Yesterday Alae and I were invited to the Commonwealth Secretariat to take part in a video interview to discuss the importance of governments encouraging young women to fight for leadership roles in politics and business which will be shown at the 10WAMM Ministers Meeting in Bangladesh later this year
The interview reminded me about a woman I saw last year at the Oxford University Pan-African Conference, who addressed the audience about her recent registration, aged 27, to run for the Presidency of Kenya in their then upcoming elections. Frankly I thought she was crazy, and my friends and I debated her audacity for hours afterwards, but we all agreed she had guts. While her campaign needed some fine-tuning, to be much more polite than I was in that debate, looking back I've found myself admitting that we need more women like her who are not afraid to fight for leadership positions in politics and business in their countries.
Having more women at the decision making tables in government means that we'll have more say over issues that affect us, bringing them into the mainstream rather than being marginalised into 'gender units'. It's bad enough that many men leave contraception up to women in the bedroom, let alone in the boardrooms of governments (no-Lewinsky). Would so many women still be dying in child birth if women were better represented in politics and had more say over the Ministries of Health? How much longer would governments be able to ignore the importance of education for girls if there were more female leaders in the business community? In Africa, women like Joyce Banda (President of Malawi), Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (President of Liberia), Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma (Chairperson of the African Union) are evidence of what happens when you invest in women's education and that we do not have "brains the size of squirrel" as Borat claimed.
Why we can't sit around waiting for the government
However, governments worldwide are notorious for not doing what they are supposed to, so in the meantime yes we do still have to fight for these leadership roles, and more likely we're going to have to create them. Seth Godin wrote inspirationally about this in his new book The Icarus Deception, about rejecting the cultural instinct to be picked. No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.
Having a strong support network is the best defence against 'enemies of progress', to keep on reminding you that you are smart/creative/pretty/funny enough to do what it takes to realise your ambitions.
We have an extensive list of women who are ahead of our game that we've hunted down for coffees to talk through different issues we're having, and organisations we've contacted and asked for support. All the support we've received so far, especially from Virgin Media Pioneers, UnLTD, Think Big O2, Somewhere To, Mizani/L'Oreal, and SOAS, is because we've reached out and asked for it. You'd be surprised how many people will say yes if you ask. Plus it's easier to leap with a safety net.
Just the idea of 'women in leadership' results in more stereotypes being dished out than McDonalds fries, so seeking out a network of role models is a great reminder that there are many ways to be a leader, and a woman. You don't have to 'Think Like A Man', or play up your femininity to get things done. Leadership isn't about gender, nor is it about age, so next time your friend tells you she wants to be President of her country, don't laugh at her, encourage her, and help her prepare for battle.
Where do you find the encouragement to take up leadership roles in politics and business?