Career : Transforming Cleopatra

Margot’s first degree at the University of Sydney was a Bachelor of Education. She moved to Darwin where she headed up Darwin Family Centers. This organization provided child care and family support for the families across the top end of Australia.

It was while studying for her MBA that she started working as a business consultant, at the youthful age of 24.

Margot works with some of the world’s top companies at executive level, helping organizations in times of crisis, such as after mergers and takeovers. She mentors numerous leading international business figures and conducts workshops and conferences.

She is the author of "Approaching the Corporate Heart", ISBN 0-7318-0655-7, Simon & Schuster.

Margot is Chairman of Zaffyre International, and can be reached at See her websites at  and

I recently spent “A Day With Cleopatra” at Sydney University. This study day, run by Dr. Kathryn Welch, traced the image of Cleopatra from its historical origins through the depiction of Cleopatra in art, literature and film. What became evident is that Cleopatra was highly intelligent ( speaking 9 or 10 languages ), politically savvy, shrewd and charming.  She was a woman who wielded great power. She wasn’t, it turns out, very beautiful.  During her liaison with Marc Anthony, she was in her late 30’s and more matriarch than seductress. Yet through art and film Cleopatra has been stripped of her intelligence, wit, and political brilliance and turned into a siren of unsurpassed beauty. 

A key exception here is Cleopatra as depicted by Shakespeare. Although the bard wrote Anthony and Cleopatra after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, he had written most of his work under the reign of a woman who was as clever, astute and powerful as the Queen of the Nile. Shakespeare was writing at a time when powerful women, well queens anyway, were acknowledged.

Unfortunately, at most other times the only legitimate power available to women has been through their sexual allure ( or as mothers ). So in the face of resounding proof to the opposite, Cleopatra has been transformed into a scantily clad, ravishingly beautiful seductress. Ho, Hum. What is it about a legitimately powerful woman that leaves men so terrified that they have to either erase her power or transform it into sexual allure ? Why is it that the only power men want a woman to have over them is linked to reproduction or sex ( mother or whore ) ?

In a previous article I discussed a Freudian viewpoint on this. After my day with Cleopatra, I suspect there is something more.

Fiona Krautil, Executive Director of Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, reported anecdotally of leaders who dismissed women because they didn’t fit in. The leaders ( male, of course ) apparently had no criticism of the effectiveness of such women, merely that the women were different and therefore best let go because they didn’t easily fit in to the team. What it is about the difference that powerful women bring that makes men want to cause them to disappear ? Is it that female power is not only different, but more of a threat than men are able to tackle ? Is it that powerful women bring with them a new way of seeing things and acting on reality that is both effective and challenging in its difference ? By allowing women sexual power, men constrain women to stereotypes in the private world and exclude them effectively from the public realm where their difference could prove too challenging and too effective for their male counterparts.

The threat of female effectiveness has never been greater than it is today as we move out of the machine ( industrial ) age into the e-world, where relationships are of increasing importance. Women have long surpassed men in their capacity to work with the subtlety of relationship. Perhaps the only way men feel they can compete with women is to exclude them from the competition altogether or to make the rules so discriminatory against women that they come to the battle exhausted.

© Margot Cairnes 2001

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