Lack of female leaders 'threatens' foreign policy

Male "megalomaniacs" could endanger a nation's foreign policy, a researcher warns.

The international affairs sector has in recent years made progress on female and gender-diverse representation, but the industry remains one of the worst-performing sectors.

Without a representative group of leaders with the right skill sets and knowledge, Australia cannot create effective foreign policy over the long term, Australian National University academic Elise Stephenson said.

While discussing gender representation with Australia's first female foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop at an ANU forum, Dr Stephenson noted megalomaniac male figures could worsen global issues.

"Well-honed and crafted foreign policy ... can all be thrown out the window when a - mostly male - megalomaniac comes into the picture," Dr Stephenson said

On the other hand, improved gender representation is correlated with low levels of interstate violence, higher levels of collaboration and consensus and improved ability to negotiate with international partners.

Ms Bishop attributed this to the varied leadership styles of men and women.

"Women tend to be more empathetic, more focused on the individual - building people's confidence and skills from the ground up," she said.

"The masculine leader tends to set a standard for the team and hold the team to account.

"No nation can reach its full potential unless and until it fully engages with the skills and talents and ideas of all its citizens."

Though some claim gender equality is a secondary issue to other existential threats, Ms Bishop noted it could be improved in parallel to other solutions.

On the other hand, growing issues around global sectors such as AI tend to disproportionately affect women.

"There will be new technology-oriented jobs ... but there are also man jobs that will be lost to AI," Ms Bishop said.

"And if you start reading between the lines, they are jobs that women occupy - call centres, particularly in developing countries."

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