Dame Fiona Reynolds on leadership and motherhood

dame_fiona_reynolds07:48 Friday 13th March 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: A question for you. Would the world be a better place if women ran it? You mean they don’t? That is the subject of a major debate at the Cambridge Science Festival. It’s being chaired by Dame Fiona Reynolds, Master of Emmanuel College at Cambridge University. She used to run the National Trust. A mother of three she is, and I spoke to her earlier.
DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: Well women are brilliant as you know at running organisations. I’ve been lucky in my life to run three charities, each one bigger than the other. But actually the thing I learned really early on is it’s all about people. And although you can’t generalise, of course men are brilliant with people as well, but women are particularly good, and I think they do bring a listening, passion for engaging with people, an a sort of sense we’re all in it together. And I think most organisations succeed when there is that really strong sense of collective vision and purpose.
CHRIS MANN: So where does that leave men? What’s their job? What’s their role?

DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: Well men have done very well as you know.
CHRIS MANN: Not messed it up completely, have we?
DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: No you certainly haven’t messed it up completely. But actually what’s very interesting is any survey that’s done about leadership, about the inspiration that people offer in senior roles, the characteristics that tend to come out time and time again are those around leadership, about listening, about engaging people, about inspiring people. Now obviously men can do all those things. Women are particularly good at it.
CHRIS MANN: I’m thinking of that moment in My Fair Lady where Rex Harrison as the curmudgeonly Henry Higgins sings, ‘If only a woman could be more like a man.’
DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: (LAUGHS) Well we might do it the other way round now, mightn’t we?
CHRIS MANN: Well maybe there’s elements of both that need to be in there.
DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: Of course. And some of the skills that people have traditionally associated with male strengths, such as being very good decision makers, being very rigorous and analytical, women can do those too. So it’s not either/or. You need to do all of these things.
CHRIS MANN: With you in the centre of Cambridge, in the beautiful Emmanuel College where you are the Master of course, how does Cambridge do and Cambridgeshire do, do you think, in bringing women on and encouraging women?
DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: Well there’s lots of women who are Heads of House in the University. Still not 50% but getting better every year. I’m the first Master that’s a female at Emmanuel College. I’m extremely proud of that. And actually I haven’t sensed any question about whether a woman can do the job at all.
CHRIS MANN: You didn’t think of changing the name from Master to ..
DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: Well actually a: I didn’t think about it, b: I’m very glad that they didn’t, because Master of course is a completely gender-blind term, isn’t it? (LAUGHS) But no. I love being Master. I love the fact I come into a room and people say ‘Here’s the Master’, and they look around and there I am.
CHRIS MANN: Do you fell different?
DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: I do feel very very proud.
CHRIS MANN: Of course there are an incredibly low number of women in politics for instance. Perhaps they’re just too nice for it.
DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: Some of it’s about characteristics, but actually more of it I think is about lifestyle. because if you are woman and want to have a family, and you want to have any kind of balance in your life, that’s a hugely important question about how do you actually organise your life so that you can do that. Now I was really really lucky. I’ve got three children who are now in their late teens early twenties, and my husband gave up work to look after the children when the youngest was born. So I had an incredibly supportive framework, enabling me to get the jobs and do the jobs that I was doing. But not all women have that opportunity, and actually juggling family and work life is one of the most difficult things still.
CHRIS MANN: We’re talking about the Battle of the Sexes in a way, and how the war is being waged, and you talk about women wanting to be more assertive. And yet at the same time we have the 50 Shades phenomenon, these books, and now the movies, which is all about male domination. I went just across the road here to the Arts Picturehouse the other night and there must have been 75% women in there watching this film, which is sort of the complete converse of what you’re talking about.
DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: Well you know what? I haven’t read the book, haven’t seen the movie, and I’m afraid ..
CHRIS MANN: You’re about the only woman. (LAUGHS)
DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: .. in my busy life I can’t at the moment see a gap in which I would. I don’t know. I’m not the right person to ask, because I haven’t read it. But do you know what? I think the wonderful thing that we need to and can deliver society is give women the choice to do what they want to do, and to do what’s right for them. Not every woman wants to be top of an organisation, not every woman wants to stay at home and look after the children. Most of us find some kind of workable balance between the two. It’s not about domination. It’s not about one above the other. It’s about working together in a good relationship with your partner and making it work. And making it work with kids too.
CHRIS MANN: What’s the biggest thing that would change matters in this country do you feel? What’s needed?
DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: I think absolutely the biggest thing is making it easier to work other than five days a week, nine to five or longer than that, because many organisations, people work longer hours.
CHRIS MANN: Flexi-working.
DAME FIONA REYNOLDS: Flexible working. Recognition that family responsibilities are important and need to be accommodated within a working environment.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Dame Fiona Reynolds, Master of Emmanuel College at Cambridge University, used to run the National Trust. Really interesting chatting to her. Her event is 2:40 at the Cambridge Science Festival. It’s called Gender and Conservation – does it matter? And it’s a week tomorrow.