Female leaders offer words of wisdom to young women
The world still imposes various barriers on women striving to fulfill their potential, but female leaders from around the globe offered a few pieces of advice on tackling those obstacles at a recent conference in Seoul: find role models, build your network and travel abroad.
Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state, had to wade through the male-dominated profession of politics, but she scaled its challenges by emulating her role models.
“It is difficult to be a woman in a male-dominated field. But we should not fall prey to the argument that we should behave” in a certain way, Rice said during the Global Women’s Leadership Conference, a two-day forum co-organized by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and Hankook Ilbo.
“Find role models. They may not look like you, but it doesn’t matter,” Rice said, adding that her role models were mostly white men. “The first woman astronaut would have waited a long time had she been looking for another woman astronaut before she went to space.”
Lucy Marcus, founder and CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting Ltd., said women tend to achieve a lot at work but seem relatively indifferent to networking, which is another important factor for career success.
“Actually, part of your job for yourself is to leave the office and come and gather and speak and learn to meet one another,” Marcus said.
Marcus also said that it is the responsibility of successful women to reach out to those women who fall behind and tell their stories. Increasing one’s international exposure by traveling abroad is another effective way to deal with career challenges, she said.
“It was an epiphany for me to go to another culture and see that actually there was a different way of thinking, a different way of moving, a different way of philosophy. It is vital for young women to spend some time abroad,” Marcus said.
Nurul Izzah Anwar, an opposition lawmaker in Malaysia, countered the stereotype that Islam bans women’s participation in politics, citing her own election in 2008 as one of the youngest women to win a parliamentary seat in Asia.
The daughter of Malaysian opposition icon and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim jumped into political activism at the age of 17 when her father was arrested in 1998. Anwar said she hesitated when asked by her party to run in the election, as she had given birth to a child just months before.
“I asked the clerics, ‘What should I do, I want to be a good mother, I really want to give the best to my child,’” she recounted. “What they told me was, ‘You are the closest to God when you are able to contribute to more people and especially to your society ... You are more than just a mother, more than just a wife.’”
Lee Sung-nam, a Democratic Party lawmaker and formerly an influential banker, said Korea has achieved the kind of democracy where women are welcome to work in the legislature and government, but there is still a widespread notion among women that politics is for men. Breaking the psychological barriers is a necessary step for Korean democracy to mature, she said.
“Women tend to have psychological barriers to doing politics. I think that should be broken,” Lee said. “It’d be a good starting point to try to see problems in the local community you belong to and try to be more active and reform them.”