The following is a collection of expert advice from our panel on the challenges and opportunities for women in development
Ayse Cihan Sultanoglu, UN assistant secretary-general, New York, US. @csultanoglu
To get to the top, don’t be afraid of starting at the bottom: In building a career in development it is important that you experience living and working in developing countries. This could mean that you must be willing to do something that you had never really considered or something that is out of your comfort zone. Young women shouldn’t be afraid of starting at the bottom.
The problem is not at the top, but at middle management level: Not having women in top positions isn’t the challenge or attracting women at entry levels also does not seem to be too difficult either but the lagging numbers of women in middle-management positions is the problem.
Make sure you are adaptable: In any field, you need to renew yourself constantly, maybe more so in development. It is diverse, dynamic and constantly evolving because of its very nature so there is always room for innovation, learning and sharing.
Jackie Asiimwe, country manager, Wellspring Advisers, Uganda. @asiimwe4justice
Emotions make a leader authentic: Women are being branded as too emotional making it seem that emotions are a bad thing. In my own leadership journey, I have decided I will embrace my emotions because they are part of what makes me human and woman. Emotions are part of being an authentic leader. We cannot be clinical about leadership, Jackie Asiimwe said.
Rushanara Ali, shadow minister for international development, London, UK. @rushanaraali
We need anti-discrimination laws that are properly enforced: nowadays, anti-discrimination laws to protect women in the labor market and public institutions are very crucial in any society. If those laws are not properly enforced then too often women have to rely on the goodwill, patronage and whims of men to have fair chance to make a contribution to the economy and the society they live in.
Programmes to develop leadership skills are key: here is what we should do, we must invest in leadership development, building strong networks and providing mentoring opportunities and resources to help women get plugged into the power structures if we want to see more women in parliaments around the world.
Liz Bowen, HR manager (field staffing), Médecins Sans Frontières, London, UK
Women working in the field face a separate challenge: They say that in countries where women have a more subservient role they are actually viewed as a kind of ‘separate’ gender. An instance is they won’t be treated like the male expats they are working with or like the local females.
Success is not just about getting to the ‘top’: I chose not to climb the executive ladder and instead work in a role which allows me to make a significant contribution to the humanitarian sector while still being able to spend time with my young daughter. For me this is a significant achievement, says Liz Bowen.
Organizational cultures need to be challenged from within: she said, we must work on shifting the accepted norms and push our organizations to open their minds about creative working patterns for women in leadership roles.
Adele Nandan, director of international education, Opportunity International, Chicago, US. @OpportunityIntl
Mentoring: Mentorship is serious but there needs to be a greater stress placed on mentoring not only western women in the global development field but women from the countries in which we’re working too.
Mary Woodgate, senior manager of global programmes,Accenture Development Partnerships, London, UK. @MaryWoodgate
What does leaning in look like in development?: All with passion and personal investment for your and your organisation’s development goals you must do the following: speaking up, asking questions, innovating, networking, accepting responsibility and accountability.
It is important to communicate vision in a human way: I think there’s a real role for female creative thinkers who can tell a compelling narrative, or describe a future vision in order to get people mobilised around an idea and able to leave some of their institutional ‘baggage’ behind and cut through the potential barriers — especially in impactful partnerships, says Mary Woodgate.
Resource: Women in development must read from the article ‘Women need to realise work isn’t school’. They will learn some tips.
Laure Blanchard-Brunac, principal banker, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, London, UK
Find your voice while you are young: it is always better to start early, according to Laure Blanchard-Brunac, the younger you are when starting to speak up, attend board meetings, senior official gatherings where women are under-represented, the better it is: with time you get used to it and the men get used to it too, most of them will remain focus on your added value and will see you, if not as an equal, at least as a trusted partner.
Women need stronger support networks: males are still more dominant in some developing community. Power networks are still male networks in the development community. Getting support from mentors, people more senior than you in the organization you work in — male or female — is tremendously important. As a woman, when climbing the ladder you will be more isolated than your male counterparts so you need stronger support.
Marinke van Riet, international director, Publish What You Pay, London, UK. @Marinkekarianne
Whether to ‘lean in’ or ‘lean back’ depends on context: there are times that you have to lean in and take an unpopular decision. But on the other hand, other times simply your silent presence can be enough for people to reach consensus. Even the term leadership can be interpreted differently depending on the process of decision making: for instance very different styles are needed in implementing organizations rather than in coalitions.
Being spontaneous and intuitive can lead to success: I didn’t plan my career very carefully. All I know is that I have been ambitious right from the start, never said no to things I was secretly scared to do, and have not been afraid to make mistakes or ask ‘stupid’ questions, says Marinke van Riet.
Jeni Klugman, director of gender and development, World Bank, Washington, DC, US
Without a supportive partner, success is almost impossible: The key is having because supportive partner without that a successful career in development is pretty much impossible. You need the flexibility to travel, to live abroad for extended periods of time, and a family that is happy to join in on the journey.