Manuela Carmena: “Women in power should manage like women, not try to be men”

manuela-carmenaMadrid’s mayoress Manuela Carmena has criticised women in power who act like men, saying ‘nothing changes’ except to reaffirm that top jobs belong to the male of the species or those who imitate them.

“An empowered woman will empower those around her, but as long as she remains true to the culture of women,” said Carmena, a retired judge, during the ‘Women as the Motor of Change’ Forum 2016 in the capital this week.

“There are two ways of defining power – top-down, or vertical; and horizontal,” she explains.

‘Top-down’ management is the ‘traditional’, or ‘old-fashioned’ model with a strict hierarchy in which those below are expected to obey those above unquestioningly, whilst the ‘horizontal’ management model is more of an equal playing field where everyone contributes, and where the focus is on ‘leaders’ – who inspire, encourage and guide employees by gaining their complete trust and aim to help them realise their potential – rather than on ‘bosses’.

Human Resources training has long endorsed the ‘horizontal’ model, and this is becoming even more relevant in firms with a high number of Millennials among their workforce.

“You cannot manage development politics from a ‘vertical’ management perspective,” Carmena said during the conference.

“You can’t go thinking that you can achieve what you want by giving orders, without listening.

“Women who reach positions that have traditionally been for men, who have broken through the ‘glass ceiling’, do tend to fall into the trap of imitating these men; like this, nothing actually changes, but rather the reverse – it leads to a strange type of schizophrenia, which is enormously uncomfortable and creates an evident imbalance.”

Carmena says when she was in training to be a judge, many of her tutors told the class ‘not to communicate in any way’ with their subordinates – but Carmena went out and did the exact opposite, aiming to become ‘the judge who listens and discusses’.

“You have to smile, you have to talk, you have to be natural. There are many women in powerful roles who have not accepted this and have been left feeling uncomfortable, and making those who work for them uncomfortable,” Carmena explained.

“The mere fact of being female doesn’t necessarily mean we have a predisposition to a dynamic, ‘change-the-world’ attitude. There are, however, dynamic elements in the culture of women, because during the course of the 19th century, then the rapid development we saw in the 20th century, and now coming near the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, women have been involved in an extraordinary process of social evolution thanks to their spectacular resources.”

Barely a month after the latest failed general election, Carmena famously stated that if the party leaders had been women, ‘Spain would have a government by now’ – and she may have a point, given that she has a good working relationship with Madrid’s regional government president Cristina Cifuentes of the PP, a party whose values and policies are the polar opposite of the outfit Carmena represents; the two women have set aside their political colours and the habitual mutual and very public criticism and insults between parties working together in the same region have never been reported.

Carmena, from the regional Podemos faction Ahora Madrid, has been hell-bent on wiping out inequality and poverty, banning banks from repossessing homes and passing bye-laws to protect minority communities, and even hosting a lavish Christmas caberet lunch with gourmet restaurant food – albeit no alcohol – for the local homeless population.

She has been lauded by Pretty Woman actor Richard Gere, who plays a homeless man in his latest film, Invisible, and helps sponsor a day centre in San Sebastián along with his Spanish girlfriend Alejandra.

Concerning the fight against modern poverty, Carmena says it would be ‘interesting to reflect’ upon ‘those policies which have not and will not work’, and comparing their strategy with those which have proven successful.

“The main mistake in the past has been not looking deeply enough into the real characteristics of poverty,” she recalls.

Manuela Carmena concluded by saying that Madrid would ‘happily’ become a ‘buddy city’ of the Colombian coastal town of Cartagena de Indias, which was mentioned in the Forum for its excessively-high underage pregnancy rates in the context of discussing ways of combating this.

Published Think Spain17 October 2016

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