IT mystifies me why Hillary Clinton isn't used more often as a role model by female politicians. Here's a woman who served her apprenticeship as a New York senator. Not that long an apprenticeship, but smartly managed nevertheless, and managed in a particularly female way. Instead of in-your-face conflict, she did negotiation. Instead of driving leadership on issues, she did collaboration.
She learned the system and worked it. Because she's pragmatic, knows not to fixate on humiliation but concentrate instead on recovering from defeat, she's now secretary of state.
I found her example coming frequently to mind in the last 10 days, listening to speculation about a possible new political party -- who might join it and where on the political spectrum it might fit? The only thing missing was any reference to women.
Women comprise half of the world's population and two-thirds of the world's work force. In the main, they are the ones with the responsibility for caring for the family. They are the protectors of the health and well-being of the clan, yet they are afterthoughts when a new political party is in the making.
Politics isn't just a cruel trade, it is predominantly a male trade where the women who get through the selection process, electoral process and make it into the Dail are in a minority. Many say, off the record, that they are not listened to by their parties and that the way Dail business is structured is anti-family.
But most of all, politics is a male conversation. When mention is made of the leaders' debates prior to the next general election, it is clear that most media commentators believe that the (inevitably male) winner will be the one who can bark economic data with the most authority. That's how male argument works, unilateral, directive communication.
Women, in sharp contrast, according to Professor Deborah Cameron of Oxford University, practise collaborative participative communication, plus, according to an American study, "a woman's brain is better organised to perceive and remember emotions". Yet the preferences and cognitive processes of more than half of the population are effectively ignored in most, if not all, televised political debate.
This has never been more obvious than in the last two years of constant battering on about high-end economics, billions going into Nama and 'light-touch' regulation.
We haven't heard much about the real experience of the person in the street. The person going home with the dreaded P45 in their back pocket, sick to the pit of their stomach worrying about how they will pay their mortgage and keep bread on the table. There is no light-touch regulation for the person who cannot pay the mortgage.
What about the small-business owners who have their backs so close to the wall that they have almost atomised and disappeared into the wall. Cash flow is almost non-existent and in some cases business owners, being the resourceful lot they are, have resorted to the barter system with other companies in order to stay afloat, and thank God for that, for we sure don't have the banks or the Government to thank for it.
We don't hear any political party registering the change on the ground, never mind responding to it, and I believe that that is because of the male dominance of the system.
There seems to be a lack of political compassion for the ordinary person in the street suffering from chronic economic meltdown. This has resulted in a nationwide cynicism. It has led to mistrust of all our politicians and by extension of the political system which is not healthy for a democratic society.
It's not healthy for a democratic society that more than half the population have to listen to a political discourse that doesn't match the way they think or talk.
It's not healthy for people to feel isolated and abandoned to cope alone with the burden of financial survival. It seems to be all about the big boys, and boys they are.
Maybe I've missed something, but I haven't seen one woman mentioned in all the reports of defaulters on humungous loans from banks and financial institutions.
If you're a man, the chances are that your eyes will roll at the notion of changing politics to include soft and fuzzy stuff like emotion. Men feel most comfortable with data and statistics, but the emotional well-being of individuals in society is every bit as important as their financial health.
Economic recovery depends on the individual being able to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and start all over again.
Women relate better to stories and emotions, they make up half of the population, so talking to half of the population in terms with which they do not identify is not a good way to motivate them.
While women are emotional they are also more pragmatic, result-orientated and better at assessing the overall impact decisions have on individuals as well as society as a whole.
Having worked for 10 years with one politician, Labour's Jan O'Sullivan, on the voluntary Cara Housing Agency Board, I have seen all of those characteristics in action. In the beginning they frustrated me. I thought Jan O'Sullivan's approach was way too soft. However, over time, I understood the benefit of it. She achieved what she needed to achieve without collateral damage.
When I suggest that women are more pragmatic than men, what I mean is that they have a capacity to duck, weave and adapt in order to achieve an objective. Ann Fitzgerald, CEO of the National Consumer Agency is a classic example.
Serving on the board of that agency, I had major run-ins with her but hold huge admiration for her pragmatism. She understands the system and has learned to work around and within it, she doesn't go through roadblocks with a bulldozer.
The one trait a truly effective woman in politics must suppress is the need to be liked. In that context Mary Harney is the outstanding example. When she took the job as Minister for Health, she knew it was political suicide. Slow political suicide, but suicide nonetheless. Speaking to my sister she made it quite clear that she understood perfectly that the job would make her deeply unpopular but her view was, "what else was she in politics for if not to make a difference".
We need more women in politics and we need politics to become more open to women. Truly gender-sensitive politics would enable new insights to emerge, making real transformation possible in today's society.