Reimagining Women’s Leadership

Yesterday, I received a beautiful hand-written note from a dear colleague and mentor. Her words were empowering—and reflected an appreciation for my contribution to our work. I’ve been struggling to put my thoughts into words—and my words into action since participating in the UN’s 65th Commission on the Status of Women. But that one card demonstrated both words and action—and maybe my key takeaway—to do things today that empower women in my circle, at my table, and in my community. During the two-week conference of panels, discussions, and events, I often felt overwhelmed by my imposter syndrome and feelings of dismay at how much work needs to be done to combat these atrocities against women. Day after day, I listened to so many horrifying accounts of gender-based violence built into the fabric of many cultures.

But then, there were these amazing warriors fighting insurmountable challenges to change the lives of women and girls and champion the fight for gender equity in pay, opportunity, housing, decision-making, and government participation. Every day, these accomplices, allies, and advocates fight for change in policy, in practice, and in beliefs. Not only were they fighting for change—but they were giving voice to the stories and experiences of women around the world.

Participation in CSW65 has shown me several pathways to become more involved on a national and global level. I hope to give my time, talent, and resources to have an impact on this larger scale. But that is not all I will do. I must; we must, do the work in our communities, in our organizations, and in our homes beginning today.

Women belong in leadership

Barbara Littles, Esq., CEO of Purpose by Design, and Her Excellency, Dr. Diana Kenoly, UN Ambassador hosted the panel, Reimaging the Leadership Table with Women’s Full and Effective Participation and Decision-Making, which focused on how women can develop their personal and professional brand to develop their leadership skills. June Gachui, lawyer and consultant at JGIP Consultants, said, “Women shine a light on the things that others miss.” She explained that more gets done with love, leadership, unity, and diversity. Women leaders are empathetic, attentive, and lead with their strengths of healing, caring, and nurturing. During the Women’s Leadership: The Power of Your Voice in Your Workplace session, Dr. Doyin Atewologun, Dean of Rhodes Scholarships for the Rhodes Trust and Director of Delta Alpha Psi, said we are all set to gain with more women in leadership. Women, parents, children, and employees all have better outcomes with more women in decision-making roles.

Ms. Gachui explained that women need to upskill and spotlight our expertise. Believe in the quality work that we provide. She shared an anecdote about men and women in the job market. She explained that if there are 10 qualifications listed in the job posting and a woman meets six, she will self-eliminate and not apply. If a man meets two, he will go into the interview to build a convincing story about why he can do the job. Ms. Gachui explained that even if a woman lacks some of the listed skills on the job description, she has the potential to bring other skills that are needed in the organization.

In spotlighting our skills, Ms. Gachui explained that we must continually improve ourselves and our professional and personal brand. She said to get feedback from those who care about you, take it in, and apply it for growth. We need to learn how to improve and grow. Look for trusted people who can give you honest feedback.

Finally, Ms. Gachui said our weaknesses are our superpowers. What we think makes us weak, makes us great. She said do not take intuition for granted. Women are nurturing and caring; we should lead with these strengths.

Women empower other women

One of the most profound takeaways for me was to use whatever power we have to help other women. There are so many things we can do in our organizations to empower women. First, Dr. Atewologun said if you are a woman with power in the organization, be a champion for your authentic self. She said to speak openly about care and the responsibilities that come with that. She said we must name sexist and gender discriminatory policies and practices. We must call attention to the situation and demand change. Finally, she said we must give messages of gender equity to our sons and nephews. We must teach them empathy and compassion.

One message was clear throughout—we, as women, must mentor other women. We need to seek role models and be role models. We must show our abilities and spotlight the ability of others. June Gachui said, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” She said we must think about upskilling ourselves. She said she believes that we cannot sustain being on top by ourselves. She adds that we must learn the power of delegation. She said, delegation is not a weakness; it is the ability to figure out what your strength is and be able to identify people with the talents that you may lack.

Women use their voices

The speakers throughout CSW65 called for women to explore their voices. Women must position themselves at the leadership table. June Gachui said that a good woman leader must express herself and communicate whether speaking one on one or speaking to hundreds during a presentation. Jenni Prisk, the founder of Prisk Communications, advised women to stop saying “I think” and just begin with the words that come after. She told the audience to stop saying “I’m sorry”—and acknowledge that when we get up to speak, we are important.

Women must communicate their stories and the stories of women around them. Nafisa Rayani, the business owner of Honeycomb Jewelry and entrepreneur, shared her story of becoming a successful businesswoman and developing a custom jewelry brand. She said she was and is crystal clear about what she wanted for her brand. She said she stays true to herself in making decisions about her business. She said, “I hope my story inspires you to redefine, reimagine what the expectations of achievement and success are for you so you can experience your own individual truth and find a way to thrive in leadership, in business, and in life.” She said that she uses jewelry to tell stories about love, loss, hope, life lessons, and the people who impacted her life.  She explained that telling the stories of others can and will inspire us.

During the session called WOMEN… Speak Up!, Jenni Prisk said she recommended bringing your 90-year old self for advice. She explained, “she is a feisty old dame—I ask her, what do you want me to do?” She added, “she never fails me.” This idea resonated with me because I thought of my feisty 85-year old grandma and of all the history she had seen—and how in the craziest of times, she would give me the best advice. At 90, I expect to be past the politics, the imposter syndrome, the trying to figure it out—and I hope to embrace the wisdom that comes with reaching that milestone—so if she can help me figure it out now, I’m open to it.

Women are at the forefront of change

Monifa Bandele, Chief Operating Officer at TIME’s UP, stated we have a once-in-a-century opportunity to reimagine the workplace. She added we should be reaching for the North Star to determine a truly equitable workplace for women in all organizations. She said we can’t fight gender inequities and discrimination if we are not present in the workplace. She explained the complexity of the problem by saying, we are the doctor, and we are the patient. In that, we are at the forefront of dismantling patriarchy, but facing the full impact of it. We have the full burden without full access.

I left these sessions overwhelmed and empowered. I knew I could seek ways to impact my work and my organization. I am focusing on calling attention to our practices and policies that bear an undue burden on women; I’m speaking to my nephews with a clear voice of gender equity and guiding them to be compassionate young men; I’m seeking opportunities to spotlight the success and courage of my women colleagues while seeking mentors to grow in my own leadership and power. Barbara Littles, Esq. closed with a quote from comedian, Steve Martin, “be so good, you can’t be ignored.” If CSW65 is any indication of our future, women are so good—they cannot, will not, and are not being ignored.