Diversity will be key to the success of Brexit negotiations

It may be a sweeping statement, but by the end of the 2016, much of the free world will be run by women. Yesterday, Theresa May became Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party, moved into 10 Downing Street and joined the staff of media darling Larry the cat. Big day. Her road to becoming prime minister has been strangely smooth amid a stormy sea of political chaos. Essentially, May has gained power by standing still and waiting for everyone else to rule themselves out of the running through sheer ineptitude.

As party leader, May joins the ranks of Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson, Leanne Wood and possibly soon Angela Eagle. Sitting stoically at the heart of the EU, Angela Merkel presides over the economic powerhouse our new PM will be keenest to broker a trade deal with. Meanwhile, most people are keeping their fingers and toes firmly crossed that our allies across the pond elect Hillary Clinton in November.

This round table of heads of state will decide what post-Brexit will look like. What differences can we expect with women holding key positions of power? Fair representation of both genders ensures that the concerns of both halves of the population are addressed, and may also lead to a more effective negotiating process overall.

There is also research which suggests that, in general, women approach the process of negotiation differently to men. In this study, women were less successful when negotiating an outcome for their own advancement but far outperformed men when negotiating on behalf of others. This suggests that women succeed when they view negotiation as a problem-solving task to find a mutually beneficial solution rather than a competition to be won. It’s not clear whether this is a result of biology, conditioning or a combination of the two. Effective negotiation requires both natural traits, which some people possess intrinsically, and learned skills.

Biology or conditioning

Typically, women seek to negotiate based on affinity and common ground. It is something of a cliché to suggest that women’s emotional intelligence is one of their key advantages, but many are more attuned to the best interests of all parties. This makes female politicians more likely to pursue collaborative and durable long-term agreements through which everyone wins – the true outcome of a successful negotiation.

In activities across the business world, from investing to research, diverse teams are proven to outperform all-male or all-female teams. The in-depth and frequently-cited research by McKinsey & Company finds that diversity in the workforce makes sound business sense. Although data on the subject is scarce, there are reasonable grounds to assume that diverse teams of politicians and advisers are likely to succeed at negotiating terms which are satisfactory to all parties. In complex, drawn-out situations such as the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union it is even more vital to take a diverse range of opinions and perspectives on board.

Gender diversity among world leaders is also crucial in inspiring and nurturing talent throughout the ranks of the political system. It’s important for young women and girls aspiring to enter politics to see women in powerful positions on the world stage. In the 2015 General Election, 29% of the MPs elected were women. Although this is the highest proportion ever, there is a long way to go before parliament achieves true representation of the population.

Gender is clearly not the only strand of the diversity debate, and racial diversity is an equally pressing issue. People of colour make up just 6.6% of the current parliament, but almost 13% of the population as a whole. With black and Asian ethnic minorities underrepresented in positions of power, there is a risk that Brexit negotiations will ignore their needs. The next two years are vital in determining the future economic prosperity of the UK. The demand for racial and gender diversity in parliament and in leadership positions has never been more urgent.

The rise of powerful women from the ashes of the EU referendum is a bright spot of hope. With the dust settling, we must focus on negotiating our way to a positive Brexit - and our best chance of doing that is with a diverse team of people at the helm.