Why Women Have to Be 2.5 Times Better

Kim Campbell
SourceAlvaro Hidalgo for Ozy

Why Women Have to Be 2.5 Times Better

By Neil Parmar


Because the most powerful person in the world might soon be a woman.

By Neil Parmar

When Women Rule: A special weeklong series on how influential women leaders managed— or mishandled— major crises during their tenure. Consider this a sneak peek into how a woman could rule the world.

Every new leader has a first day, as Kim Campbell well knows. As the first woman to become Canada’s minister of justice and attorney general, as well as prime minister, she’s faced big and tricky transitions. So what words of wisdom would she share with Hillary Clinton if the former first lady moved back into the White House?

In an exclusive interview with OZY, Campbell, who recently chaired an advisory board overseeing a new process for appointing justices to Canada’s supreme court, answers these questions while looking back to a little-known female leader she once admired, along with political giants such as Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel.  

What important lesson did you learn that helped you in your career?

Campbell: When I was young, I learned the wonderful expression that Charlotte Whitton, the first woman to be mayor of Ottawa, had said: That a woman had to be twice as good as a man in order to be thought half as good. But, Whitton added, “Luckily, this is not difficult” — which encouraged women to try.

Certainly the notion that a woman would need to demonstrate greatly more confidence and ability to do something than a man in the same circumstances has been confirmed by research. In the aftermath of Larry Summers’ very famous comment about women in science, researchers showed that panels of male and female scientists would require a woman to have two and a half times as many publications as a male candidate to be seen as an equal. As a social psychologist would say: You’re not the prototypical leader. And if you’re not the prototypical leader, you are going to have to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

How do certain circumstances allow a woman to have an advantage?

Campbell: Margaret Thatcher did at a time when she succeeded a number of weak male leaders. Her very strength and determination and opinionated nature appealed to people. She was enormously talented. There was a certain confluence of circumstances that made it possible for her to establish that she was what people wanted. But, again, many of the things about her that would be considered not soft and feminine were the things that put people off and enabled them to try and characterize her as more negative than a man would have been exercising the same behaviors and manner.

You’ve also noted a similar characterization of Merkel.

Campbell:  Yeah, and the interesting thing about Merkel is on the one hand she isn’t a frilly, feminine woman, although she has lots of interesting strengths. Again, we talk about the confluence of circumstances — the fact that she was from East Germany, which gave her a different approach, and that she has a nice husband but doesn’t have children. And she always wears pants and a jacket. She has actually helped to expand the sense of what a woman leader might look like.

As first lady, Clinton helped mainstream the pantsuit, which is a very great thing. I never wore pants when I was prime minister, unless it was an athletic event or something, so this is a great liberation for women. Clinton is a non-prototypical leader, but she has now been around so long that we’re used to her, and it’s almost like she ceases to be seen as “the woman.” She is Hillary. Yes, she’s a woman, and in many ways a very important woman because right from the early days in her career, she was prepared to champion issues relating to women and children, which often used to be marginalized. I admired the fact that she, even from the very beginning, was prepared to address those issues — even at a time when it could be used to try and marginalize her.

What leadership advice might help Clinton during a transition if she becomes president?

Campbell: I wouldn’t presume to give her advice, frankly. I think she has the “two and a half times as many publications as a man” to be considered an equal. She’s competent, and there’s probably nobody in the country who understands what it means to be president of the United States as well as Clinton does, except for those who have held that job. Look at her role and engagement in the actual considerations of policy — most first ladies have not been interested in that.

What did you find particularly helpful as guidance when you became prime minister?

Campbell:  What helps you hit the ground running is to have the support of an independent, professional public service and people who know what’s required and can help advise you on how to tackle the issues, organize your work and make the decisions that need to be made to enable things to function. When I was elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, the next day my status was officially prime minister-designate because I was the leader of the governing party.

The day after, I met with the clerk of the privy council — a nonpartisan support service for the prime minister and cabinet — who had a binder that contained all of the promises and commitments I had made as a candidate for my party’s leadership with options of how to implement them. I had support and advice from people whose only job was to help me do a good job. They were nonpartisan. You have people who kind of hold the lore.

Read the series everyone is talking about: The Seven Deadly Sins of American Politics. Have the special collection sent to your inbox by clicking here.

How might that kind of transition play out for Clinton?

Campbell:  I think the difference in the American system is that the senior levels of that public service are political appointments, which means that if you don’t fill those appointments right away, you don’t have people doing the job. As soon as Clinton’s inaugurated she’ll want to make those appointments. She needs to have around her the people who can help her navigate what needs to be done. That’s one of the advantages of a mature democracy — that you have systems for transition and succession. There’s also the fact that she’s been in the administration — she knows things.

But what she will need is advice on how best to move ahead, to organize the enormous array of decisions that she has to make and to reach out and find out where in the country and the world she will have people who are prepared to work with her, whether they’re in her party or not. That’s much harder now than it used to be.