The question of what power means in a feminine context has raised its head again this week with the publication of the inaugural Women’s Hour power list, which aims to identify and showcase the 100 most powerful women in the UK today.
As an ambitious professional working in a female dominated industry, and surrounded by bright, motivated colleagues (of both genders I hasten to add), it’s a pleasure to hear stories of women who have forged their way to the top of their chosen profession, and are wielding the authority they have rightfully earned.
What I found most striking about this particular list was the incredible diversity of the chosen few, both in terms of industry sector and their particular role. From the Queen to JK Rowling, and Harriet Harman to Dawn French, there was a strong showing from household names needing no introduction. There were also many others who will be largely unfamiliar, such as Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, Sara Thornton, or Ann Glover who is Chief Scientific Advisor to the European Union.
It’s this broad spectrum that offers the clearest insight into the challenges faced by the judges in selecting the most worthy candidates, and the considerations they must surely have pondered as part of this process.
What exactly does it mean to be a powerful woman in today’s society? Should this be restricted to those with the unfettered ability to control and change the lives around them, or widened to encompass those who exert influence in much subtler ways? Would a similar list of men be as diverse, or more closely linked to pure unadulterated power?
The Queen is an interesting choice: at once obvious but questionable, due to the fact that she never offers a public opinion or makes any obvious moves to enforce her views. Similarly, comedienne Sarah Millican may be hugely amusing, and clearly at the top of her game in a traditionally male environment, but one does have to question whether she can be termed truly powerful.
While I feel obliged to applaud these efforts in recognising female success, I can’t help being left with the sense that this list reveals the significant distance we still have to travel before women hold an equal place in the power circles that really matter.