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The First Female 'Leader of the Free World'?

16/04/2015 09:32 BST | Updated 15/06/2015 10:59 BST

As the world's worst kept secret was revealed this Sunday, we learnt that Hillary Clinton announced her intention to run for President of the USA.

Not only was Clinton the first to announce her intentions, just eight years on from her defeat by Obama in the Democratic nomination race, but at this early stage it seems that she is expected to be the frontrunner for the Oval Office, with several US news outlets offering their support.

Of course, the main story surrounding this announcement is the fact that the 45th President could be a women, and many are once again offering their opinions on whether or not her sex is relevant to the decision to elect her as President.

In some ways it is surprising as a British female, who grew up with Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister that this issue causes such debate. When you consider the number of female leaders we have seen around the world it is clear that the States are behind the times in accepting women in senior positions. At the moment there are 11 female heads of government, including Angela Merkel the Chancellor of Germany, who many describe as the leader of Europe. In other ways it's a fair representation of what can be seen in US businesses, where only 27% of CEOs are female, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So what are the barriers to more women taking leadership roles? Pew Research Centre conducted research into beliefs about female leaders, by surveying almost 2000 Americans in 2014. They found that when it came to the characteristics of a leader, most believed that men and women were pretty evenly matched in ability. It was perceived that both genders were equally equipped in terms of intelligence and capacity for innovation, women in fact were deemed better on compassion and organisational abilities, with men only outperforming women on risk taking.

During the same survey, those questioned were asked to identify what they believed to be main barriers to female leadership the most common responses were:

• women are held to a higher standard than men

• the public aren't ready for female leaders

• women don't have sufficient support within their business or political party.

I was surprised to see that those surveyed didn't believe family commitments to be the biggest obstacle, but also delighted to see that there is no doubt when it comes to performance. What this research reveals is that it isn't practicalities or ability holding women back, it is perception.

What I admire about Clinton is that she's stated time and time again, that when it comes to running for President her gender is irrelevant. She is running because she believes that she is the most qualified for the job and her experience as a lawyer, a senator and a secretary of state, certainly suggests she is.

As a legal recruitment specialist, every day I work with a number of highly professional and experienced solicitors and in my experience, my male clients are happy to aggressively sell themselves, whereas often, female clients with the same or more experience, simply don't feel comfortable to say that they are the best person for the job. It's seems like for some women, it is easier to play down their achievements, when really they should be shouting them loudly for everyone to hear.

If women are to lead, then more women must lead. Women must apply for senior roles, sell their abilities and say that they are the best person for this job. But equally our political and business leaders need to prioritise ways to enable this. Not only are they potentially missing out on the best talent if they do not, they are also discouraging the next generation.

This is why Clinton winning the Election could be the most significant event in addressing gender imbalance not only in politics, but within business. Hillary Clinton herself said that "When women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across society". If the leader of the free world is a woman, then what can't women do?