man-hating, let’s pause to consider how swapping three Kings for a Queen may have broader impacts that we’ll need to work hard to counter:
‘If you can’t see it you can’t be it’ isn’t just an aphorism, there’s serious academic research about the difference seeing female role-models can make to women’s success. But too often in business, women are still woefully under-represented at the very highest levels of leadership.
It’s a style thing
Of course, leadership style matters too and female bodies don’t guarantee ‘feminine’ qualities. Unlike Liz Truss and Thatcher, who adopted the power-moves of patriarchal leadership, the Queen displayed archetypally-feminine qualities without it diminishing her status and power. A sweet, smiling, granny who increasingly showed empathy as well as vulnerability, with a high voice and not a hint of physical dominance. Future Kings could, of course, choose to embrace more traditionally feminine qualities and characteristics too, as can male leaders within our firms. But too often we still associate qualities like competitive, overconfident narcissism with leadership despite the growing evidence that more ‘feminine’ characteristics are more effective leadership traits.
The male gaze or invisibility
No longer deemed attractive enough to be objectified, like most midlife or elderly women the Queen avoided being trapped by the male gaze. But even as a younger woman her authority meant she never seemed to exist primarily for (straight) male viewing pleasure. Sadly we can’t say the same for the way Kate, Meghan and other royal women are pored over. Crucially, unlike most midlife and older women, the Queen was not overlooked either. Witness the way she always dressed in bold single colour to stand out in any crowd. Sadly the male gaze still lingers within advertising, and midlife-and-older women remain largely invisible despite their huge power as consumers.
There was something beautifully transgressive about Philip – the archetypical man’s man – visibly deferring to his wife. Of course I don’t wish men genuflected to women, walking two paces behind them. But I do feel uncomfortable that EVERY royal woman from the Queen Consort down now has to display active deference to her male partner. Mary Ann Sieghart’s work on the Authority Gap shows how even more competent women struggle to be accorded the same respect as men. Three generations of the nation’s top family modelling universal male authority and female subservience surely won’t help that often-unconscious bias that exists in society and our workplaces.
A default-male Kingdom
All my life, despite being ruled by a queen we’ve treated ‘Kingdom’ as a gender-neutral word. But anyone familiar with the work of Caroline Criado-Perez will know just how this default-male thinking leads to women being limited and underserved in all kinds of ways.
So to mark this coronation, I might restore some balance by insisting on calling our nation the “United Queendom” for the rest of my years.
It sounds way more fabulous, for starters. And if you think a Queendom doesn’t feel like a comfortable place for you… now that’s something we ought to talk about.
By Lori Meakin, WACL Comms & Voice Chair and author of the forth-coming book ‘No more Menemies’
This article was originally published by CreativeBrief on 16th November 2022