Women can run the world, too: Some of the most prestigious international jobs will soon change hands. John Torode bravely proposes the alternative shortlist

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The Independent Online
What do the following international organisations have in common? Nato and the Western European Union, the European Commission and the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, the OECD and the World Trade Organisation (formerly Gatt)?

The answer is that they are all expected to be looking for new chief executives and speculation is rife about who the winners will be. Is there a little something which would see Lord Lawson through to retirement? Is the Netherland's Ruud Lubbers pulling ahead of our Sir Leon Brittan in the race to be the next Mr Europe?

Note that Mr. No one has even considered the possibility that a woman might come out on top, not for any of these jobs. Yet few would seriously claim today that women find it too tough at the top. Or that there are no females with the appropriate experience: from Britain (Baroness Thatcher) to Pakistan (Benazir Bhutto), from Norway (Gro Harlem Brundtland) to Turkey (Tansu Ciller), we have become accustomed to the possibility of women as firm and often effective heads of government. And Mary Robinson is an innovative and internationally admired, Irish head of state.

Outside the Arab world, few prime ministers of either sex would dare construct an all-male cabinet. For the past 60 years all American administrations have included at least one woman. Jeane Kirkpatrick, President Reagan's ambassador to the UN, was one of the toughest defence theorists the United States has produced. In France, there is former prime minister, Edith Cresson; President Mitterrand's former Europe minister, Elisabeth Guigou, and elder stateswoman Simone Veil.

In this country, too, it is no longer the so- called 'caring' departments - health, education and welfare - that are reserved for women. They are sitting at the cabinet table doing what would once have been regarded - at least by men - as 'men's work'.

Gillian Shephard is Secretary of State for Agriculture, while Lady (Lynda) Chalker handles some of the world's toughest trouble spots as Minister for Overseas Development. They follow the trail blazed by Lady

(Barbara) Castle, until recently an MEP, who as secretary of state for employment tried to force through trade union reform for Harold Wilson a generation ago.

In the British civil service, macho-seeming public postsare also held by women. Stella Rimington controls MI5; Valerie Strachan is in charge of Customs & Excise, and Sarah Hogg, economist and former City journalist, is John Major's senior policy advisor. In short, there is talent and experience aplenty on both sides of the Channel.

So why are there no women on the mooted shortlists? Ann Robinson, head of the policy unit at the Institute of Directors, and a private sector high-flier herself has no doubt. 'Oh these are status jobs, not achievement jobs. Status matters to men. They battle over it, don't they?' she said.

This is not quite fair. The jobs in question are status jobs, but they are also achievement jobs. Anyway, why should a high-achieving woman not yearn for a bit of status as well as successful hard graft?

So let us start with the EU. Who might replace Jacques Delors? A hard-headed Europhile could reasonably plump for Simone Veil, the former French minister of public health and family affairs who served with distinction as President of the European Parliament before returning to Paris to resume her cabinet career. A lawyer by trade, she spent a year in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and has devoted her adult life to European reconciliation.

Or how about Mary Robinson? She is a specialist in European law who has dedicated herself to building bridges between the Catholic and Protestant populations of the island of Ireland. As a tough-minded conciliator she would provide a welcome change to the more provocative Delors style.

If Mr Major were looking to nominate an

under-employed British stateswoman with impeccable European credentials, he might care to think about Lady (Shirley) Williams. Lady Chalker is the best option if he wanted to nominate one of his own to the Commission presidency. Educated at Roedean and Heidelberg, she (like her fellow minister Mrs Shephard) speaks first- rate German, is mightily efficient without being too much of a bossy-boots, and is pro- European without making a thing of it. And Mr Major likes her.

It would, alas, be no use Mr Major asking the Commission to accept Lady Thatcher as its next president. But maybe she could be shortlisted for Nato, which everybody agrees needs a good hand-bagging. It has lost an enemy with the collapse of communism and failed to find a role. Lady Thatcher would be rather good at defining a new set of goals and injecting a sense of purpose.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, another woman of a certain age with too much time on her hands, would bring an equally tough but intellectually austere approach to Nato headquarters. Perhaps it would be better to place Kirkpatrick at Nato and let Thatcher replace Willem van Eekelen as the secretary- general of the Western European Union. They would make a formidable duo. If a less abrasive presence were deemed desirable in either post, how about the Swedish foreign minister, the formidable Baroness Margaretha Af Ugglas? Or Canada's former prime minister and defence minister, Kim Campbell? She might start to make it fun.

It is, alas, harder to think of women might be suitable for Jean-Claude Paye's OECD job or for the World Trade Organisation, but Turkey could provide a solution. Since the days of Ataturk the country has bred academic economists and formidably tough businesswomen. Ms Ciller is both.

Or, if these economic and trade posts are informally reserved for representatives of the developed world, perhaps the Institute of Directors could be prevailed upon to surrender Ann Robinson. Otherwise, the most distinguished German woman banker is Ellen Schneider-Lenne. She can be found on the board of the Deutsche Bank and is said to be open to offers. Or Birgit Breuel, who has made a creditable job of privatising the former East Germany as head of the Treuhand company.

Finally there is the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers. It has a lower profile than the other jobs, but demands great political and administrative sensitivity. The secretary-general must balance the competing interests of member states, then weigh the collective interest of this Europe of Nations against the growing pressures from Commission bureaucrats and the increasingly confident European Parliament. The names of Pauline Neville-Jones, now a key player in the Cabinet secretariat who combines Euro-expertise with an intelligence background and Elisabeth Guigou, whose reputation is as an outstanding administrator spring to mind.

So there are lots of able women and they should be considered for all these posts - and for many more as they become vacant. How about a woman to head Unesco, the International Olympic Committee, or for UN Secretary-General?

The question that then poses itself is what difference, if any, would be made by having a woman chief executive - to the organisations themselves or to the world. Would a woman's supposedly more consensus-based approach be more likely to bring peace to Bosnia? Would a woman's reputation for thrift balance the books at the OECD? Would the fact that a woman is supposedly less corruptible help to clean up the murky world of international aid?

Perhaps it is worth a try. If, however, you thought - perhaps even hoped - that women might bring a distinctive, feminine style to international affairs, you would be very wrong. While some are indeed natural consensus-seekers, others are tough as old boots. Just like men in fact.

(Photographs omitted)