Can Johnson learn from Biden’s pick of an all-female comms squad?

It was announced at the weekend that President-elect Joe Biden’s new White House senior comms team would be all-female, headed by Kate Bedingfield and Jen Psaki, both Obama administration veterans. They are relatively youthful and mothers of young children.

Is Boris Johnson learning from his mistake appointing a male-dominated comms team? asks Eliot Wilson
Is Boris Johnson learning from his mistake appointing a male-dominated comms team? asks Eliot Wilson

This move addresses an imbalance in the communications industry whereby two-thirds of the sector is female, but the leadership at director level and above is dominated by men.

That is an obvious messaging win in itself, and appeals to Biden’s progressive supporters.

Many young female comms professionals have declared how inspiring the move is, and it is clearly intended as a break with the regime of President Trump, whose relationships with women have been complicated and hazardous at best.

The science seems to back up the incoming president.

Women are reckoned to be better communicators than men on a number of fronts: they are more eloquent and use more words per day, but are also better listeners (the trade secret of communication) and display more empathy.

They are also – to generalise for a moment – less likely to bring combative and zero-sum game mentalities to the workplace.

Of course, Biden is making a conscious decision to present a face very different from that of his predecessor.

While the votes are still being confirmed in some states, it seems fair to note that the 46th president was elected at least in part simply because he was not the 45th.

In many ways, Joe Biden was objectively a rather poor candidate – old, stale, prone to gaffes and clearly no longer pin-sharp.

But as the anti-Trump he has ended up receiving more votes than any presidential candidate in history.

Biden’s picks are also in stark contrast to Boris Johnson’s media team, which has been not only male-dominated (by Lee Cain, James Slack and Jack Doyle) but accused of fostering a toxic 'lads’ culture' in Downing Street.

There have been rumours of young female special advisers being bullied or ignored, and of whisperings about the Prime Minister’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds (herself a comms director by trade).

Boris Johnson is already regarded by some as a leader embodying some of the least attractive traits of masculinity, from his Eton schooling and his membership of the infamous Bullingdon Club to his fondness for cronies and his slipshod approach to propriety in distributing government patronage.

The idea of a scrum of men plotting the (rather haphazard) governance of the country is not playing well.

This may change with the increased assertiveness of Symonds and the arrival of Allegra Stratton as the PM’s official spokesman.

Stratton is tough and experienced but her female identity may be an important totem of change at the top.

Capturing women’s votes used to be the Tories’ secret weapon in elections but that advantage has fallen away.

It would be ironic if the Conservative Johnson learned lessons from the Democrat Biden, but Boris is a New Yorker by birth who has lived in DC and Connecticut, so perhaps something of the American air has suffused him.

Eliot Wilson is co-founder of Pivot Point

Thumbnail credit: Getty Images


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