Rachael Beckett and The Rise of The Female Boss

The central relationship in the Sleepwalker Legacy is that between Sam Jardine and his boss Rachael Beckett. Sam is besotted with Rachael, his CFO and the granddaughter of Napier & Beckett and future leader of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. But his relationship with her is also driven by his respect for her drive, ambition and her ability to command the loyalty of her staff. With the magic of fiction I was able to inject a large dose of sexual tension into the relationship and yet the professional dynamic of female boss and male employee remains at the core of the book. Because this hierarchy is still relatively new in business, it is a rich area for an author to explore and hopefully one that is fascinating for the reader to consider.

When I first started work in the 1980s female managers were a rare commodity. They existed, but mainly where they had specialised technical gifts, had an extraordinary degree of mental toughness or were working in roles considered suitable at the time for women in industries such as healthcare, hospitality or retail. There was certainly an undercurrent that men were innately more suited to the leadership positions particularly in manufacturing and heavy industry. The 1980s was an era of the scary boss who ruled by fear and who was well connected at the golf club or the ‘Lodge’.

I remember my first female boss in the 1990’s when, like a lot of men I had to adapt to a new and unfamiliar workplace realty when the directions were just as likely to come from a woman as from a man. Then just like the buses, I encountered three or four female bosses in quick succession as I moved roles during the formative years of my career. It was quite a revelation that just like the traditional male, I realised that they came in varying degrees of capability and they were quite often much better than their male counterparts.

My particular observations at the time, for what they are worth, were that female leaders had to work harder to earn the same amount of respect as the men. These early pioneers were sometimes beset by feelings of insecurity and doubt before they settled into their role as capable and inspirational managers. Furthermore, while males automatically assumed that respect came with the job based on their innate sense of hierarchy, women would seek regular signs of trustworthiness from their staff. When the staff proved their loyalty, the female boss would repay them by developing a positive team environment hard to match among their male peers. These are all generalisations of course and I am frequently reminded how dangerous such observations can be.

While it has taken some time, I have noticed a swing in attitudes at work. Domineering bosses, whether male or female are out of favour while those with problem solving abilities and high levels of emotional intelligence are on the rise. This is leading to workplaces that are more productive and engaging for the staff and one that utilises the particular talents of women leaders better than they did a few decades ago. On the other side of the ledger, social attitudes still expect women to be the primary carers and this remains an issue for many women on the management trajectory.

The workplace of today is on the threshold of seismic shift in attitudes to women as leaders. From my own experience I can see a bubble of talented young women emerging from the universities and into graduate trainee and middle management positions in all industries. They have a wealth of female role models to emulate and who are comfortable in their positions of influence. In the future there will be as many women executives as men and it will be a good thing that business will have harnessed this untapped resource that was previously ignored. It is an environment in which I hope my own twelve year old daughter will thrive when she enters the workforce.

As a male leader of some experience in my chosen profession I have the opportunity and responsibility to encourage aspiring young women to apply for leadership positions. My duty is to ensure that the very best candidates are always selected from amongst the range of diverse applicants regardless of any unconscious bias that I may have built up over the last three decades at work.

Rachael Beckett is the result of my experience of female bosses and is a complex blend of the half dozen female leaders I have had the pleasure of working for so far in my career. She is my favourite character and she gives the Sleepwalker Legacy much of its intrigue. I wanted to make her as real as possible and not become a Wonder Woman or a Cruella De Vil caricature. Hence she has all the strengths and complexities of a modern female boss although I have taken these to the extreme for the sake of a good read. I hope you enjoy reading about her as much as I enjoyed developing her character and I would welcome comments from those in the same situation as Sam or Rachael.

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